|Francis Gush in rehearsal for Handel’s Giulio Cesare with English Touring Opera (Picture: Craig Fuller)|
Tonight, 25 February 2023, English Touring Opera (ETO) launches its bold Spring tour on the Hackney Empire with a revival of James Conway’s manufacturing of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, carried out by Sergey Rybin with Francis Gush within the title position and Susanna Hurrell as Cleopatra. I first noticed Francis within the position of Arsace in Handel’s Partenope with HGO in 2019 [see my review], he has additionally lined Athamas in Handel’s Semele with Opéra de Lille and carried out in Purcell’s The Indian Queen underneath Emmanuelle Haïm on the Opéra de Lille. I caught up with Francis, by way of Zoom, in the midst of rehearsals to speak about Handel’s writing for the voice and the way it fits him, studying Cesare and his concepts in regards to the character, in addition to the broader world of Baroque opera and the way his lockdown job of being a builder helped when he returned to opera.
Francis feedback that rehearsals had been going nicely however that it was one thing of a whirlwind, they usually had simply had their first stage and orchestra rehearsal. For Francis, having the orchestra makes it simpler to get into the emotional panorama of the piece. Francis had by no means sung in Handel’s Giulio Cesare earlier than, and actually, his casting with ETO was fairly late discover (originally of January), so he needed to put together the piece in a month. He had carried out a few the arias earlier than, however there was a lot studying wanted, and it was a problem, studying all of the recitative by yourself. He spoke the textual content at first, which took a variety of time, and the notes are so moveable and never all the time intuitive. It wants you to study not simply your half however the entire drama. Francis had not seen James Conway’s manufacturing earlier than [it debuted in 2017, see my review], however individuals he studied with have been concerned within the manufacturing beforehand.
The title position of Giulio Cesare was written for the nice castrato, Senesino, who famously had fairly a slender vary and the position sits comparatively low. However this fits Francis, the position is an efficient match for his voice. It’s a problem, nonetheless, it is advisable to be versatile with each lyrical and coloratura music. An enormous sing, the position requires a lot of colors within the voice.
|Francis Gush & Susanna Hurrell in rehearsal for Handel’s Giulio Cesare with English Touring Opera (Picture: Craig Fuller)|
At first, the position can really feel a bit two-dimensional, in spite of everything, Cesare is there to overcome and is the usual, Handelian hero, noble and ethical. However, by the opening of Act Three, the whole lot he has, has been stripped again. Cesare is at his lowest ebb and divulges his actual character. This supplies a possibility to point out actual humanity, and his character begins to really feel real. However by the top of the opera, Cesare returns to the sensation of the opening. This brings out the query of how are you supposed to point out Cesare, has he been modified by his experiences? Francis hopes to make this clear in efficiency, however choices might be completely different every night time. That’s the pleasure of efficiency.
In April 2023, he’s additionally singing Arbante in Stradella’s 1678 opera, La Forze dell’amore paterno with The Barber Opera in Birmingham. Till he was requested, Francis had not heard of the opera although it does have a historical past of efficiency. The invitation to sing the position got here alongside earlier than Giulio Cesare, and he’s trying ahead to moving into it.
With ETO, Francis will probably be giving 9 performances of Giulio Cesare, fairly extra dates than regular for a Baroque opera (against this, Barber Opera is giving three performances of the Stradella), touring it to Hackney, Poole, Sheffield, Cambridge, Snape Maltings, Canterbury, Cheltenham, Buxton, Leamington Spa and Exeter. It feels particular, taking such a Handel opera across the nation, offering completely different alternatives for individuals to expertise the music, and Francis notes with delight that they’re even performing in his house city of Canterbury the place the choir collaborating within the efficiency is directed by Francis’ former music instructor. And never solely does the tour present such a wide range of music to so many individuals, however ETO is a good firm to work for.
