Lockdown was intended to squash the COVID sombrero in early 2020 but it also flattened soprano Elin Pritchard’s rising career.
Like many other singers the impact of the pandemic was sudden and dramatic. The North Wales-born, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama graduate was performing as Micaëla in Welsh National Opera’s touring production of Carmen when the curtain came down. Seven performances had taken place but when the show was at Bristol the tour came to an abrupt halt.
“I thought that was a turning point for my career, singing the role with Welsh National Opera, and the next couple of years would be sorted out but instead everything stopped.” Like so many freelance artists no work meant no money and she left her flat in London and moved in with her partner in Guildford.
Cancelling the Carmen tour was the first blow. The second came when a contract to perform that winter with Opera North was pulled. “I didn’t realise how bad it would be,” she said. “I thought I would be able to go ahead with the scheduled Grange Festival performances of Manon Lescaut, Opera North work through the Autumn and a contract in Germany. I went for the audition in Cologne and when I got there I didn’t realise just how everywhere was already on lockdown.”
While Elin studied at the Royal Welsh and went on to take a postgraduate course in music performance with the much-loved soprano Suzanne Murphy, she is a is a graduate of the Alexander Gibson Opera School at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where she was awarded a Master of Opera with distinction and a Master of Music, and of London’s National Opera Studio. Opera North has proven her closest thing to a “home company” but she was delighted to be singing a prominent role, Micaëla, in Wales, before COVID struck.
The pandemic that has proved a worrying time for all artists was compounded when apparent work opportunities came to nothing. For example, she was contacted last September to see if she could step into a role – but she didn’t hear back at all.
Fortunately, it has proved a temporary flattening and a jolt rather than end to her career.
Now she has new work scheduled including an autumn tour with Mid Wales Opera singing Giorgetta in Puccini’s Il tabarro and this weekend performs Nedda with Opera Ensemble for Iford Arts at Belcombe Court in Bradford on Avon. Next spring sees her working at English National Opera in the opera inspired by Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, composed by Poul Ruder, that was first staged in 1990. Other roles for some of the country’s leading houses are yet to be announced.
This all comes in the wake of a sensational rescheduled season of Manon Lescaut performances in the Stephen Lawless directed production at Grange Festival in July.
But when the work did dry up in 2020 Elin decided rather than sit back and hope a way of paying the bills would miraculously appear she would work with other artists to create their own opportunities. The result was the production of Pagliacci, the Leoncavallo story of the heart broken clown and travelling troupe who, in true theatrical style, decide the show must go on. A new performing company, Opera Ensemble, brought together Elin and singer and creative friends along with Christopher Luscombe and conductor John Andrews. Elin explained, “I thought then the only way of working is to produce something ourselves and I spoke with a few singers and with Christopher Luscombe with whom I had worked on Falstaff at Grange Festival in 2019. We managed to put on Pagliacci in London in October.” After playing at St James’ Church, Islington, it went to Longborough Opera and Grange Festival in December. The stripped back production received glowing reviews for accentuating the emotion of the work. Also crucial to the success of the original show was working with conductor Hamish Mackay.
This week the show is at the Iford Arts festival at Belcombe Court, on the outskirts of Bradford on Avon. Other cast members include tenor Peter Auty as Canio, bass baritone Robert Hayward as Tonio, baritone Nicholas Lester as her lover Silvio and tenor Aled Hall as Beppe. Elin enjoyed her success at Grange in Manon singing alongside both Peter as her forlorn lover Des Grieux and Nicholas as her unscrupulous brother Lescaut.
“I have worked with Nicholas for years now and he is a great singer and Peter really had my back right from the start when performing Manon Lescaut,” she added.
Conducted by Oliver Gooch, the opera is paired with an adaptation of Pagliacci’s usual stable mate Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana called mezzoCav with the Susan Bullock joining the festival artists for a concert performance of the highlights including the Easter Hymn, and the Intermezzo. The singers also include rising Cardiff singer Paul Carey Jones as Alfio who this summer has enjoyed acclaim both for his Wotan with Longborough Opera and singing David in the lesser-known Mascagni opera, L’amico Fritz with Opera Holland Park and Christopher Turner singing Turiddu. At Iford Arts the production has been able to grow with orchestra and chorus
Elin comes to the role after a powerful performance of the troubled and not exactly innocent Manon Lescaut. Now she will be playing two female roles in succession where the men have a good reason to be suspicious of them, Nedda in Pagliacci and Giorgetta in Puccini’s late masterpiece with Mid Wales Opera. “These roles are so hard to play,” she said. “But something has sent them over the edge and we don’t see what, whether they are materialistic like Manon or adulterous. They are vulnerable and I want to show that.”
Iford Arts at Belcombe Court, 28, 29 & 30 August 2021. ifordarts.org.uk
For Il tabarro tour visit midwalesopera.co.uk
Main image by Simon Dowthwaite
I Pagliacci review:
Elin Pritchard Manon Lescaut review: