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Commentary

22 Jul 2020

English National Opera announces new Harewood Artists for Summer 2020

English National Opera (ENO) today announces that three new singers will be joining the Harewood Artists programme this summer.

The new members of ENO’s programme for exceptionally talented singers are Alexandra Oomens (soprano), Benson Wilson (baritone) and William Thomas (bass).

The ENO Harewood Artist programme gives talented singers the opportunity to perform career-building roles with a major opera company whilst receiving specialist coaching, guidance and support over a 2 to 3 year period.

In addition, Harewood Artists can receive dramatic, movement, performance psychology and language coaching, as well as opportunities to learn from distinguished artists and leading figures from the operatic world. The programme is led by members of ENO’s Casting and Music Departments who oversee each singer’s development and ensure that they each benefit from a tailored programme of training and support.

Benson and William’s first roles as Harewood Artists will be Schaunard and Colline in ENO Drive & Live’s La bohème, a new drive-in opera experience, 19-27 September at Alexandra Palace.

ENO Head of Casting Michelle Williams says: ‘We’re delighted to welcome three new Harewood Artists to ENO. The programme is fundamental to our ongoing commitment to supporting the development of talent in the opera industry, and we look forward to helping our brilliant new artists grow.’

Former Harewood Artists include Sophie & Mary Bevan, Elizabeth Llewellyn, Iain Paterson, Nicky Spence, Sarah Tynan and Leigh Melrose.

Soprano Alexandra Oomens comments: ‘Now more than ever, having the opportunity to perform means so much and I am thrilled to finally announce this next step in my career. The lack of music making over the past few months has been incredibly hard on so many, and I feel very fortunate to be joining the Harewood Artist Programme and following in the footsteps of many of opera’s leading figures.’

Baritone Benson Wilson says: ‘In times like these, where music will be crucial to the healing of the world, I am honoured to be joining the family at ENO as a Harewood Artist. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from internationally-renowned coaches and artists, with the support of one of the most prestigious companies in the world.’

Bass William Thomas adds: ‘I am so excited to join the ENO Harewood programme. They have already provided so much support throughout the Covid-19 crisis and I cannot wait to sing roles at the London Coliseum. ENO was my first experience of opera; as a 17 year old I did my work experience here watching rehearsals of Butterfly, Billy Budd and Dr. Dee and it’s such a thrill to be continuing my post-music college career in the heart of the West End.’

Alexandra Oomens

Australian soprano Alexandra Oomens is a recent graduate of the Royal Academy of Music Opera Programme. Alexandra is an alumna of the prestigious Georg Solti Accademia. Alexandra studied at the Conservatorium of Music Sydney, where she attained a Bachelor of Music with Honours. Moving to London, Alexandra completed a Masters of Music at the Royal Academy of Music, and was awarded a Dip RAM for an outstanding final recital. She went on to complete an Advanced Diploma of Opera, and was awarded a Royal Academy Foundation Award.

During her time at the Royal Academy Alexandra performed such roles as The Vixen (Cunning Little Vixen), Semele (Semele), La Princess/La Chauve-Souris (L’Enfant et les sortilèges), Laurette (Le Docteur Miracle), Tina (Flight), Cupidon (Orphée aux enfers), and Damigella ( L’incoronazione di Poppea). Alexandra is extremely grateful for the generosity of the Carr-Gregory Trust Scholarship, and John Baker Opera Award during her time in RAO.

Alexandra most recently performed as Barbarina with Opera North in their production of The Marriage of Figaro. Other operatic productions include, Clonter opera; Zerlina (Don Giovanni), London Handel Festival; Clizia (Teseo), Pinchgut Opera; Isabelle (L’Amant Jaloux), Childerico (Faramondo), Lisel (The Chimneysweep), Alina (Giasone) and 2nd Woman ( Dido & Aeneas).

