Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I grew up with music of all kinds, but Radio 3 was nearly always on in the kitchen. My (late, wonderful) sister and I used to have our favourite tapes (cassettes, ancient means of playing music!), and be competitive with them. Mine was Mozart Symphony nr 40. I used to make up stories to it. Then I became a chorister and never looked back.
Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?
My first choir trainer – George Guest – was passionate about the text, and meaning what you were singing. His boys were famous for the sound they made, which was full-bodied and committed. When I was older, I worked with people who had a number of different approaches, but I never lost that need to feel that the singer believed what they were singing about – and to hear how it changed the sound when they did. And I can’t not mention Elaine Bevis, my drama teacher at music college. She was tough in the best way. She taught me of the value of discipline as a way to achieve proper theatrical freedom.
What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a singer? And the most fulfilling aspect?
I think the relationship you have with your voice can be hard. Illness, ideas of perfectionism – and it’s so close to your soul, it can be affected by very deep-seated issues. Relying on it, working with it, that’s the challenge. The most fulfilling aspect is the communication you can have with the audience, with the other people in the room, through amazing music that’s such a privilege to sing. Standing there, alone, communicating to people in a way that can move them. That’s a privilege and a joy. I love that.
As a director, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the cast?
We just talk about them. The start is important. But it’s a dialogue.
How do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?
Both those things, and more. Inspiring, guiding, helping the singers, as best you can, through the ideas, the human ideas that inspired the librettist and the composer. Working through the text and the music to understand the choices the writer and composer made to communicate the story to the public, and then making fresh choices with the people you working with, and the audiences you are working for, now, to do the same in as entertaining, gripping, truthful, engaging way as possible.
Is there one work which you would love to direct?
No! There are too many. And I’ll do anything, honestly. I love making discoveries, and getting to know new pieces from the inside, pieces I don’t know now. I love the obvious ones – Janacek, always Mozart, Handel, Wagner, Purcell, Puccini, Verdi – but also new stories. We need more new operas. Opera is such a great vehicle to tell modern stories. I’m working on developing one about a secret library in a basement in the bombed out suburbs of Damascus. Amazing courage, the value and power of storytelling and culture to keep a community alive and hanging on to hope. It’s perfect for an opera.
Do you have a favourite venue to perform in?
No, but I’m very lucky to have a connection to the Royal Opera House, which is a building full of wonderful people and often great work. Honestly I love the challenge of making things work anywhere. It was special to be in La Scala recently. And Alexandra Palace Theatre. But anywhere where people can be told a story, with music – that’s where I want to be.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
I love people who can be powerful AND tender. Schubert. Gerard Souzay (in the 1950s). Andras Schiff playing the accompaniments to Schwanengesang. The soundtrack to the film Timbuktu. Some songs by Laura Marling. The list is endless. I admire a lot of people. Power and tenderness.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Find your way. Work hard. Love the work.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Not far from my family, still in work
I Fagiolini and Robert Hollingworth join forces with award-winning director Thomas Guthrie and designer Ruth Paton in a groundbreaking production of one of the first and greatest operas: Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. This production uses ancient Greek techniques of masks and puppets to tell the story of Orpheus’ journey to the Underworld. Matthew Long stars in the title role. There will be two performances, one at York Early Music Festival on 5 July and the other at LSO St Luke’s on 7 July
Thomas Guthrie is an innovative and award-winning British director and musician working in theatre and music to tell stories in vivid, new and direct ways.
(photo by Theresa-Pewal)