Francis’ experiences to this point have largely been with Baroque music, Monteverdi, Purcell, Bach, Handel and so forth, however there may be a variety of nice up to date music being written for the counter-tenor voice. He would leap on the probability to sing extra up to date music, nonetheless, he admits that many of those up to date roles sit fairly excessive, one thing that he says is just not his ‘wheelhouse’. Against this, Handel and Monteverdi go well with him.
|Handel: Partenope – James Rhoads, Will Pate, Francis Gush, Jennifer Begley
Hampstead Backyard Opera in 2019 (picture Laurent Compagnon)
Throughout lockdown in 2020, he went from a full diary to nothing, a scenario that utilized to many within the performing arts, and completely different performers dealt with it in numerous methods. Many did one thing else solely, and that that they had to take action highlights the frailty and fragility of their chosen careers. And, popping out of lockdown, many singers opted for stability fairly than returning to the precariousness of performing. A buddy that Francis performs sport with is a property developer, constructing homes and he recommended that Francis come and construct homes for him, so Francis spent a yr as a builder. He admits that at the beginning he was fairly ineffective and that it was a very good job he had been employed by a mate who has one thing invested in him, However although it was a steep studying curve, he grew to become helpful and the talents got here in useful when he was doing up his personal home. He feels the yr gave him nice life expertise, he met a wide range of individuals and had an fascinating time.
It was exhausting to know whether or not performing was ever going to return again, and he’s delighted that it has however it’s tough to understand how issues are going. And he feels that it was helpful that his yr out gave him a special ability set. One that’s helpful in performing, in spite of everything in opera you are attempting to convey a real-life character. So to have gone out into the world to fulfill completely different individuals and expertise completely different conditions is useful. The music world is such a small one, and positively not as numerous because it may very well be, so you do not essentially get an expertise of actual life, so his lockdown yr as a builder can solely assist.
Additionally, he thinks that going away from performing and returning afresh has helped him as a performer. He has discovered to chill out and realise that he’s doing it for the love of it and to not obtain one thing. And this has made an actual distinction, and he’s a lot happier.
Francis found singing fairly late. He studied music at College, however this was educational music at Oxford, and he had performed the flute however had not studied singing. Throughout his second yr, he joined an a cappella group and found he had an alto vary. Then he depped for a buddy, as he might sing alto and browse music, and found singing. He was supplied a spot within the choir at Magdalen Faculty, Oxford throughout his third yr and he determined to review singing as an alto. A lot to the shock of everybody, he provides.
Once I ask about heroes, he feedback that there are rather a lot, he had respect for thus many in his subject. He mentions counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo, as a singer, artist and musician, for the way in which he interprets the textual content. And Francis was fortunate sufficient to work on the position of Giulio Cesare with Zazzo. Different counter-tenors he mentions Bejun Mehta, who has a really completely different voice to Francis, and the younger counter-tenor Patrick Terry. Francis feedback that it’s now fairly thrilling instances for his voice sort, as it’s advancing increasingly into the mainstream, turning into extra built-in into the opera world fairly than seeming to be separate.
Trying forward, there’s a sure ingredient of wait-and-see in Francis’ diary, in spite of everything, Giulio Cesare got here so late. However he’s being saved busy sufficient and in addition to ETO and Barber Opera, he has performances in Germany and recitals with Leeds Baroque.
Handel: Giulio Cesare – Francis Gush (Cesare), Susanna Hurrell (Cleopatra), Carolyn Dobbin (Cornelia), Margo Arsane (Sesto), Alexander Likelihood (Tolomeo), director: James Conway, conductor: Sergey Rybin
At Hackney Empire (25 Feb), Lighthouse Poole (10 Mar), Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield (13 Mar), Cambridge Arts Theatre (13 Apr), Snape Maltings (20 Apr), Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury (28 Apr), The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham (4 Might), Buxton Opera Home (11 Might), Royal Spa Centre, Leamington Spa (19 Might), Exeter Northcott (25 Might) – additional info from ETO web site.
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