Spotlight on Opera singer Jeremy Ovenden from Lewes
Opera singer Jeremy Ovenden lives in Lewes with his wife, soprano Miah Persson, and their two children. Jeremy tells Jenny Mark-Bell why East Sussex is the perfect base...
Spotlight on Opera singer Jeremy Ovenden from Lewes
Opera singer Jeremy Ovenden lives in Lewes with his wife, soprano Miah Persson, and their two children. Jeremy tells Jenny Mark-Bell why East Sussex is the perfect base
Jeremy Ovenden and his wife Miah Persson moved to Lewes in 2006. At the time Miah was working at Glyndebourne, and tenor Jeremy was performing in Salzburg. On one of his visits, the pair went for a walk in Southover Grange. “There was a young couple sitting underneath a tree. The boyfriend was actually serenading his girlfriend with a guitar. I just turned around and said to my wife, “You know what? I think this is a great place to bring up kids.”
Those kids are Ella, now 7, and Edward, who turns 4 in November. They love life in Lewes, says Jeremy. A lot of people living in the area have children the same age, so there are lots of friends. “This is such a friendly and sociable place to be. It’s very close to Brighton, but you still have that quaintness and the beautiful little shops. Also, it’s only half an hour from Gatwick, which is important for us as we both fly a lot.”
The constant travelling required for their jobs is difficult with two young children. “We are getting much better at organising our diaries. My wife worked at Glyndebourne again this summer, so when she’s performing at home I can go away and work abroad [Miah appeared in Don Giovanni and Turn of the Screw this year, as Donna Elvira and the Governess].”
This has been a particularly busy year. Jeremy was in Berlin at the start of the year, performing Cosi Fan Tutte at the State Opera. Then there were a number of concerts at the Salzburg Festival. “For a Mozart Tenor, that’s one of the most important places to be,” says Jeremy. “It’s one of those incredibly inspirational places: there are a lot of horses and people walking around, so you can almost imagine that you are there in Mozart’s time. It’s just the most incredible experience to feel the composer’s presence everywhere.” Jeremy will record one of Mozart’s less well known operas, La Finta Giardiniera, for the Harmonia Mundi label at the end of the year.
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An Italian education
Jeremy lived in Milan for five years and still works in Italy frequently. “Italy was where my career took off,” he says. “I had an audition and before I had finished they had waved a contract under my nose for 17 performances of Don Giovanni all across the north of Italy.
“I go back frequently because I am fortunate in having found my niche. Italian Mozart tenors don’t really exist – all the Italian tenors tend to want to sing Puccini and Verdi and all those wonderful Italian lyric operas. They find the Mozart operas quite difficult to sing. I think it’s all to do with the physical make-up of the voices – you need to have a particular voice type to sing Mozart. I sing a lot of baroque and Mozart in Italy because they just don’t really have people that do that, and I’ve become quite well known.”
Because operas require a substantial time commitment (often 6 – 7 weeks) concert work is more family-friendly. “And also I enjoy doing concerts, because you’re really concentrating on the music, whereas with opera you also have acting and stagecraft to consider. It’s the same with recording – I really enjoy that process, because you’re just concentrating on finding the different colours in the music.”
A musical journey
His CD Mozart: an Italian Journey reflects Jeremy’s changing relationship with the music on which he has based his career. It also reflects on the composer’s changing musical tastes. “I wanted to show how he developed as a composer, from boyhood through to adulthood. The thing with Mozart is that he wrote innumerable operas, which these days are not performed much. I wanted to start at the beginning of his life as an opera composer and go right through to the end, and see how the music changed.”
“I’m really happy because a lot of newspapers were very complimentary about it. Record companies are not openly inviting people to record at the moment, so you have to go there with an idea, a theme and a well thought out project.”
A developing relationship
Jeremy is on the brink of a permanent shift in roles. Next on his list is the eponymous role Mozart wrote for his opera Idomineo. “The arias are absolutely wonderful but they need a slightly older person and an older voice. As a Mozart tenor you just move along a little bit with the operas that he’s written, and the repertoire moves with the singer. I’m 40 years old now, so as I get older I will move into more mature roles.
“I’ve reached my 75th performance of Cosi Fan Tutte. I mark it in the score so I know where I’ve done it, so that when I’m an old wrinkly grandfather I can show it to my grandchildren.”
It’s an endearing image. When he’s a wrinkly old grandfather, Jeremy may be content to rest on his laurels. Now, though, it’s just a question of where his musical journey will take him next. www.jeremyovenden.com