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: highlights of last season included singing Humperdinck at the Berlin Konzerthaus, Mozart at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival, and concerts of Monteverdi, Bach, Dvorak, Vaughan Williams, Walton and Carl Orff.  Robert’s interest in performing contemporary classical music as a soloist began in his twenties when he tackled the modernist expressionism of Peter Maxwell Davies and Ligeti, and this led to staged premieres of works by Judith Bingham, Paul Clark and Nigel Osborne (with Opera Circus, touring the UK and Bosnia & Herzegovina).  In recent years he has been involved in premieres of diverse new works, those by Jacques Cohen, Philip Cooke, Paul Drayton and Piers Maxim being notable examples.  His future plans include further appearances as the various love interests of Alma Mahler in Elizabeth Mucha’s Art Sung project, and he debuts in April as Mydas in Franz von Suppé’s The Beautiful Galatea.  As a recitalist he often collaborates with German guitarist Erich Schachtner 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’ Die Drei Könige (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 at 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 (Photograph by Gerald Place)

The soprano Ruth Holton has enjoyed a varied career as an oratorio singer and recitalist in repertoire ranging from medieval to contemporary music. Her interpretations of the passions and cantatas of JS Bach established her as a leading baroque soloist through concerts and recordings for Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the Leipzig Thomanerchor, Amsterdam Baroque and the Holland Boys Choir. She has sung with leading ensembles throughout the world including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Hilliard Ensemble, Fretwork and Ensemble Modern.

The clarity of Ruth’s voice makes her a popular choice for newly commissioned music and she has sung in premières of works by Steve Reich, Peter Salem, David Briggs, Guy Woolfenden and others.

In 2014 she toured Germany, England and the USA with the forte pianists Malcolm Bilson and Zvi Meniker in recitals marking CPE Bach’s 300th anniversary. More recently her concert repertoire has included Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony, Verdi Requiem, Howells Hymnus Paradisi and Strauss Four Last Songs.

This season Ruth gives recitals of Schubert Lieder and new works by Robert Scott, and performances of Rutter Magnificat, Brahms Requiem and Mendelssohn Lobgesang.

Ruth has given masterclasses at Dartington, Madrid and Gdansk. She is the
Organist and Director of Music at All Saints West Dulwich, and she founded the community choir Sing4ALL in 2014.

Alistair Donaghue

Alistair, 22, is a final year music student at Birmingham Conservatoire, studying Vocal and Operatic Performance as a Bass-Baritone.

Alistair Donaghue

Originally from Northampton, Alistair started his singing career as a boy chorister at All Saints Church, before joining the National Youth Choir of Great Britain.  Alistair sings with the National Youth Choir, and is also a Senior Lay Clerk at St Philip’s Cathedral in Birmingham where he featured as a soloist on their recent broadcast of Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3.

He is also a member of the Chamber Choir of Birmingham Conservatoire, conducted by Paul Spicer.  Outside of choral singing, Alistair regularly appears in operatic productions at Birmingham Conservatoire, as well as performing in the chorus of the Dorset Opera Festival 2016.  Notable performances include ‘Blow’ in Venus and Adonis (title role), Verdi’s Macbeth (Chorus), Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (Chorus), Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Alidoro), and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (Geharnischte Mann).

Future engagements include singing the bass solos in Bach’s St Matthew Passion with Birmingham Cathedral, and playing the role of Dr Bartolo in Le Nozze di Figaro.

Phillipa Thomas

Phillipa Thomas

Phillipa Thomas studied music at the University of York, winning the University Concerto Prize.  Following her MA, she continued her training at Birmingham Conservatoire where she won the Conservatoire Singing Prize.

In 2017 Phillipa’s performance of ‘Carmen’ for Dulwich Opera Company was described as “the best Carmen I’ve seen since Maria Ewing… at Glyndebourne in the ’80s.”  (Louise Flind – Opera Today).  Other recent roles include ‘Cherubino’ (Le nozze di Figaro, East London Opera), ‘Dorabella’ (Cosi fan tutte, Dulwich Opera Company), ‘Giovanna’ (Rigoletto, Nevill Holt Opera), and ‘Orlofsky’ (Die Fledermaus, Fulham Opera Young Artist).

Recent solo engagements include Bach’s Cantata No. 48 (RPO under Ben Pope), Duruflé’s Requiem (Bristol Choral Society under Hilary Campbell), and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (King’s College Cambridge under Stephen Cleobury).  Phillipa has recently finished recording alto solos for numerous oratorios as part of a project with the professional ensemble Blossom Street Singers.  Previously performed works include Bach’s Weinachtsoratorium, Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, Dvorak’s Mass in D, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Requiem and Nelson Mass, Mozart’s Requiem, Purcell’s Come ye Sons of Art, and Vivaldi’s Gloria for various choral societies in the UK.

Darren Jeffery

Stour Singers are delighted that Darren Jeffery – who excelled in the title role in Handel’s Saul for us in May this year – has accepted our invitation to be the 2017/18 Honorary Fellow.  Darren’s expressive bass baritone voice is very versatile, and he is completely at home on both the operatic stage and the concert platform.  Starting his musical training at the Royal Northern College of Music, Darren was one of the very first singers to join the Royal Opera Young Artists Programme (even singing there with Luciano Pavarotti!).

