Rachel Harland will direct this year’s Festival Youth Production of The Pirates of Penzance. Rachel is a classically trained soprano and has performed in Belgium, UK, Australia, USA and Canada as a recitalist and for opera companies including Opera Holland Park, Carl Rosa Opera, Royal Opera La Monnaie and The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company.
Rachel is creative director of her own singing workshops company Sing Salon and directs singing groups, workshops and teambuilding events. As a teacher, she has given singing lessons and led workshops for Aldeburgh Music, Music in Prisons, Liverpool University, Theatrical Adventures cruises and Agalin Music Camp, Thailand.
She has worked as an English coach at the Royal Conservatoire of Music in Antwerp and is currently English coach at the International Opera Academy in Ghent.
Hello Rachel. We are delighted that you will be directing this year’s Festival Youth Production. How important do you think it is for children to learn to perform on a stage?
I think performing on stage can be a fantastic learning platform for children. They are required to learn a wide range of performance and life skills, work as a very tight team, learn how to prepare for a final outcome, often under pressure and hopefully also have a fantastic time thrown into the bargain! It can be an invaluable, exciting experience.
As the mother of three young children, do you think singing and performing are good confidence builders for the future? How do you think young people benefit from joining a production like this?
As I’m writing this, my 4 year old daughter is singing and dancing along to the whole soundtrack of The Greatest Showman in the garden. I think all children have a natural instinct to sing and dance and it’s amazing if this can be nurtured and carried on into their everyday lives going ahead. Not only is it enjoyable but as we know now, singing is proven to be massively healthy for body and mind, so more important in our society than ever before, in my opinion. The skills required to sing and perform on stage are simply invaluable in all walks of life, regardless of the career path your child may choose. And if being on stage encourages a child to be more comfortable in their own skin, that is the best accomplishment of all!
We never fail to be blown away by the professionalism, enthusiasm and talent in our Festival Youth Productions but our strong message to any youngster who would like to “have a go” is that they do not need to have had any singing or acting lessons or ever been on a stage before. We just want them to enjoy the music, the words and the fun of being involved. What would you say to anyone who was teetering on the brink of signing up?
I’d say to sign up now!!
It will simply be a fantastic, fun-filled experience. If you feel inclined to sing and dance, you probably can, even if you don’t have any experience.
Even if you are nervous about coming along, there is a very supportive atmosphere during the festival, and while it would be good to learn the songs before you come, don’t let it put you off if you need some help – you’ll soon pick it up during rehearsal week!
So please come along for a fast track Gilbert and Sullivan extravaganza.
Did you start singing at an early age and did you come from a musical family?
I first starting singing at church on a Sunday, where my mum (who used to drag us as children around the folk clubs of Liverpool so she could sing Irish ballads) would dig my sister and I in the ribs until we were singing the loudest in the congregation. I also played piano from the age of 6 and later sang in the Liverpool Youth Choir which I absolutely loved. I didn’t start singing seriously until I was 16 though, so I really wish the Gilbert and Sullivan festival had been around when I was a child! My sister has spent most of her adult life performing in the West End, so music and performing is part of every day life in our family now.
What are your thoughts on the statement – “Anyone can sing – they just need to know how to do it!”
I think that anyone can learn to sing, yes. For some it will obviously be more difficult than for others but if you feel compelled to do it, then you probably can. And with tutoring or lessons, everyone can improve to some degree. It just depends how much hard work you’re willing to put in!!
As with a lot of things, I do think it’s much easier to learn as a child, so now is the time to try if you’re thinking of coming along to audition for Pirates!!!
The Pirates of Penzance has great appeal for youngsters. Do you think this is an easy opera for children to learn and be part of?
I think it’s probably the most accessible for young people. It’s full of adventure and humour and the tunes become very catchy very quickly.
I directed a production last year with sixty year six children who had never sung before. They way they tackled the text and music was incredible and in quite a short space of time they put on a wonderful show. If you have the possibility to be part of Pirates of Penzance as a child, it’s really an opportunity not to be missed!
You have just 7 days to meet the children and direct the show before the performance on Saturday August 17th. Do you have any tricks up your sleeve? This will be quite an achievement for everyone concerned.
That would be telling! You’ll have to come along to the performance to find out!
You obviously love Gilbert & Sullivan. Do you have a favourite opera?
My favourite opera is definitely The Yeomen of the Guard – the first G&S production I was ever in. It holds lots of fond memories for me and for me, the musical score is second to none!
If you could perform any singing role anywhere in the world, what would it be and where?
Mélisande in Debussy’s ‘Pelléas et Mélisande’ at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico – one of the most beautiful settings in the world. So Natalie Dessay assured me once over lunch!
You have been in numerous productions at the international Gilbert & Sullivan Festival and visited Buxton and Harrogate many times. What would you say makes the Festival so special?
I first came to the Festival 19 years ago and when I arrive at Buxton or Harrogate I can only explain the atmosphere as like coming home to a very eccentric family. Music, laughter and the quintessential Englishness of it all, makes for a unique and often bonkers experience. You also get to witness and/or be part of some fantastic performances!!
Do you have any words of advice or tips about how to get ready for participants in the Festival Youth Production?
I would advise participants to listen to or watch a DVD of the show as much as possible in advance. A copy will be sent to them from the Festival and there are also many different versions to watch on You Tube. The better everyone knows Pirates before they arrive, the more they’ll enjoy the experience when they get to Harrogate!
Thank you Rachel and we look forward to seeing you soon.
HOW TO JOIN THE FESTIVAL YOUTH PRODUCTION
Auditions for principal roles will take pace in the Crown Hotel on Saturday May 4th (11 am-12.30pm). No audition is necessary for a place in the chorus. More information and an application form can be found here or call 01422 323252 for more information.
Rehearsals start in Harrogate on Saturday August 10th and take place every day until the performance on Saturday afternoon August 17th. There is a nominal charge of £30 to cover chaperone costs.
The group will make time during rehearsals to go backstage to see how the professional Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company prepare for their performance of The Pirates of Penzance in The Royal Hall. Matthew Siveter who will be playing the Pirate King for the Company will also give a talk about his role in the opera and how he started as a ten-year old with the Festival Youth Production in Buxton Opera House.
The Youth production will be accompanied by the UNIFest Orchestra and this is certainly a fantastic opportunity for young people to spend a very productive and enjoyable week during the summer holidays.