<< -- 2 -- Roderic Dunnett OPERATIC CONNECTIONS
Tom Hawkes began producing opera in the 1960s, and by 1969 was already staging Verdi's Macbeth in Northern Ireland. He cut his teeth as a director with companies like Phoenix Opera and Crystal Clear Opera. His repertoire includes many of the staples -- Madam Butterfly, Mozart's Da Ponte operas, The Magic Flute; in Northern Ireland he later staged both La Traviata and Norma. His collaboration as Artistic Director, with Pierre Aumonier, of Central Festival Opera has delivered a host of successes for the spirited Northampton-based company, including a vital and uplifting Beggar's Opera.
But Hawkes's repertoire is astonishingly broad. He served as Director of Productions for London's Handel Opera Society, and for one company or another his Handel stagings have included Ezio, Partenope, Riccardo Primo, Teseo, Rodrigo, Esther, Hercules ... He recalls directing Riccardo Primo in Cyprus, where 'Richard the Lionheart is something of a local national hero, so when Paul Esswood opened his mouth I think they were taken a little aback to discover he was a countertenor. Actually Della Jones appeared easily the "butchest" of all those on stage!'
Hawkes staged Alcina in Brussels, at the La Monnaie Studio, and in 2000 was asked by the Handel Society's octogenarian conductor Denys Darlow to stage Ottone for what was to be the last of the London Royal Schools' collaborations, before -- separate funding at last being possible -- the Royal College and the Royal Academy went their separate ways again after a ten year partnership.
Ottone, he says, was one he'd never staged before. His lead (in the role created for Handel by the great castrato Senesino) was an admirable young countertenor and a relative newcomer, Simon Baker : 'Simon produces a lovely sound; he was quite raw on stage in those days, and I've not seen him act recently (Baker sang the lead in the recent Westminster Abbey world première staging of Britten's Five Canticles) -- but my goodness what a worker! He has real possibilities -- impressively, he absorbed everything I threw at him.'
Tom Hawkes is an ideal figure for Castleward to light upon : he not only enjoys working with younger singers; he is singularly inspired at instilling in them the basics of good staging. The year after Ottone he staged at the Royal College of Music's Britten Theatre another rarity, the London Handel Festival's new production of Handel's Brockes Passion ('I was thrilled to be asked to do the Passion -- I'm a hopeless bells and smells fanatic!'). His dedicated cast included another young performer with a huge future ahead of him, the tenor Andrew Kennedy. The results were striking, and the production, a classic Rice-Hawkes staging, married the religious aura of a pre-Raphaelite Holman Hunt canvas with the medieval purity of a religious painting by Georges de la Tour.
Copyright © 29 May 2003
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK