Five minutes with
Joanna Harries & Ashley Beauchamp ahead of their opera recital on 30 March
Best Zoom concert aperitif and/or snack?
Ash: I’ve become a huge fan of margaritas during this most recent lockdown. That and a packet of crisps and I’m just about sorted for any Zoom concert… or meeting!
Jo: A hot toddy in the winter, G&T in the summer – and popcorn.
What is your favourite piece in the programme?
Jo: Handel’s “As with rosy steps” has had a special place in my consciousness ever since stumbling across a YouTube clip of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing it in a Glyndebourne production when I was a teenager. Her performance (and the music) is mesmerising.
Ash: This is a tough one… but I think it has to be our secret encore piece! I won’t say what it is, but this composer’s songs are just brilliant. This is my first time performing this particular one, but I love it!
Besides music, what have you been up to in lockdown?
Ash: I’ve been trying to force myself to get outside once a day, EVERY day. I’ve been lucky to spend most of the past year down in Sussex, where we are spoilt for nice walks!
Jo: I totally agree – being outside and getting fresh air is so important. I’ve been going for lots of runs along the Thames Path and around the local parks. I also finally cracked open the Cheese Making Kit I got a couple of Christmases ago, and I now make quite a good paneer…
Your favourite newly discovered composer/artist?
Jo: I’ve been exploring Rebecca Clarke and Anton Arensky recently – two fabulous song composers. Arensky is quite Tchaikovsky-esque, I’m singing some of his songs and duets at Pushkin House on 9 March. Rebecca Clarke has such a distinctive musical voice and sets the most beautiful and interesting texts.
Ash: Babatunde Akinboboye. He’s a Nigerian American baritone who has become a viral internet sensation for creating the genre ‘Hip-Hopera’ – combining Hip Hop and Opera. Words can’t do it justice – but he is fiendishly talented with this infectious energy that he uses to break down a lot of the stereotypes surrounding opera and classical music. Check him out online!
Favourite place you’ve ever performed?
Ash: During my undergraduate degree, I got to play for a masterclass at the Wigmore Hall. Playing there for the first time, and knowing just how many incredible musicians have come before you on that stage, was truly special. I’ve been fortunate enough to play there a few times since and the novelty has never (and will never!) wear off.
Jo: Wigmore Hall is magical – it feels like you can do anything in that acoustic, really tiny, subtle things with colour! Somewhere very different but very interesting was when I sang at the Church of Peace in Świdnica, Poland as part of the big Bach Festival there. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site as there are only three of these Peace Churches left in the world – they come from the period of the Thirty Years War, when it was decreed they were only allowed to build wooden churches. So they built these enormous, cavernous, wooden cathedral-sized buildings, every inch filled with elaborate decoration that mimicked marble and gilt – but all made entirely of wood. The acoustic is so unexpected because you are expecting marble and stone!
If you could play any other instrument, what would it be?
Ash: The guitar! I’ve tried a few times and I am USELESS.
Jo: I do love the viola – I played violin/viola when I was younger. But a part of me also really wants to be a percussionist!
Favourite language to sing / coach?
Jo: I really can’t choose – I love languages and the challenge and variety of learning them. This month I’ve been learning repertoire in Russian and Swedish for some upcoming recitals – Russian is tricky but so rewarding, and Swedish is a really beautiful, melodic language (listen to some Wilhelm Stenhammar songs!) I do also love performing in English though – from Purcell to Britten, to lots of wonderful contemporary works I’ve sung.
Ash: One of the reasons I love this job is because you get to work in so many different languages every single day. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for German, because I first got into playing for singers by working on German lieder. It is such a beautiful language.
If there was an opera written about your life, who would compose it?
Ash: I’d love to imagine it would be some lush romantic opera by a mysterious Italian composer, but it would most likely be something weird, wacky and very contemporary!
Jo: I think Stravinsky would write mine. Perhaps “The Rite of Spring” meets “The Rake’s Progress” – quite the mash-up!
Joanna and Ashley perform music by Mozart, Bellini, Strauss, Massenet, Walton and Handel.
Tuesday 30 March 2021
7.30 pm GMT
Mezzo-soprano Joanna Harries is a versatile and dynamic performer with a repertoire stretching from baroque to contemporary music. She was a choral scholar at Cambridge University and went on to train at the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (Alexander Gibson Opera Studio).
In opera she has performed with Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera, Grange Park Opera, Opera Holland Park and British Youth Opera, and her roles stretch from the seventeenth to twenty-first centuries. Upcoming roles include Emerging Artist as Innkeeper’s Wife/The Cunning Little Vixen (Longborough Festival Opera), Lucinda/La forza dell’amor paterno (The Barber Opera) and creating the role of Diana in The Weekend – a new opera version of Michael Palin’s play by composer Scott Stroman. She is also an Emerging Artist for the Royal Opera House’s “Opera Dots” programme for children.
“Joanna Harries’s Savitri is the only flesh-and-blood character…Harries sang with conviction and emotional force.“The Times
“Harries’s robust mezzo-soprano adroitly navigated the shifting moods and keys of the piece, letting rip in her final exchange with Death.”Bachtrack
Ashley Beauchamp is a pianist and conductor originally from Sussex, now based in London. In 2017, he graduated with first class honours from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance where he studied with Eugene Asti. In September 2017, he started on the répétiteur course at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Specialising in work with singers, Ashley is regularly found giving recitals across the UK.