Royal Opera House debut: Shining on stage as the god of the sun

Royal Opera House debut: Shining on stage as the god of the sun

It was already about a year ago, but with this weird vacuum of time that we’ve all experienced with the pandemic, it still feels like yesterday. I had just finished a meeting in Dublin, outside and freezing, drenched with rain and surrounded by road-side traffic when I got a call from the Royal Opera. Could I sing Apollo in Britten’s Death in Venice tomorrow night at Covent Garden 

I didn’t waste any time, I answered ‘of course I could!’ and I jumped on an evening flight back to London arriving home just after midnight. Fortunately, I was fully prepared, eager to sing, and thrilled to actually be making my ROH debut.

The next morning started with an hour-long fitting. The Royal Opera costume department are rock stars — I was astonished that they built a new outfit for me from scratch in a matter of hours. The trousers they had made for the other guy could barely fit around just one of my legs, so they really had no choice…

During the fitting, I suggested ‘perhaps a dramatic shirtless reveal onstage?’ 🤷 I had been going to the gym a ton that autumn and I wasn’t feeling too shy about putting my hard work on display, but they just blushed and told me they didn’t have that kind of authority. Luckily, even fully clothed, a reviewer noted that I looked like ‘a hunky personal trainer’ (I’m talkin’ about you Operawire!).

Then, I was ushered over to music rehearsal with three assistant conductors to be sure everything was in order. We all felt confident, so I headed off to review blocking with the assistant director. I had only ever observed the staging from the auditorium prior to that afternoon!

A few of the talented young male dancers from the Royal Ballet School who were an integral part of the show joined us. This was invaluable since they did the most vigorous and tightly choreographed leaps all around me on stage (shoutout to Boysofballet!). An hour and half before the downbeat I met the conductor, Richard Farnes, for the first time. While I was thrilled to meet him, my dental work had other ideas. Just as I opened the door to the conductor’s dressing room, I felt something rough in my mouth, like a small stone… weird. I quickly spat it into my hand and stuffed whatever it was into my pocket. I’ll deal with that later, I thought. The run-through with the maestro went very well, all green lights. As I left the room, I quickly reached back into my pocket and discovered that half a molar had broken off from one of my back teeth. Perfect timing, I rolled my eyes and then pulled my mind back to performing that night. We walked through one last rehearsal of my big entrance scene with the dancers and choreographer to cement as many details as we possibly could. I focused on the singing and they very graciously shepherded me about.

Then, a half-hour before curtain, I sipped a warm tea and glanced over my score while a revolving door of castmates and opera administrators popped in to wish me well. From a specific few well-wishers I noted a probing gaze, trying to detect any signs of fear or insecurity behind my eyes. I was calm, so they were calm. I was brought to stage-right to await my entrance feeling confident and focused. I heard toi toi toi and there were a few hugs – it’s a huge cast and I felt encouragement from everyone. Looking at the young boy dancers, who were around 10 years old, reminded me of myself at that age. I may look more like a rugby player these days, but as a kid I took ballet, modern, and jazz dance.  A sense of home came over me. I heard my cue, I walked to centre stage, with the sparkling blue painted Venetian Lido behind me. I took a deep breath as the curtain went up. It was a day of firsts: performing on that famous stage, singing in a David McVicar production, and working with Gerald Finley and Mark Padmore – both are truly remarkable singing-actors and kind-hearted people whom I have looked up to for many years.

I tried to be present and take it all in, allowing every bit of my mind to embrace the experience. The audience really loved it, applauding heartily. My husband and I celebrated with a late-night dinner and then decided to walk the four miles back home to Dulwich to come down from the excitement together.

After a visit to my dentist the next morning, I went on to sing four out of five sold-out performances, each receiving a standing ovation (London audiences are the best). I was smiling from ear-to-ear for weeks afterwards, and I am so grateful and honoured to have been given the trust and confidence of the ROH. It was truly special, and to be honest I’m just counting down the days until my next opportunity to perform on that iconic stage.