Marie Lemaire, Opera North’s Youth Ensemble Manager, tells us about her career and how Opera North is inspiring the next generation of singers and musicians as she prepares for their first performance at the Gilbert Sullivan Festival in Harrogate Theatre on August 10th.
Marie, we are delighted that Opera North’s Youth Ensemble will be performing at the Festival. Can you tell us a little about the opportunities that Opera North offer young people?
Opera North Education offers a wide range of opportunities for children and young people in Yorkshire and beyond.
The projects I am directly involved with are the Youth Ensembles. The Opera North Children’s Chorus (age 8-12), Young Voices (12-15) and Youth Chorus (15-19) meet in Leeds every week during term time. Entry is by audition and members are supported to develop their musical talent, vocal technique and drama skills. Each group regularly performs both locally and nationally alongside professionals such as the Chorus and the Orchestra of Opera North. I am really looking forward to bringing members of our Youth Chorus to Harrogate Theatre to present an adaptation of Pirates of Penzance in the summer.
We are looking forward to seeing your production of “Pirates Revisited” and are particularly interested in your round table discussion before the performance. Who will be involved and what will you be discussing?
I have invited a few people to join me in the discussion that will introduce “Pirates Revisited”. Nicholas Shaw will be conducting the show. He has been directing the Opera North Youth Chorus since September 2017 and has years of experience working with youth choirs. Emma Black will be our Director. She studied Classical Literature and English at the University of Leeds and was Assistant Director for the Opera North production of Trial by Jury last Autumn. George Leigh studied Theatre and Performance Design at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and will be creating all the costumes and set for our show. There will also be a couple of young people from the Youth Chorus involved in the round table discussion. They will share their experience of being part of the group and preparing for the show. During the discussion, I will share with the audience how “Pirates Revisited” came to life, to show what a great team effort and human adventure it has been and to inspire more young people to get involved in dramatic productions.
Have you personally seen the positive effects that opera, singing and performing has on young people? We have always been hugely impressed with the youngsters who take part in our Festival Youth Production every year. What do you feel is the most important element a young person will take away from the experience?
Definitely! As a child, I sang in the Children’s Chorus of my local Opera House in Belgium and it had a huge impact on me. I became more confident, developed long lasting friendships and a love for classical music and singing. I wouldn’t be doing what I do today if it wasn’t for that early experience… Over the last three years, I have seen so many children blossom through the Opera North Youth Choral Ensembles. Many of them have been part of main stage productions. We have travelled to amazing places such as the Southbank Centre, Aldeburgh Festival and even Aarhus in Denmark. The choirs provide a fun and supportive environment where children can explore their creativity but they also require rigour and discipline. It takes a lot of concentration and work to learn music and develop the confidence to perform to a high standard in front of a large audience. What I am hoping young people will take away from this experience are great memories, lasting friendships, self-confidence and a love for music!
We are also very interested in the sessions Opera North holds for very young children aged under 4 years. How do you approach the sessions and what type of activities do you do?
My colleague Alex Bradshaw who manages the family programmes would probably be able to speak about the approach better than I would, but what I can say is that all the family activities that I have had the chance to witness at Opera North have been fantastic. The weekly Little Singers sessions give children and parents the chance to sing songs, explore instruments, play games and have fun with music, while Little Big Sing offers a multi-sensory journey through the magical world of opera. Children meet interesting characters and learn new songs accompanied by live instrumental music, lights and projections. I have also seen the introduction to the wind and the brass section of the orchestra, Little Listeners, where the children discovered the different instruments and their specific sounds. There is always something magical about the family sessions!
Marie, you have had a very interesting career. You have a degree in Anthropology, you studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Music of Liège in your home country of Belgium, lived and worked in Cambridge and relocated to Leeds to work with the Opera North Education Department. And you have obviously enjoyed some great successes with your singing career along the way too. What part of your career have you enjoyed the most?
It’s very difficult to say as I have enjoyed every experience I have had so far. Working for the Centre of Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge was a real privilege. I met extraordinary people and learnt so much. It really opened my mind on so many levels. Moving to the Education Department at Opera North felt a little bit like a dream come true as I have always been passionate about music education, opera and singing. Over the years, I am pleased to have managed to keep singing too. I have met great musicians and enjoyed many exciting musical projects…
When were you first introduced to opera and has music always played a very important role in your life?
As far as I can remember, I have always been singing. My first memory of opera was going to see “L’enfant et les sortilèges” by Ravel with my grandmother. I think I must have been about 6 at the time. I remember the magic, the giant teapots and cats. It’s such a great piece to introduce children to opera! And the music is fantastic too. A few years later, I joined the Children’s Chorus of my local Opera House and then I never really stopped singing.
Will this be the first time that your youth group have performed Gilbert & Sullivan and do you think it is likely that they will perform any of the operas in the future?
Yes, this year is the first time we‘ve performed Gilbert & Sullivan. Last year, we worked on a contemporary youth opera by Stephen Deazley entitled “Dr Ferret’s Bad Medicine Roadshow” and, in 2016, we toured with Kurt Weill’s “Down in the Valley”. We are still finalising plans for the next couple of years but will be performing more operas in the future for sure!
Can any young people join your group and how would they apply to be in a performance?
We always welcome interest from new members and usually host auditions twice a year. The best way to apply is to visit www.operanorth.co.uk/education/young-people/youth-ensembles and fill in the online form. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your time Marie and we look forward to seeing you all in Harrogate in the summer.
The Opera North Youth Company will present an adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular and much-loved Pirates of Penzance on Friday 10th August in Harrogate Theatre at 2.30pm.
The story starts in an attic where a group of children are excited to find an old book among all the boxes. As they start to read, they are transported to a world of piracy full of intrigue, misunderstanding, comedy and love. Come and see the next generation of G&S performers. It is sure to be a delight
Tickets for “Pirates Revisited” cost £15 and are available from the Box Office on 01422 323252 or online here