Gillian woos Buxton opera audience

Gloria%20condensed-2Kooky, quirky and charming is the description  soprano Gillian Keith gives to the opera in which she is playing the title part at Buxton Festival in July.

Add talented and versatile and the words could just as easily have described the artist herself.

The down-to-earth musician is every inch the professional and lacks any of the demanding characteristics her prima donna status may have entitled her.

She was more than happy to chat about her work and life and was gushing about the qualities of the Derbyshire festival of which she has become a darling.

“Buxton allows me to stretch myself. It offers me all types of performance that excite and stimulate me professionally.

“The festival is very forward-thinking and open minded and it is that the audience enjoys. They know if they come to Buxton they are going to see something different.”

In the past she has sung Philine in Thomas’ Mignon, Iphis in Handel’s Jeptha, Sylvie in Gounod’s La Colombe and Tulia in Vivaldi’s Ottone.

This year her title role is as Gloria in HK Gruber’s Gloria – A Pigtale and she will also be performing Bach solo cantatas with the Northern Chamber Orchestra on the closing night.

“That night is going to be the best bit for me. The cantatas are absolutely gorgeous. They are right up there for me – the best. I just can’t imagine loving singing anything more than I do those.

“If you love Bach then you really must be there as for me it will be a real treat.”

When asked about what we could expect from Gloria, she extolled its quirkiness adding with a laugh: “In a lot of ways it is ridiculous” – which is what you might expect of an opera about a lonely pig looking for love who falls for a butcher and is about to get the chop before being rescued by a wild boar.

But, explained Gillian, it has a serious side and amid the yodelling frogs, blues-singing cows, Hollywood hotdogs and a fascist rally in a pigsty the opera is taking a sideswipe at right-wing politics.

“It is very cleverly done. You think it is going to be all fluffy and silly and then it isn’t. It is humorous but there are no belly laughs – there is a hard truth hidden in it,” she said.

The cast of five are all human sausages and there is a big band performing a mixture of musical styles, jazz, blues, Barvarian oompah, Mahler and Wagner.

“Because there are only five of us it is a tight knit cast and we are all working together very well because we are nearly always on stage – there is no hanging around waiting to go on. It is very interesting, very physical and very tiring, but in a good way,” said Gillian.

The 42-year-old Canadian soprano moved to England after studying at the Royal Academy of Music because at that time her career was taking off and in her words “it seemed sensible to stay”.

A past winner of the prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Award, Gillian says that her versatility suited the variety of theatre companies in the country and she didn’t feel pinned down to one sort of work as she may have done in her homeland.

She has had an interest in music since her childhood and although she didn’t necessarily appreciate it at the time she attributes her father listening to opera in the car when they were on family journeys as being one of her influences.

As far as the future is concerned the musician is coy about her dreams and says she is not sure if she should voice them in public, but then admits that what she would really love to do is record the Bach solo cantatas on CD.

“There is plenty I would like to do but that really would be a dream come true. Where there is a will there is a way so maybe it will happen,” she says.

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