An international singing star from Rhyl who has played some of opera’s greatest soprano roles is returning to North Wales to play a leading part in a new production of Carmen.
Welsh soprano Elin Pritchard, who was born in St Asaph and grew up in Rhyl, will make her Welsh National Opera (WNO) debut when she assumes the role of Micaëla in the company’s Spring Season production of Carmen.
Conducted by WNO Associate Conductor Harry Ogg, the production will see the former Ysgol Dewi Sant pupil reprise one of her earliest operatic roles.
The 36-year-old, who now travels the world as a professional opera singer working alongside some of the best-known singing stars and orchestras, is thrilled to be returning to North Wales for the performance at Venue Cymru in Llandudno on Thursday, March 5.
“Any opera singer dreams of working for their national company and I feel it’s something I’ve been itching to do,” said the singer, who now lives in London but regularly returns to Rhyl to visit her family.
“I trained in Cardiff and was able to watch so many rehearsals and performances while studying. Wales is a very special place for me.
“It’s been a slow but steady career and I now feel it’s the right time to be singing for WNO. In the last couple of years, my career has become much more established. Everything seems to be falling into place and has come at the right time which is exciting.”
Elin, who attended Ysgol Glan Clwyd in St Asaph, says music was ingrained in school and family life.
“Singing was part of the ritual of going to school. We went to church every Sunday and back then, being Welsh, we were brought up in and amongst music,” she said.
“Music was huge and that’s how it should be because it brings out creativity in every young child.
“I was number four – the baby of the family – and was the quiet one. My eldest sister Lowri was the actress, my third sister Eirian was the one with the best voice and my second sister Mair also sang – they were all performers.
“I was just a quiet, timid teenager who loved singing by the piano but didn’t have any confidence back then to sing in front of people.”
When she was 17, Elin’s parents paid for singing lessons with Nigel Shaw, a tutor based in Llandudno, who she credits with “changing everything”.
“He taught me classical music and trained my voice in the classical style,” she said.
“Nigel worked on my voice and really invested in me as a young singer. If he hadn’t done that I would not be where I am today. He was inspirational.”
Elin watched her first opera at the age of 16 – WNO’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in Llandudno – describing it as a “mind-blowing” experience. She went on to study a BMus in Music at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff where she enjoyed regular trips to WNO performances at the New Theatre and the Millennium Centre.
Following the course, she completed a post-graduate diploma in performance before undertaking a Master of Opera and Master of Music at the Alexander Gibson Opera School at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
It was while in her first year of study in Scotland she was cast as an understudy for Micaëla in a production of Carmen by Scottish Opera, Scotland’s national opera company.
“That was my first professional job and still being a student it was quite amazing,” she said.
Elin’s major break came when she was cast as Violetta in a touring production of La Traviata which she undertook on behalf of Scottish Opera while also studying at the National Opera Studio in London which she describes as a finishing school for opera singers.
“I was really fortunate and managed to get work and keep afloat while my voice developed at a steady and healthy pace,” she said.
“It’s a hard industry for young singers, especially sopranos, and when I think back to how it’s all happened for me I feel very lucky. There was always a tiny, slow trickle of work coming in.
“I was a dedicated, hard-working singer. Whenever I’ve gone to a job I was always prepared and committed.”
Other prestigious roles followed including four consecutive summers with Opera Holland Park and regular roles with The Danish National Opera, Scottish Opera and Opera North. She has also worked for English National Opera, Mid Wales Opera, Finnish National Opera and more recently The Grange Festival which she will perform at again this June in the title role for Puccini’s Manon Lescaut.
“I’m a bit of a stage animal and I always tend to sing my best when I’m 100% in character,” she said.
“I worked at Opera Holland Park for four consecutive summers. They plucked me out of National Opera Studio and gave me small roles at the house and each year I went up the ladder and sang more prominent roles. They put faith in me as a performer. I had amazing opportunities with them which gave me exposure down in London and as a performing artist.
“Another huge deal for me was the Buxton Festival Opera. I had a chance to sing Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor in 2015 which is an enormous role in the opera world and demanding both physically and vocally. I just think it was a turning point in my career and secured me an agent which helped with my development.”
Jo Davies’ vibrant new production of Bizet’s Carmen returns to Venue Cymru following a successful Autumn run and features a brand new cast.
With some of the best-loved music in opera, the production is set in 1970s Central America and portrays the hardships that Carmen and her community wrestle with.
The opera also provides a new perspective on the character of Carmen, her survival instinct, and the economic and socio-political forces that drive her to use her looks and sexuality to further her cause.
Joining Elin in the cast is American mezzo soprano Julia Mintzer who sings the title role in her UK operatic debut, with Peter Auty as Don José. Also new to the cast this season are Giorgio Caoduro (Escamillo), John Savournin (Zuniga) and Haegee Lee (Frasquita).
Elin hopes her performance – and her meteoric success – will inspire other young singers to chase their dreams and try out opera.
“I was never the popular singer or the star of college or school. I was never the one who they said would be the opera singer,” she said.
“My parents never pushed me or any one of us. They allowed us to find out for ourselves what we wanted to do. Their support, love and guidance has been paramount to my singing.
“I think there is an opera out there for everybody. You need to find the opera you’re going to enjoy. Opera is escapism. It’s a natural sound that penetrates your mind and it can be the most liberating experience when you’re listening to a live orchestra.
“If you’re interested in music and performance, come and watch an opera – you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you see. The age of the standing opera singer is gone – it’s an art form in its own right. We are actors on stage but we are singing actors.”
To book tickets for Carmen, call Venue Cymru Box Office on 01492 872000.
For more information also go to www.wno.org.uk