Darren has built an extensive career, singing a diversity of roles from Handel to Wagner, from Britten to Stravinsky, in some of the great opera houses of the world from our own Royal Opera House and English National Opera to Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre.  He has also sung at Glyndebourne, Garsington, and the Proms.  Based with his family in Cornwall, he can often be seen restoring Land Rovers and tinkering with tractors as well as encouraging young local singers!

Darren’s programme from now until summer next year includes a premiere at English National Opera, oratorio in Bude, Dartington, and Liverpool, singing ‘Monterone’ in Verdi’s Rigoletto at Covent Garden, Britten in Moscow, and an extensive tour of the Netherlands in the title role of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman.  Closer to us, Darren is singing at Longborough Festival Opera in July next year as the ‘Music Teacher’ in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.  What a full programme!

When invited to be our Honorary Fellow, Darren said he would love to accept, and was thrilled to be asked.  The thrill is ours!

Robert Tilson

Operatic tenor Robert Tilson is a passionate interpreter of a wide range of roles in genres spanning from the 17th century to the present day.  In 2016 Robert was awarded a place to study on the esteemed Masters course at The Royal Academy of Music under internationally renowned tenor Ryland Davies and multi-award winning accompanist James Baillieu.  He has recently been involved in their spring opera scenes, working on the role of ‘Davey’ in John Dove’s 1994 opera Siren Song.

Robert Tilson

Robert is looking forward to working in the chorus for the summer season at Opéra de Baugé, and is also taking the role of ‘Ferrando’ in Flat White Opera’s Cosi Fan Tutte.

During his undergraduate degree at the Birmingham Conservatoire, Robert’s passion for opera grew dramatically.  He performed the title role in the Conservatoire’s 2015 production of Actéon by Charpentier, and the role of ‘Satyavan’ in the 2016 production of Savitri by Holst.  He created the lead tenor role of ‘Dave’ in the 2015 production of Michael Wolters’ world premier Ava’s Wedding, the role of ‘L’Aumonier’ in the 2014 production of Dialogues des Carmelites by Poulenc, and the role of ‘Lover’ in the 2013 production of Il Trittico by Puccini.

Robert has also featured regularly in the Birmingham Conservatoire’s autumn opera scenes, appearing twice as ‘Rodolfo’ in Puccini’s La Bohème, ‘Monostatos’ in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, ‘Fenton’ in Verdi’s Falstaff, ‘Snout’ in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ‘Raoul de Gardefeu’ in Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne, and ‘Grocery Boy’ in Berkeley’s A Dinner Engagement.  He has also sung as a member of the chorus in scenes from Bizet’s Carmen, J Strauss’s A Night in Venice, Verdi’s Macbeth, Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, and Weil’s Street Scene.

Robert has had several external opportunities while at the Conservatoire.  His highlights include working with Midland Opera, performing the lead role of ‘Giannetto’ in La Gazza Ladra by Rossini.  Other performances include being a featured soloist for Opera At Bearwood’s winter season, and singing the lead tenor role of ‘Angelo’ in a new operatic commission, Die Welt Ist Das Exil by Austrian composer Ulf-Diether Soyka.

In his years at the Birmingham Conservatoire Robert has been a key member of all three choirs at the Conservatoire, recently featuring on his third CD for the choir.  Maintaining his choral foundations, Robert has performed as a tenor soloist in: Bach’s Mass in B minor, Handel’s Messiah, Dixit Dominus and Chandos Anthem No. 9, Haydn’s Creation and Harmoniemesse, Mozart’s Requiem Mass, Spatzenmesse and Coronation Mass, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Saint Saën’s Christmas Oratorio, Puccini’s Messa Di Gloria, Dvorak’s Mass in D, Schubert’s Mass in G, Stainer’s Crucifixion, and Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.


Robyn Allegra Parton

British lyric-coloratura soprano Robyn Allegra Parton is a versatile musician and performer described by Opera magazine as ‘stylish’, ‘dynamic’ and ‘irresistible’, and as a ‘standout’ by The Observer.

Robyn Allegra Parton

Roles in 2018 include Zerbinetta (Longborough Festival Opera), and the title role in Coraline by Mark-Anthony Turnage (Royal Opera House, Barbican Theatre).

In 2015, Robyn performed Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  Robyn has created the roles of Agnes in Nothing by David Bruce (Glyndebourne Festival Opera), Peg in Virtues of Things by Matt Rogers (Royal Opera Linbury), and the Narrator in the Sea-Crossed Fisherman by Michael Ellison (Istanbul Music Festival).  Other roles include: Mercedes (Grand Theatre de Luxembourg), Morgana in Alcina by Handel (Ryedale Festival Opera), excerpts of Mozart heroines in Amadeus for the National Theatre, and Clelia in Octavia by Reinhard Keiser (Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik) for which she was praised by German press Online Musik Magazin for her ‘clear high tones and clean, flowing coloratura’.

As a concert artist Robyn has performed with ensembles including the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Gustav Mahler Chamber Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, English Baroque Soloists, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Oxford Philharmonic, Luxembourg Philharmonie, and the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra.

Robyn has recorded the title role in Charpentier’s Caecilia Virgo et Martyr for Novum, and songs for soprano, oboe and piano by Stephen Dodgson for Toccata Classics.

Robyn read music at Worcester College, Oxford University, and studied singing at the Royal College of Music and English National Opera’s Opera Works.