A Bedford opera singer is making his first appearance at Milton Keynes Theatre this week.
Simon Bailey, who comes from Wootton, is singing the role of Leporello in Welsh National Opera’s production of Don Giovanni.
We caught up with him to talk about performing at Milan’s La Scala opera house and why opera tours are so important.
How does it feel to be performing so close to where you grew up in Wootton?
Strange, but in a good way. The last opera I performed so close to my childhood home was The Magic Flute for Bedfordshire Youth Opera back in 1989.
Is there anywhere local that you’ll be squeezing in a visit to while you’re in the area?
I would love to go for a pint in the Rose and Crown.
When and where did your love for opera begin?
Well, I grew up singing in choirs, but got a real taste for singing and performing in musicals at Wootton Upper School, where Michael Gleeson was head of music. My first ´real´ opera was The Magic Flute for Bedfordshire Youth Opera, as I mentioned. I couldn´t believe the power of the music and the voices, even amongst the young cast that we had. I was just blown away.
How have the performances/rehearsals gone so far?
Really well. We were delighted to actually get to sing the premiere, as Storm Eunice was barrelling across South Wales that morning and there was a real possibility that the theatre would not be allowed to open. There´s also been a wonderful response from the audiences, particularly for our Ukrainian baritone Andrei Kymach, who is singing fantastically under immense personal pressure.
How does it feel to be performing again and bringing incredible opera to regional audiences?
It´s a pleasure and a privilege to visit these amazing regional spaces. Opera in the UK seems to have a bit of a reputation as a ‘country house’ art form and, whilst those summer festivals are performing opera at a very high standard, there is so much more going on around the country and we get a real sense of appreciation from our local audiences. Opera isn´t all picnics, parks and pretty dresses - it has real relevance and resonance for audiences up and down the country, throughout the year.
What’s the best role you’ve played to date, or career highlight?
Well, for a lad from the local comprehensive, singing the title role in Mozart´s The Marriage of Figaro at La Scala, Milan, was pretty special. I would also have to mention the WNO production of Janacek´s From the House of the Dead. That was definitely an occasion where the cast and chorus, the amazing David Pountney production, the conducting by Tomas Hanus, and the passionate playing of the WNO orchestra all came together to make an unforgettable, powerful, shattering piece of musical theatre.
Tell us a little bit about your character, Leporello.
I always joke that Leporello spends the first half of the piece on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and the second half actually having one. He´s incredibly conflicted - he´d love to get in on a bit of Don Giovanni´s action, but actually has a functioning moral compass that is trying to steer him away from his master. He´s flawed, he´s funny, he´s part servant, part accomplice. You could definitely make an argument that Leporello should join his master in hell at the end.
What can people expect from this production of Don Giovanni?
Seductive scenes, stunning sets, stonking singing, serious swordplay and some slapstick (mainly from me).
What would you say to someone who hasn’t experienced opera before, but is considering buying a ticket?
I would say, definitely go for it. In fact, I would recommend any of the shows that WNO is touring this spring. They´re all (although I hate this word) accessible to a first-time opera goer. One thing I would suggest – have a quick listen to some of the tunes online beforehand.
Will any of your friends and family be coming to see the show in Milton Keynes?
Oh yes. There are a number of past and present members of staff from Wootton Upper making the trip, as well as 12 former students from my sixth form year, some of whom I haven´t seen in more than 30 years, so it should be an absolute riot.
Don Giovanni is at Milton Keynes Theatre on Wednesday and Thursday, March 23 and 24.
There are also performances of Madam Butterfly and Jenufa taking place this week.
For more information and to book tickets, click here.