Meet the Artist……Yvonne Fontane

(photo: Josh Gooding)

Who or what inspired you to take up a career in singing and directing?

My grandmother was a painter and she always saw and showed me the world through an artist’s eyes. My mother was a singer, and although my father was a physicist, he would always play classical music at full volume at home or in the car, conducting the radio and screaming at the tempi.

Later, my passion for singing derived from the physical sensation when producing the classical sound, as well as from the different facets of the art form itself, including the drama, languages and poetry in the various genres of opera, oratorio and song.  After I had been active as a singer for many years, I wanted to be involved in opera productions at a much earlier stage in the process. I became interested in the ideas and concept of staging and directing opera, and found it riveting to work with a team on finding solutions to express a particular way of telling a story.

Who or what are the most important influences on your work? 

Love for what I do, and respect towards the piece in front of me and the people I am working with.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Figuring out what I needed to do in order to get to where I wanted to get to. This goes for my own life and career journey, but also for the individual projects and engagements I have been involved in.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am currently working on my third, new production of Bizet’s Carmen at Winslow Hall Opera (WHO) in Buckinghamshire. I am directing and also singing the role of Carmen, bringing my number of performances of this role to around 165, but still feel there is so much to tell about the story and the character.  Joining me are a superb cast and team, and I can’t wait to get back into the experience that is WHO after last year’s success with Le Nozze di Figaro: high quality theatre making in very unique surroundings.

Italian tenor Gianluca Paganelli as Don José, South African baritone Njabulo Madlala (winner of the 2010 Kathleen Ferrier Competition) as Escamillo and Scottish-Polish soprano Natasha Day as Micaëla are leading a select cast which is supported by the company’s Founder and Music Director Robert Secret, set designer Francisco Rodriguez-Weill and lighting designer Tony Simpson.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working in an opera company? 

An opera company has to fulfil many different roles. Either subsidised privately or by the state, it has to find a healthy balance of serving its audience, finding and re-confirming a strong position in the artistic life of the community and its social calendar and co-operating with other art forms and arts institutions.  But at the same time, it has to remain free to accommodate the integrity and space which the artistic process and the artists’ work demand.

Do you have a favourite venue? 

There is no easy answer to this question. My favourite venue tends to be where I am at the present time. Certainly, Winslow Hall Opera has a very special place for me as I have worked closely with this company for many years, beginning in 2003 when it was still based at Stowe. It is an ambitious and inventive opera festival surrounded by the exceptional backdrop that only a magnificent 17th Century mansion by Sir Christopher Wren – the only Wren building outside of London – can present. It is now owned by former restaurateur Christopher Gilmour and his wife Mardi Gilmour, who have brought this festival to life with great vision and courage and out of their love for opera.

Who are your favourite musicians/singers/directors? 

My favourite singer is the German tenor Fritz Wunderlich who unfortunately died too young at the age of 35. To me, his singing represents complete honesty in sound and emotion. Especially his Schubert songs are the “truest” kind of music-making that I know.  One of my favourite musicians is the pianist Martha Argerich with her technical brilliance, power and risk taking. Both artists’ music always travels with me.  But aside from those two, I get most of my inspiration from other artists such as jazz, soul and blues musicians and all kinds of cross over artists, painters and sculptors.

One of my favourite productions is Jean-Louis Martinoty’s Le Nozze di Figaro for the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in 2004, conducted by René Jacobs. Here, simplicity and beauty, detail and clear characterisations are given time and space in an admirable synthesis between the artistic and musical direction.

What is your most memorable performing experience? 

The performances that are most memorable to me are the ones where all my performance skills and techniques were freely at my disposal and working perfectly together. But I’m afraid I can count on two hands the amount of times that has happened.

What is your favourite music to sing? To listen to?

My favourite music to sing is Italian verismo. I’m afraid that I cannot possibly say what my favourite music to listen to is. The music in my car at this moment is Afro Celt, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Tom Jones, Steve Ray Vaughn, Paolo Nutini and Richard Strauss’ four last songs.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students? 

Be true and honest to yourself and others and then show yourself, your ideas and work with confidence. I am always amazed when holding auditions or interviewing potential team members, how quickly and clearly that comes across and how strong it features in the decision-making.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

The point at which a balance has been achieved between family, work, relaxation and finances.

What is your most treasured possession? 

I feel slightly foolish, but it does seem to be my dishwasher and my SatNav!

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Aside from work, I enjoy waking up in the morning to fresh snow and clear blue skies, deciding on half a day’s skiing, then sailing down a ski slope which is drenched in sunshine and cold, soft snow with my carvers at the bottom of my boots.

What is your present state of mind? 

Now that I’ve just been thinking about skiing down a mountain, I’d say delirious.

Yvonne Fontane will be performing the title role and directing Bizet’s Carmen at Winslow Hall Opera on July 25th, 27th, 28th, 30th, August 1st and 3rd.  Saturday and Sunday performances start at 5.00pm, weekday performances at 5.30pm.  All performances will have a 90-minute supper interval. To book tickets to Winslow Hall Opera, please call 07504 298575 or email winslowhallopera@outlook.com

For more information on Yvonne please visit www.yvonnefontane.co.uk