Alan Fairs

I was born at Gateshead on Tyneside. My father was a well-known local amateur singer who had studied with the prominent Newcastle singing teacher, George Dodds, whose publications are still available. My early memories include being taken to concerts given by the Felling Male Voice Choir. We moved to Glasgow when I was eight years old, and I sang as a treble in the local church. For secondary schooling I went to Barnard Castle School in the north of England. It had an excellent chapel choir. Here too, I gained valuable stage experience. While my subsequent career has been short on Gilbert and Sullivan and there has been no opportunity to repeat my interpretation of Mabel in Pirates of Penzance, school opera provided an introduction to grand opera in the form of Mozart’s Magic Flute in the role of Papageno. I also appeared as Ithamore in The Jew of Malta alongside a younger boy by the name of Kevin Whately in what was possibly his first experience of being on-stage.

From school, I won a choral Exhibition to Caius College, Cambridge where I read economics. Alongside my duties in the college chapel, I regularly took part in concerts. I was also a member of a ‘group’, the Gentle Power of Song, which recorded for Polydor Records, and appeared several times on television. One of our songs, Constant Penelope, by Richard Hill, can be heard on Youtube. That’s me singing the bass part. I hoped to proceed to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but was disappointed to learn that having already gained a degree, I had made myself ineligible for further grants to study at a music college.

There followed a career in banking, which began in September of 1968, but ended that December after I was persuaded to apply for a bass lay-clerkship which had become vacant at Worcester Cathedral. This was the start of more than a decade in which I sang in Worcester Cathedral Choir, while teaching economics locally, and I’ve lived in Worcestershire ever since.

Offers of oratorio engagements began to come my way. The very first was for a performance of Stainer’s Crucifixion at a fee of four guineas! My oratorio work grew steadily and I found myself travelling ever further afield for concerts. I also auditioned successfully to sing with the wonderful BBC Singers and with other professional choirs, mainly in London, until in 1980 I left teaching, having already resigned my cathedral lay-clerkship in order to be more available for oratorio. I enrolled as a part-time student at the Birmingham School of Music (now the Conservatoire). Also in 1980 I entered the Incorporated Society of Musicians NatWest Festival Days Competition with my wife Heather as accompanist and we emerged as joint winners.

1982 brought my first venture into the world of professional opera when I auditioned successfully for the Glyndebourne Chorus, and this brought tremendous opportunities both as an understudy and in performing several small roles. Only a few weeks before the start of my first Glyndebourne season I had appeared as bass soloist in Haydn’s Creation alongside the late Elizabeth Harwood. My first appearance at Glyndebourne was in Der Rosenkavalier in which Elizabeth Harwood was the Marschallin, and she was extremely helpful and supportive during my first very nervous experiences as a chorister on the Glyndebourne stage.

At Glyndebourne a kind colleague suggested I ought to have more singing lessons and provided a valuable introduction to the world-renowned teacher, Audrey Langford. I studied with Audrey until she died some ten years later. I continued my studies with Andrew Field, and subsequently with Robert Dean and Graeme Broadbent; this over a period of more than twenty years.

Having left Glyndebourne’s chorus in 1985 I spent two summers in the chorus at the Bayreuth Festival. There were other chorus and extra-chorus engagements at Covent Garden, at Amsterdam and Enschede in Holland, and at the Wexford Festival.

After 1989 I sang three seasons as a principal with Pavilion Opera, and gave many performances in several roles. My three years with this company provided extremely valuable experience that would have been hard to find elsewhere. It was followed by several roles with Travelling Opera, Crystal Clear Opera, the Craig y Nos Opera Festival, London Opera Players, European Chamber Opera, Mid-Wales Opera, Nurnberg Pocket Opera, Castleward Opera and Holland Park Opera among many other companies and festivals. I’ve performed as Alberich in Wagner’s Der Rheingold at the Longborough Festival, receiving excellent press reviews, and I have appeared as Osmin, Don Pasquale and Don Alfonso (Cosi fan tutte) with the excellent Diva Opera.