Alexandra has performed as a soloist with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Eroica Ensemble, and the Orchestra of the Antipodes. In recital she has performed in such works as Bach’s ‘Easter Oratorio’, and Telemann’s ‘Die Donner Ode’, ‘Exsultate Jubilate K. 165’, ‘Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen BWV 51’, Coffee Cantata BWV 211’, Bach’s ‘B Minor Mass’, and Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’.

Benson Wilson

New Zealand-born Sāmoan baritone Benson Wilson is the winner of the prestigious 64th Kathleen Ferrier Award. That same year he was awarded the Most Outstanding Overseas Performer of the Royal Overseas League Competition, the Worshipful Company of Musicians Award, and was the 2018 winner of the Joan Sutherland & Richard Bonynge Foundation Award and the People’s Choice Award.

This season Benson makes his debut for Opera Queensland in the title role of Le nozze di Figaro. On the concert platform he begins the season with a recital tour of New Zealand including for Auckland Chamber Concert Hall, Hawkes Bay Opera House and Auckland Opera Studio, and later gives UK recitals for Oxford Lieder and Kings Lynn Festivals with pianists Sholto Kynoch and Lucy Colquhoun.

Previous operatic roles include Marullo (Rigoletto) for Glyndebourne on Tour, John Shears (Paul Bunyan) for ENO, Mirza Der Gesang (Der Zauberinse) at the Salzburger Festspiele as a 2019 Salzburg Young Singer, cover John Sorel (The Consul) for Welsh National Opera, Guglielmo (Cosi fan tutte) and Count Almaviva (Le Nozze di Figaro) for Bloomsbury Opera, Schabernack (Le Grand Macabre) with London Symphony Orchestra, Schaunard (La bohème) for Festival Opera Napier, and Guglielmo ( Cosi fan tutte), Demetrius (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Assan (The Consul) as a scholar on the Guildhall School of Music & Drama Opera Course.

Benson regularly appears in concert in repertoire including Handel ‘Messiah’, Mozart ‘Requiem’, Fauré ‘Requiem’, Duruflé ‘Requiem’ and Brahms ‘Ein Deutches Requiem’, and in 2016 he joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra for a Total Immersion Concert featuring works by Richard Rodney Bennett.

Prior to relocating to the UK, he won New Zealand’s premier singing competition, the Lexus Song Quest, and graduated with a BMus from the University of Auckland. Benson is a former young artist of the Georg Solti Accademia di Bel Canto, the Samling Young Artist Programme, the International Vocal Arts Institute, and New Zealand Opera School.

William Thomas

British bass William Thomas is winner of a number of major prizes, which include the Kathleen Ferrier Award and John Christie Award in 2018, and the Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition in 2019. William is a Drake Calleja Scholar and Help Musicians UK Maidment award holder, and is a recent graduate of the Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he studied with John Evans.

William made his Vienna State Opera debut in 2019 as Snug in a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that was directed by Irina Brook and conducted by Simone Young. Other opera engagements have included the role of Nicholas in the UK premiere of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for the Glyndebourne Festival, where he was as a Jerwood Young Artist in 2018, his Garsington Opera debut as Shepherd in Pelléas et Mélisande in 2017.

Recently in concert, William performed Bartok’s ‘Cantata Profana’ in his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra under François-Xavier Roth, and the Beethoven ‘Symphony No. 9’ with the Orchestre national de Lyon conducted by Alan Gilbert. He appeared in the Irish National Opera Gala at the National Concert Hall Dublin, where he appeared last season in Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with the RTE Concert Orchestra and for Dvorak’s ‘Requiem’ with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra. Other concert work also includes Beethoven ‘Symphony No. 9’ in Paris and Versaille with Les Siècles. Upcoming concert work includes a European tour of Bach's ‘St John Passion’ with the Monteverdi Choir under Sir John Eliot Gardiner.

Increasingly in demand as an interpreter of song, William has made several appearances at London’s Wigmore Hall, where he appeared most recently as part of Graham Johnson’s ‘Songmakers’ Almanac’ series. Elsewhere in recital, he returns to the Leeds Lieder Festival alongside Graham Johnson and appears at the Barber Institute with Joseph Middleton.

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