Opera singer, John Tomlinson, talks Michelangelo ahead of International Wimbledon Music Festival
World famous opera singer Sir John Tomlinson is set to grace the Wimbledon International Music Festival. The bass spoke to Nicole Prinz.
Nicole Prinz: You and pianist David Owen Norris are going to present a selection of Michelangelo’s poets, sonnets and suite’s. What made you want to perform these rather unknown pieces of the world famous artist?
John Tomlinson: It was three years ago when I was asked by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to sing Shostakovitch’s 11 songs based on verses of Michelangelo, and it was in the preparation and performance of these that my fascination with the great sculptor’s poems began.
NP: Is there any personal reason for the choice of Michelangelo’s pieces?
JT: I have always, along with millions of others, been amazed by Michelangelo’s sculptures, and the poems offer a window into the mind of the great genius.
There are many love poems (he had passions for women and men in the course of his long life), there are angry, furious verses, philosophical ones on his work and his beliefs, and then finally apprehension of death.
All written with economy, strength, passion, and mystery; sometimes hard to unravel.
Another reason is that the Shostakovitch and Wolf songs were written specifically for the bass voice. Many songs I sing are transposed down for my lower voice, but these were written with a voice like mine in mind.
NP: What can we expect to see on the stage?
JT: I am dressed as a Edwardian painter, with suit and bow-tie under a painter’s smock, a typical garb of that period, and I sit at the table in my workshop perusing 21 old pieces of paper - scribbled poems from various times in my life. An updated version of Michelangelo.
NP: What sparked your interest in becoming an opera singer?
JT: I was brought up in a pre-television Lancashire household where the whole family played the piano and sang every day. I did the same; then in my teens, I discovered that my voice was unusually low and resonant, and was the subject of comment whenever I sang. I suppose I realized I had something special and determined to learn how to become a good singer; not an easy process, even when you’re blessed with a strong and healthy voice; it takes many years.
NP: Do you have any other favourite music genres apart from operatic music?
JT: I love the work of many composers in classical music, from Monteverdi to Birtwistle. Apart from that, just a couple of pop musicians, and some jazz. But I’m 99 per cent classical really.
NP: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
JT: I would have to single out the part of Wotan in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which I have sung on many stages, in particular Bayreuth (the theatre Wagner built for his own operas), and Covent Garden here in London.
7 Sonnets of Michelangelo, Church of St John the Baptist, Spencer Hill, Wimbledon, November 17, 2013 - 7.45pm
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