My first engagement with Welsh National Opera came in 1995, understudying Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte. Since then at WNO I’ve sung Sacristan (Tosca), Bonzo (Madama Butterfly) – both for several seasons, Monterone (Rigoletto), Dikoj (Katya) in two seasons, Foreman (Jenufa), Basilio (Barbiere di Seviglia), Swallow (Peter Grimes), Dulcamara (L’Elisir), Talpa (Il Tabarro), Magnifico (Cenerentola) and Bartolo (Figaro) in two seasons.  I’ve understudied Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier twice for English National Opera and in German at Scottish Opera and for Covent Garden.  I appeared as the Attorney in Der Rosenkavalier at Covent Garden.  With English Touring Opera, there was Pistola (Falstaff) and Melisso (Alcine).

Roles at Glyndebourne were Antonio (Figaro) and Starveling (Midsummer Night’s Dream) in early years, but more recently I’ve appeared there as Micah and Kezal (Bartered Bride). I also understudied excellent Italian artists in Rossini buffo roles as Don Magnifico (Cenerentola) and Bartolo (Barbiere di Seviglia) while at Glyndebourne.

My first engagements at Scottish Opera were to understudy Alberich (Das Rheingold) and Dulcamara (L’Elisir). There followed engagements to perform as Bonzo (Madama Butterfly) and Kommissar (Der Rosenkavalier). An engagement to understudy Raimondo in a season of Lucia di Lamermoor became an opportunity to perform the role in all performances when the casting was unexpectedly revised, and I was delighted to read some of the most pleasing national press reviews of my career. Since then I have also appeared as Dr Grenvil in La Traviata, and most recently as Le Comte des Grieux in Manon, where once again, my contributions won plaudits in the press. Scottish Opera also engaged me in a ‘gala’ opera concert, as well as for a concert performance of I Puritani. I’m especially pleased to feel I’ve achieved two of my greatest successes in what was once my home city.

There have been many engagements abroad, including a long tour as Sarastro on the eastern side of the USA from Florida to Maine, a tour of Switzerland and Germany with Opera Factory Zurich in their production of Marschner’s Vampyr and at Geneva in Berio’s Un Re in Ascolto.

Alongside my progress as an operatic principal, I’ve been very pleased to continue accepting regular engagements as an oratorio soloist. After emerging successfully from the competitive auditions, one of my earliest engagements was to appear in ‘Messiah from Scratch’ at the Royal Albert Hall, conducted by Sir David Willcocks, and I’ve continued singing Messiah throughout my career. I wish I’d kept count! It was gratifying recently to be asked back by the Leeds Festival Choral Society for a Dream of Gerontius immediately after singing in one of their Christmas Messiah’s at the splendid Leeds Town Hall! My most recent engagements include four favourite works – Verdi’s Requiem, Haydn’s Creation, Bach’s St Matthew Passion (as Christus) and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.

After the ISM/NatWest Festival Days Competition, Heather and I enjoyed many song-recital engagements. I gave lieder recitals on BBC Radio 3, appeared on Radio 2’s ‘Friday Night is Music Night’, and also on Independent Television singing songs by Ivor Gurney. Heather and I have continued appearing from time to time with Gabriel Woolf to perform his excellent Far from Home, a delightful collection of songs, poetry and other readings, light-hearted as well as tragic, from the First World War. This was first performed at Worcester’s Three Choirs Festival, then at London’s Wigmore Hall, and for many music societies and festivals.

Programme biographies often include a section listing ‘Awards’. Apart from the ISM/NatWest Festival Days Competition success, there has been one other award, which I received at the Holland Park Opera Festival in 1997 for my appearance in Tosca. At that time, awards were normally given for the best male and female principal, which of course tended to go to those performing the biggest roles. However, the judging panel decided to create an ‘Extraordinary Special Judges’ Award’ just for me! Quoting from their press release, the award was, “in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the…production in the role of Sacristan. It was felt that his ability to engage the audience so completely in such a small role was a great achievement.”

I’m happy to say I’m in excellent vocal health. After a ‘slow-burn’ career of gradual improvement and development, I feel I’m singing better than ever.

Richard Dowling

Richard Dowling

Richard Dowling is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music’s Opera Course, where he was privileged to perform the role of Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. He also particularly enjoyed appearing as Le Prince in Massenet’s Cendrillon, performing in the Wigmore Hall with the Academy Song Circle and as a soloist in the Academy’s complete Bach cantatas series. He is now generously supported by Opera Prelude, with whom he appears regularly in their lectures and recitals.

He recently sang the role of Ferrando in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte with West Green Opera and, working with the inspirational Graham Vick, performed the role of the Sailor in Birmingham Opera Company’s production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. He has also worked in educational outreach, singing the role of Nemorino in Donizetti’s Elisir d’amore with Jackdaws OperaPLUS.

