RNCM students tour Peter Grimes with the Bergen Philharmonic

Our students joined the recent tour of Britten’s Peter Grimes, visiting Bergen, Stockholm and London.

Students from the School of Vocal Studies and Opera sang alongside the Edvard Grieg Kor and the Colligeûm Mûsicûm in what has been named number two in the Guardian’s Top 10 classical music events of 2019.

Second year MMus vocal student James Mitchell blogged for us about the fantastic opportunity, with photos taken by third year BMus student, Joel Heritage:

A little after 4am on a Sunday morning, 12 students from the RNCM School of Vocal Studies and Opera found themselves, slightly sleepy, in Terminal 3 of Manchester Airport getting ready to board a flight. Our destination as a group was Bergen, the second city of Norway, and a cultural hub home to one of the oldest and most renowned orchestras in the world, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.

Our goal was to bring our voices and skills to join and enhance the chorus of the Bergen Philharmonic’s production of Peter Grimes, under the baton of Edward Gardner. The production toured Bergen, Oslo and London, with three days to make a recording for Chandos in the middle, and starred the tenor Stuart Skelton.

Once we arrived in Bergen, descending past a panorama of lakes and fjords, we had a few hours to find our rooms and drop off our bags before jumping straight into rehearsal with Chorus Master, Hakon Matti Skrede and the combined voices of the Edvard Grieg Kor, Bergen Philharmonic Chorus and an adult choir, the Colligeûm Mûsicûm.

Being part of such an incredibly focused wall of sound – especially for the opera’s climactic mob scene in Act 3 – was humbling and exhilarating. However we were well-prepared due to regular rehearsals organised in the weeks leading up to our departure and led by Deputy Head of Opera, Kevin Thraves.

Spending two weeks in Bergen gave our group time to bond, explore, and come to terms with the fact that a pint of beer cost £8. Since most of the chorus worked full-time, a lot of rehearsals and recording sessions were scheduled for the evening.

It was normal for us all to meet at breakfast to load up for the day, chatting to world-class soloists such as Roderick Williams, Marcus Farnsworth and Catherine Wyn-Rogers, and learning about their experiences in the industry.

As well as a full Scandinavian breakfast, the Grand Hotel Terminus where we stayed contained a gym, which many singers made good use of. Out in the city were a great variety of cafes, shops and museums. In Bergen you are never far from the sea, and it became easy to see how Peter Grimes, with its nautical themes, would come to resonate so strongly with life in Bergen.

For many of us, the high point of our days in Bergen was our time spent climbing Mount Floyen, a mountain just behind the hotel which offered breath-taking views of the city and the mountains and the sea beyond. And for those who didn’t fancy the climb, the historic funicular, completed over a century ago in 1918 and still in operation today.

A weekend in Oslo offered a chance to explore and sing in the incredible Oslo Opera House, and a chance for many tenors to talk to Stuart Skelton about how he came to be so closely associated with the role of Grimes.

After a second week in Bergen recording the opera, we travelled back to London for an intense final day with the piece – a morning of heavy rehearsal in the Royal Festival Hall, getting used to the sharp new dynamic, before a sold out final performance.

The Peter Grimes project has been an incredible chance to widen our knowledge of both the professional world and of this most British of operas, brought to life so well in Norway and London. We were all proud to be involved and proud to have been given this opportunity to perform on the world stage.

Find out more about the School of Vocal Studies and Opera.

19 December 2019