Duchy Opera people
John Nettles OBE
Life Members - Benjamin Luxon CBE, Annabella Waite MBE
Honorary Members - John Hobbs, Margaret Hobbs, Derek Rowse
Patrons - Alan Opie, Richard Jackson, Ingrid Surgenor, Wendy Eathorne
Our President, who succeeded Lady Mary Holborrow, grew up in St Austell, studied history & philosophy at Southampton University and in 2012 was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Plymouth. His TV appearances in the Bergerac detective series and later Midsomer Murders have made him a household name but he also won critical acclaim for his polished Shakespearean performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company. In a recent interview on Radio Cornwall, John revealed his love of opera, and Mozart in particular, but said he had no plans to become a singer himself. He joined us as Narrator in our highly successful and widely enjoyed “Dearest Papa” concerts, based on the life & works of Mozart.
Our Musical Director, Paul Drayton, is an accomplished pianist, composer, lecturer and conductor. He gained the Advanced Piano Performing Diploma of the Royal Academy of Music at the age of sixteen, going on to study music and composition at Oxford University.
His work as a pianist has included concerto performances, solo recitals, chamber music, accompaniment, and the occasional jazz performance. He is the author of a listener’s guide to music entitled Unheard Melodies or Trampolining in the Vatican (Athena Press 2008). As a composer he has had major works commissioned by the Norwich Triennial Festival, the Three Choirs Festival and the Kings Singers (including "Masterpiece"), and he has written for many individual artists, ensembles and choirs. His works have been published, recorded and broadcast in Europe, Japan and the USA. His chilling opera The Hanging Oak, based on a story by M.R. James, was premiered in October 2009, and in 2012 his new chamber opera The Mermaid of Zennor, adapted from the popular Cornish legend, was performed by Duchy Opera with children from Cornish Primary Schools.
Richard was born in Cornwall, and educated at King’s College, Cambridge (his degree is in French and German) and the Guildhall School. He developed a number of specialisms as a singer, including contemporary music, and the song repertoire. He created a variety of new opera roles at London's Almeida Festival, in Amsterdam, Warsaw, and Mexico. He was a founder-member of The Songmakers’ Almanac, regularly singing with the group in the Wigmore Hall, at the Festivals of Aldeburgh and Edinburgh, in Europe and the USA, and taking part in their recordings for BBC TV and CD. He was the original Christus in Jonathan Miller's celebrated staging of the St Matthew Passion - also for BBC TV and on CD. He sang at ENO, Opera North, Glyndebourne, and the Monnaie, Brussels. He sang the title role in Eugene Onegin under Rostropovich, and worked on Menotti's Maria Golovin, directed by the composer. He has now retired as a singer, but his specialist languages, French and German, are being employed in a flourishing teaching career. He leads song classes at the Royal College of Music, the Guildhall SMD, and Trinity College of Music as well as making regular visits to York, where he has directed two Purcell stagings: King Arthur, and Dido and Aeneas. He has taught in Beijing, Hong Kong, Australia, France and Norway. He has served on the jury of the Kathleen Ferrier Awards twice. He has led masterclasses with Duchy Opera, and we are delighted that after directing our October 2014 opera production, Donizetti's Elixir of Love, Richard has agreed to direct La Traviata for us in 2017.
Benjamin Luxon CBE
Internationally renowned baritone Ben Luxon has had a long association with Duchy Opera. He was born in Redruth, Cornwall and early in his career he was a member of composer Benjamin Britten's English Opera Group, singing roles in Albert Herring and The Rape of Lucretia in 1963. Eight years later, Britten composed the title role of his television opera Owen Wingrave specifically for Luxon's voice. He went on to sing at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival, where he became a frequent guest. He had a long association with English National Opera and has performed leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and in Los Angeles as well as most of the major European opera houses. He has been a recitalist with an unusually broad repertoire, ranging from early music through Lieder to contemporary song, music hall and folk music and has made more than a hundred recordings. Since experiencing problems with hearing loss he has developed a career as a narrator and poetry reader whilst continuing to direct opera and give master classes. He currently lives in the USA, but in 2012 came to Cornwall to perform in Miracle Theatre and English Touring Opera's Tin.
Whilst at the height of his international opera career he saw Duchy Opera’s first production of Carmen in 1984 and was so impressed by the high standard of the Company that he spoke to Director Chris Warner offering help and support. Being Cornish-born with family still in the area and educated at Truro School he often visited the County. In 1987 Duchy Opera was extremely privileged when he agreed to sing the role of Papageno in a touring production of The Magic Flute, which he did, to the delight of the audience, Cornish-style, at one point sitting on the edge of the stage eating a pasty! His wife, soprano Sheila Amit, shared the part of Papagena with Suzanne Manuell. He introduced the Company to Leon Lovett, a London based conductor, also at the height of his career, who then became Musical Director for a number of years. In 1989 Ben played the title role in Duchy Opera’s 2nd production of Eugene Onegin which he was also singing concurrently at La Scala, Milan, in Russian. He also took part in Country House concerts and on one memorable occasion, when the food for the Friends was being prepared at St Michael’s Mount, on the afternoon of the concert, he swam across to see how the preparations were going. Having swum back he returned an hour later looking immaculate in white tie and tails.
