Fairytale start for young soprano

Kathryn Rudge is savouring her role in Opera North’s production of Giulio Cesare in Dublin next week, Nikki ffrench Davis reports

OPERA NORTH will make its Irish debut with five landmark performances at Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre (formerly the Grand Canal Theatre) next week. The company will bring two of its acclaimed current productions, Puccini’s beloved Madama Butterfly and Handel’s Giulio Cesare for their final performances of the season.

These performances of Giulio Cesare mark the end of a whirlwind year for a fresh soprano on the opera scene, Kathryn Rudge from Liverpool. Landing a role immediately on leaving college with the English National Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro was an extraordinary opportunity for Rudge. To find herself, a year later, onstage with some of her heroes for Opera North is something of a fairytale. That her place in this prestigious production was elevated from understudy to main cast member was a dream come true for any young opera singer.

“I came out of college last April and got a role in Figaro,” says Rudge. “Then I was asked to be understudy for a role with Opera North. It was such a great surprise when they said, before we’d even started rehearsals, ‘we’d like you to do the main show’. I loved every minute of it, it’s such an honour to be among these great singers.”

Regarded as Handel’s greatest opera, Giulio Cesare tells a tightly-woven tale around Cleopatra’s seduction of Julius Caesar in her bid to wrest power from her brother Ptolemy and secure her reign over Egypt. Rudge’s role as Sesto sees her onstage for much of the opera and a pivotal part of the action.

“My character is a young boy, a lovely child role, and I’m even in the very first scene. Sesto’s father is murdered by Ptolemy and he steps forward to avenge his death, so he has to grow up very fast. By the end he has to be very strong so it’s very interesting to play.”

“It’s been great to work with the director Tim and the cast,” Rudge says. The production includes Sarah Tynan as Cleopatra alongside Ann Taylor, James Laing and Pamela Helen Stephen, and is directed by Tim Albery who works regularly with Opera North. “As a student I watched these singers and followed their careers closely. To be up on stage with them is amazing.”

Albery, together with conductor Robert Howarth, has shortened Handel’s opera by an hour to arrive at an action-packed production. “It’s great music and it’s been put together by Tim and Rob so well, it brings a great night for the audience,” Rudge says, “It’s really gripping and fast. It’s a very glamorous production really, and we’ve had a lot of feedback on how wonderful it looks. Taking it on tour and seeing how it looks in different places is great. But even without all that, you could just close your eyes and you’re gripped by this plot and the music.”

This is not Rudge’s first time playing a male role. “Cherubino, who I sang in Figaro, is a young boy too; it’s lovely to be taking that further. It’s very strange at first playing a male role, but you find it becomes really accepted by the rest of the cast very quickly. Pamela Helen Stephen is also playing a man, she’s Julius Caesar in fact, and it’s great to watch her.”

Her performance in Giulio Cesare has won glowing praise and she has been singled out by critics for both her singing and her ‘absolute conviction in a pair of trousers’. Rudge is developing a reputation as a recitalist alongside her opera work. A winner of a Kathleen Ferrier Young Singer’s Bursary Award, she recently gave a sold-out concert that celebrated Ferrier’s centenary in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall.

“I do song recitals which I really love as well,” Rudge says. “It’s great to go to different venues and perform this wonderful repertoire. My first stop is always to enjoy the music — I base a recital on the audience that’s going to it. There’s so much beautiful music, it’s hard to believe how some composers can have done hundreds of songs. It’s never-ending, exploring and bringing music to audiences is so rewarding.

Rudge has plenty of engagements in her diary but she has the presence of mind to savour what comes her way.

This is my first time singing in Ireland, the last night of my first opera tour and it’s St Patrick’s weekend! I can’t wait to soak up the atmosphere.”

* Madama Butterfly – March 13, 15, and 17. Giulio Cesare – March 14 and 16. www.bordgáisenergytheatre.ie

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