With Garsington Opera he performed as the Glassmaker in Britten’s Death in Venice conducted by Steuart Bedford, as Selimo in Rossini’s Maometto II, and Mosquito in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen. He was pleased to be awarded Garsington Opera’s 2014 Simon Sandbach Award. He also sang the role of Count Almaviva in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville as a young artist with Mid Wales Opera.

Richard is a keen recitalist, was a participant in the 2015 Wigmore Song Competition and recently gave a recital at Leighton House, Kensington, inspired by his life and paintings. He is also an experienced oratorio artist, engagements including Britten’s Ballad of Heroes and Mozart’s Requiem in the Bridgewater Hall, Finzi’s Dies Natalis in Brentwood Cathedral, Janacek’s Otcenas in Gorton Monastery and Handel’s Messiah in Lincoln Cathedral.

He also enjoys singing with the Gabrieli consort and with the Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, including a recent tour of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio under maestro Masaaki Suzuki.

Richard originally studied Chemical Engineering at The University of Manchester and went on to complete a PhD in the field of crystallisation while working as a Lay Clerk at Manchester Cathedral.

Raphaela Papadakis

Raphaela Papadakis

Winner of the National Mozart Competition 2015, Raphaela Papadakis is a British soprano of Greek, Italian and Seychellois descent. Whilst still a student at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, she made her professional début at Garsington Opera, for which she was praised by the Financial Times as giving “the most attractive solo performance” of the show. Since then, she has performed roles with Independent Opera and Bury Court Opera, and covered at the Royal Opera House and the Berlin Staatsoper. Recent and future roles include the cover of the title role in Cavalli’s Hipermestra at Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Orestilla in Porpora’s L’Agrippina in its British première with Barber Opera.

A passionate recitalist and concert singer, Raphaela made her début at Carnegie Hall in 2014, and was a Vocal Fellow at the Ravinia Festival, Chicago. This season sees her return to the Oxford Lieder Festival with Sholto Kynoch and the Piatti Quartet, and appearing as a featured artist at the 70th birthday celebrations of the celebrated composer Nicola LeFanu. Raphaela’s awards and prizes include the York Early Music Festival Prize at the London Handel Festival, 1st Prize and Audience Prize at the Clonter Opera Competition, and 1st Prize at the Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards. She is a Samling, IMA, and City Music Foundation Artist, and a winner of the Making Music Award for Young Concert Artists.

Recent and future plans include Haydn’s Creation with Paul McCreesh, performances with Multi-Story at the Aldeburgh Festival, creating the role of Doria Manfredi in a new play about Puccini’s life called Il letto by Christopher Hogg, a Helios Collective production for the Buxton, Copenhagen and Grimeborn Opera Festivals, and concerts of French song with Tom Poster, Elena Urioste and the Navarra Quartet at the Roman River Festival, recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Raphaela studied at Clare College, Cambridge, graduating with a first-class degree in English Literature, and at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama with Janice Chapman.

Robert Rice

After a choral scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge, British baritone Robert Rice gained a DipRAM in London under Mark Wildman, continuing his studies with Richard Smart, Sheila Barnes and Nicholas Powell.

Robert Rice

As a concert artist his repertoire is extensive and varied: in 2015 he premiered Andrew Edwards’ Christmas Story, Jacques Cohen’s Exodus Fragment, and Paul Drayton’s St Mark Passion, in addition to familiar works such as Bach’s St John and St Matthew Passions, and Mozart’s Requiem. His future plans include Monteverdi’s Vespers for the Royal Choral Society in London, and the premiere of Philip Cooke’s Noah’s Fire in Chester Cathedral.

His interest in performing contemporary music encompasses the modernist expressionism of Peter Maxwell Davies and Ligeti, and staged premieres by Judith Bingham and Nigel Osborne (with Opera Circus, touring the UK and Bosnia & Herzegovina); more recently he covered two roles in Birtwistle’s Yan Tan Tethera for the Britten Sinfonia. In recital he often collaborates with guitarist Erich Schachtner in Germany and in the UK on programmes of lieder and lute songs.