Another outstanding occasion was the Last Night of the Proms at Carn Brea when Ben was seen crawling on the roof of the building blocking out the light from the windows with black bin bags. He was definitely ‘hands-on’ and not in any way a divo! It was here too that, during a discussion between Ben and Chris Warner, the embryonic stages of a theatre for Cornwall were planned on the back of a menu and resulted in Ben forming part of a core group which met to discuss the future and campaign for a new City Hall (now the Hall for Cornwall). In 1998 Duchy Opera staged its first production in the newly built Hall for Cornwall – Die Fledermaus, which was directed by Ben and designed by Lyn LeGrice. He also directed Carmen the following year. Ben now lives in the USA but still maintains his links with Duchy Opera.
Annabella Waite MBE
Annabella has lived and worked as a singing teacher in Cornwall for over 40 years. She originally trained at the Legat School for a career in ballet. After gaining a place on the Performers’ Course at the Guildhall School of Music she studied singing with Oda Slobadskaya and Reinhold Gerhardt. She initially performed in London’s West End and, after marriage, went to live in Canada where she continued studies at the Toronto Conservatory with Ernesto Vinci and worked as a freelance soloist/recitalist and also as a member of the Festival Singers of Canada under the conductorship of Elmer Eisler. After four years teaching music in the Caymen Islands she returned to Cornwall and, encouraged by teacher Pamela Faulkner, established a teaching practice, tutoring boys for choral scholarships, teaching in local schools, doing voice therapy work and preparing advanced pupils for professional work & for entry to universities and music colleges. She has sung oratorio & opera in SW England and is a founder member of Duchy Opera for whom she designed sets and costumes for over fifteen years. As Education Co-ordinator for the company she has arranged many opera workshops for schools, locally based choirs and advanced singers with Mollie Petrie, Richard Jackson and Russell Smythe, Peter Harrison and Mary Hammond. She has also organised three masterclasses with Benjamin Luxon. She completed the CT ABRSM course in 1998/99 and is currently researching and compiling material for the publication of a Glossary of Musical Terms for Singers. Annabella has also taught voice training as part-time lecturer at The Combined University of Cornwall for the postgraduate MA course of Broadcast Journalism. She was awarded the MBE in the 2004 New Year’s Honours List for services to Duchy Opera Trust and the Community of Cornwall.
John and Margaret Hobbs
In 2012, John and his wife, Margaret, were delighted to be made the first Honorary Members of Duchy Opera, which they have been so happy to serve for the past 26 years. John's musical education began with piano lessons at the age of 4, and in 1959 he gained a choral exhibition to Christ's College, Cambridge, reading Rural Estate Management and singing in the chapel choir then joining the Cambridge University Music Society's large undergraduate choir directed by (Sir) David Willcocks. Leaving Cambridge (without a degree!), John farmed in Warwickshire and Barnstaple, and became organist at High Bickington Parish Church, whilst singing with the North Devon Choral Society and as a soloist in the region. By 1968 John had moved to Cornwall, and, still farming, become organist at Launcells Parish Church and conductor of Bude Choral Society, a post which he still holds today. There were singing engagements with choral societies over a wide area and a large repertoire of oratorio and songs developed, but no opera, as yet, as its rehearsal requirements do not sit well with twice-a-day milking and animal husbandry! A performer's LRAM singing diploma was gained. In 1981 John turned to music teaching at St Petroc's, Bude, gaining a BA(Hons) degree with the O.U. He attended a master-class given by Ben Luxon and joined Duchy Opera. In 2007 he retired from teaching and returned to small-scale farming. John still sings with the Troubadours, performs in Gala Concerts, conducts three choral societies, is organist at Weare Giffard, and sings in oratorio. John has sung many of the principal baritone roles in the Company's productions since 1987.
Margaret's early love of music meant starting piano lessons at the age of 10 after the family piano arrived at her Manchester home on the back of her uncle's lorry. At 12 she joined the Junior Department of the Northern School of Music, Manchester, became Secretary to the Bursar, gained the LRAM diploma in Piano Teaching and began teaching. Later, in Cornwall, she joined the staff of St. Petroc's where John was now Director of Music. After being introduced to Duchy Opera by Ben Luxon, she and John would travel after school to rehearsals in Truro and once John had joined the D.O. Council, Margaret became Minutes Secretary. When the founders of the Friends of Duchy Opera announced their retirement, Margaret offered to help by writing a few letters, and this led to her serving as FODO secretary for 17 years. As long as music was in her life she was happy, and she accompanied John to concerts all over Cornwall. They both enjoy continuing their association with Duchy Opera.
Smaller Duchy ensembles
This group of Duchy soloists performs staged and costumed opera extracts, often joined by invited guests associated with the company.
Performances have included the Finale to Act Two from The Marriage of Figaro - (Mozart) with Cheryl Brendish, Kay Deeming, Susan Lancaster, John Hobbs, Ken Jaggard & Simeon Royle and a scene from The Magic Flute - (Mozart) with Cheryl Brendish, Kay Deeming, Susan Lancaster, Ben Hoadley & John Hobbs.
Duchy Opera is always keen to work with talented young singers, encouraging them to develop their singing and stagecraft. If you would like to know more about singing with us please email duchy@duchyopera, and mark your email for the attention of our Musical Director.