Ahoy There! 5

Jimmy Holliday

Hello Jimmy, welcome to Ahoy There!

Q: Jimmy, how long have you been an opera singer?
A:I started training in 2006 and sang my first full role in 2007.

Q: Did you always know that you wanted to sing?
A:Well I started singing very early, music was in the family.  I started singing professionally as a cathedral chorister aged 6.  I rebelled against it slightly in my late teens but think I was always destined to sing.

Q: What was the first opera that you ever went to see?
A: I can’t remember which was the first, but I saw Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and Strauss’ Salome both at ENO when I was at school.  It wasn’t my cup of tea as a 15/16 year old!

Q: When was the moment that you knew you had to be an opera singer?
A: Probably only as recently as about 3 years ago.  I had spent my career as an established ensemble singer previous to and during my studies.  I found that opera, both as an art form, and in terms of vocal development, came quite late to me.  Partly because the Bass voice takes the longest to develop.

Q: How long do opera singers study for?
A: Anything from 4-8 years, I would say.

Q: Where did you study?
A: I studied for 4 years at The Royal College of Music and one year at The National Opera Studio in London.

Q: Is there a particular style of singing? Do singing styles change from country to country?
A: There are many styles of singing - opera, ensemble, choral, jazz, rock, pop, bel canto, folk etc.  Styles certainly do change from country to country.  They will generally relate to the folk music traditions of that particular country.  Bone structure, and the way the singing voice is produced can vary hugely across the continents.  If you think how people generally sing across Europe, it’s a completely way to how people would sing in, let’s say, Fiji, where the bone structure of the face in a Fijian is quite different to you or me.

Q: That’s a really interesting point that I hadn’t really thought about…do you always sing in English?
A: No, I have sung in various languages.  Most religious polyphony music is sung in Latin or English, but in opera the composer generally sets music to his native language.  There are of course exceptions - Mozart’s Italian operas - but generally that’s not the case.  So English, French, German and Italian cover the majority of operas, there are also operas in Czech, Russian and many other languages.

Q: How many languages do you speak?
A: Just English!  I can speak German, French, Italian and Spanish, but I only understand the very basics - I sing these languages much better than I speak them!

Q: How many countries have you performed in?
A: Good question and one that I don't know the answer to.  At a guess I would say about 25.

Q: Do you have a favourite country, or a particular concert hall or theatre that you always look forward to visiting?
A: I enjoy trips to America, where I went a few times as a child. There are certain concert halls - The Wigmore Hall in London, The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, The Duomo in Florence - these are all special places to sing in.

Q: What's it like to stand on a stage and sing....with an orchestra?
A: Awesome!

Q: …and what is your favourite opera?
Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro/Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream/Puccini’s La Boheme.

Q: Have you performed as Noye before?
A: Yes, I performed this piece about 7 years ago.

Q: What has been the most awesome musical moment in your life so far?
A: Really tricky one to answer.  I’ve been very privileged to have a few.  My first Wagner Sitzprobe was pretty awesome.  Singing in some of the world’s most amazing buildings like The Vatican, Florence’s Duomo, some of the Spanish Cathedrals are extraordinary.  Then there are things like getting to the last 3 or 4 for the Bass job with The King’s Singers - the world’s most famous close harmony group.  And singing in most of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies!

Q: Wow really, that must have been so exciting to sing in those films…and all those amazing places….so what is  exciting about playing Noye in this production?
A: It’s a really good (lead) role in a great opera by one of this countries finest composers.  At this stage I haven’t been involved with this particular production but from what I’ve seen and read, the concept behind this is fantastic.  There are no restrictions of a stage in an opera house.  This is going to be opera on a grand scale involving so, so many people.

Q: How many operas do you perform a year?
A: 3 or 4.

Q: Do you get tired?
A:Generally not unless you have a big role and you are relentlessly rehearsing each day for a couple of weeks.  While the rehearsal schedule for this production is intense, and I am singing a large role, it shouldn’t be too tiring a vocal experience.  You have to know when to take it easy and when you need to sing full voice.

Q: How do you look after your voice?
A: As a Bass I don’t have to be too careful.  The thick vocal chords of a bass are fairly resilient.

Q: What happens if you get a cold?
A: There’s the day before the cold truly kicks in, when I feel a little sluggish but for 24 hours I sing like a dream!  Then the next day, when the cold fully kicks in it’s impossible.  Well, not impossible but very difficult.  I wouldn’t like to have a concert or show on this day. That will last about 24-48 hours and then it’s fine again.

Q: What would be a dream come true for you as a singer?
A: There are some particular roles and some particular opera houses around the world that I have my eye on!

Q: Why do you think young people should experience opera?
A: Because there are so many elements to opera that would appeal to anyone, and starting from a very early age - babies!  There are various groups now that do Baby Opera and it’s about using the music and the visual aspects of opera.  If it’s a good production, one that brings the music and libretto alive, then opera is a very exciting art form.  We have to be careful with opera and the younger generation though.  Finding the right type of opera and music is important - I think my early experiences of Wagner and Salome may have put me off for a few years.

Q: Hmm, that’s interesting, thank goodness you decided to keep exploring the opera world! So how long do you usually rehearse an opera?
A: It can vary hugely, but the major UK companies have a 6-week rehearsal period, which will be from the very first meet and greet meeting, where the principals, chorus, music directors and accompanists, wardrobe, stage management, company management and the director and his/her assistant all meet for the first time, up to the final rehearsal - the dress rehearsal.

Q: Have you worked with Charles Hazlewood and Kneehigh before?
A: I haven't worked with Kneehigh before so I am very excited about this.  I’ve been lucky enough to work with Charles a few times.  He’ll bring a real energy and excitement to the music, although I’m looking forward to how he’s going to deal with almost 1,000 musicians!

Q: What makes this production special for you?
A: The scale of it.  It’s a wonderful piece, and it’s going to be a wonderful setting.  With so many people involved, and with such a community spirit, it really will feel like one huge musical party.

Jimmy, thank you so much for talking with me, I can't wait to see you perform this extraordinary role.
A: My pleasure!