Robert has recorded Judas in The Apostles with Canterbury Choral Society and the Philharmonia Orchestra, and his version of Cornelius’  (The Three Kings) with the choir Polyphony is a favourite on both Classic FM and BBC Radio 3 whenever Christmas approaches. When not performing, he leads workshops, adjudicates, and teaches widely, including for the National Youth Choir, Eton Choral Courses, and Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Novello & Co. Ltd have published many of his vocal arrangements, while others are sung worldwide, and have been recorded, by the King’s Singers. His nickname Berty has confused countless acquaintances. He often tries to arrange his singing engagements around skiing trips to the Alps, although aware that it should be the other way round.

Ruth Holton

Ruth Holton

The English soprano, Ruth Holton, read music at Clare College, Cambridge, where she was a choral exhibitioner.

Ruth Holton made her first solo recording in J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion (BWV 245) for Deutsche Grammophon under John Eliot Gardiner, and rapidly became well known for her performances of the Baroque and Classical repertoire. Ruth’s discography includes Carissimi’s Jephtha, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, J.S. Bach’s cantatas with John Eliot Gardiner and Ton Koopman, W.A. Mozart’s Salzburg Masses, George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, Heinrich Schütz’ Christmas Story, Haydn’s Nelson Mass, and most recently, G.F. Handel’s Susanna with the Kölner Kammerchor.

The clarity of Ruth Holton’s voice makes her a popular choice for contemporary music: she has given a programme of newly-commissioned works at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, has participated in a BBC television documentary with original music by Peter Salem, and recorded Grand Pianola Music by John Adams. She has sung in concerts and a recording of works by Steve Reich with Ensemble Modern. She has given first performances of the Te Deum by David Briggs (Three Choirs Festival), Gethsemane by Matthew King in the Spitalfields Festival, and Brian Inglis’ In Sorrow and Joy in Bath.

Ruth Holton has appeared in many major European festivals, including Flanders, Greenwich, Cheltenham and Bath. She has performed with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Gustav Leonhardt in Rome and Vienna, and with Fretwork in Finland and Germany. At the millennium new year she was a soloist for Sir John Eliot Gardiner in performances of J.S. Bach’s Cantatas in Berlin. She has made regular appearances with the choir of St. Thomas’ Leipzig in J.S. Bach’s own church and on tour, and performed his Mass in B minor (BWV 232) at Bachfest Leipzig in 2000 on the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death.

Ruth Holton is an experienced recitalist and has given concerts of Lieder and French Song in London, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Bath and Oxford. Plans for the current season include a performance of Haydn’s Creation in the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford, J.S. Bach’s Cantatas with the Monteverdi choir in Eton and the Orkney festival, and a newly commissioned Creation  by David Briggs in Gloucester. She completed in 2000 a project to record all of J.S. Bach’s sacred Cantatas with the Holland Boys Choir.


7.30pm, 9th December 2017

St. Edmund’s Church, Shipston-on-Stour

Mozart, Exultate jubilate
Kuhnau, cantata Uns ist ein Kind geboren
J.S. Bach, cantata 191, Gloria in Excelsis Deo


Robyn Allegra Parton – soprano

Phillipa Thomas * – mezzo-soprano

Robert Tilson * – tenor

Alistair Donaghue – bass baritone

(* by arrangement with Birmingham Conservatoire)

and the

Queen’s Park Sinfonia

and our rehearsal accompanist Rachel Bird on keyboard

Queen’s Park Sinfonia

Since its formation in 2002 the Midlands-based Queen’s Park Sinfonia has quickly established itself as one of the new generation of exciting chamber orchestras in the UK.  Queen’s Park Sinfonia offers the wealth of talented young graduate musicians in the region the opportunity to develop in a professional environment.

Often collaborating with highly acclaimed soloists and performing in prestigious venues across the Midlands, the orchestra allows its members to perform with like-minded professionals in supportive and creative surroundings.  As a youthful ensemble it strives to create performances that are both challenging and satisfying to musicians and audiences alike.

Queen’s Park Sinfonia exists as a ‘non-profit making’ organisation and currently receives no financial support.  All concerts and engagements enable the ensemble to finance future projects and allow for the ongoing promotion and development of the orchestra.

Queen’s Park Sinfonia is an ensemble with an ethos that is both community and regionally based.  In an increasingly competitive environment, young professional musicians require both support and encouragement in order to continue developing.  The aim is to create opportunities for these musicians within the region and ensure that their skills are used within the wider community by encouraging creativity and an involvement in musical activities for people of all ages, cultures and abilities.