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Why Song Recitals? 

Interview with Lynton Atkinson, Artistic Director of Hurn Court Opera, for the Friends and Patrons Newsletter, August 2023


Hurn Court Opera exists to provide quality performance opportunities for emerging young singers, but why should this include the song recital?

Lynton points out that the training of young singers always includes the song repertoire: ‘It particularly suits the young voice which might not initially have sufficient strength, carrying power or technical development for the rigour of the operatic repertoire. It enables them to learn so many essential skills – language, phrasing, interpretation and imagination, which as their voices fill out, they will use to the same degree in the operatic repertoire. The best of the song repertoire is so wonderful, complex, and of such a high artistic level. Young singers emerging from music college have learnt a great deal of this repertoire, and are used to performing it, so we can be the beneficiaries of this.’

Lynton acknowledges that some people who love opera may find the experience of listening to song in a different language rather inaccessible, but he reminds us that opera composers have always written songs using the same skills and interpretive techniques as in opera – Mozart, Bellini, Rossini, Verdi, Wagner and Strauss to name a few. Furthermore, while the great composers of German Lieder or French mélodie dominated the nineteenth-century repertoire, high-quality English songs started to appear at the turn of the twentieth century with ‘A quintessentially English style – elegiac, maybe wistful, and slightly set apart from the European tradition – composers such as Elgar, Finzi, Vaughan Williams, Butterworth and Quilter, come to mind.’

It is important to remember that not all opera singers can perform Lieder and art song either well or convincingly. ‘A pre-requisite is a love of the genre. As the best songs are based upon good poetry, the challenge is to be able to communicate it with great flexibility, a wide range of colour, and a colossal amount of imagination in anything between 60 seconds and a few minutes. Song requires a very agile response precisely tailored to the piece. A great recitalist needs the charisma to hold our attention as they move through their sequence of songs. This is very different from an opera performance which involves developing a single character in a story line. As each song requires such advance preparation, a busy operatic singer may not have the time to devote to this.’

So, we are fortunate to be able to hear two of our successful prizewinners at the forthcoming recitals in September. ‘Marie Cayeux so delighted us all at the 2022 Singer of the Year Competition last November that she won the Audience Prize. Michael Lafferty was an incredibly young Second Prize winner at the first-ever Hurn Court Opera Competition held in 2018, and so it will be fascinating to hear how his voice has developed since he has become so much more experienced a performer.’ And for those members of the audience who are still to be convinced of the merits of song recital, please feel reassured – the second half of the programme will include opera arias!

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