Friday 1 April 2022

Bringing the House Down: bass Brindley Sherratt on the gala at Glyndebourne for The Meath

Brindley Sherratt with his daughter Amy (Photo Colin Hart)
Brindley Sherratt with his daughter Amy (Photo Colin Hart)

In March 2020, I interviewed bass Brindley Sherratt in advance of a gala concert at Glyndebourne, Bringing the House Down, in aid of The Meath, a residential care home for people with complex epilepsy where Brindley's daughter, Amy lives. The pandemic caused the cancellation of the concert, but it is finally taking place. 

On 10 April 2022 Brindley Sherratt will be joined by Fleur Barron, Jennifer France, Elizabeth Llewellyn, Sally Mathews, Huw Montague Rendall, Rachel Nicholls, Alexandra Oomens, Mark Padmore CBE, Brindley Sherratt, Nicky Spence and Freddie De Tommaso. The singers will be accompanied by pianists Matthew Fletcher and Caroline Jaya Ratnam, Chris Addison will compère and the pledge-master will be Adrian Biddell. The singers will perform popular arias and ensembles from opera and musicals and there will be a short screening of a film of The Meath Choir, made up of residents from The MEath. Full details of the concert from The Meath website.

Below, I reprint the original interview. I have edited it slightly, but left the basic elements, so the article covers the planned gala concert and Brindley looking forward to Wagnerian debuts in 2020 and 2021, some of which happened and some of which did not.

Brindley Sherratt
Brindley Sherratt
The whole gala started simply as an idea. As Amy lives at The Meath, Brindley and his wife Christina received a booklet, which The Meath had sent to family and friends, containing a wishlist of the things that they would like to acquire to help improve the quality of life of the residents, from a toaster to a people carrier. Brindley thought, why not a concert and decided to ask his friends to help. At the time he was performing the role of Baron Ochs in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne and started to ask singers with whom he was friends. All of them said yes, and the list of participants grew as he mentioned it. Suddenly the idea became an event, which meant that they needed a venue.

Some singers approached Brindley about singing in the concert; he finds it very touching that they are supporting something so dear to him.

Originally, Brindley had simply thought of a central London venue, but his wife suggested Brindley approach Glyndebourne. He mentioned it to Gus Christie (executive chairman of Glyndebourne),  and the result is that the concert is taking place in the main auditorium at Glyndebourne, and they have full use of the venue, complete with car parking, ushers and catering, for the whole day. The event has proved a startling amount of work, even with professional help, and has dominated Brindley's year.

The audience will be a mixture of those coming for the singers and those coming to support The Meath. As a result the music for the gala will be pitched somewhat on the lighter side with popular arias and duets alongside Gilbert and Sullivan and songs from the shows.

The Meath is based at a large Victorian mansion near Godalmining, now surrounded by other more modern houses in 12 acres of land, which provide a residential home for people with epilepsy (there are 65 residents). [You can read more about the charity's fascinating, long history on The Meath website].
Money raised from the gala will go towards providing things which will enhance the lives of the residents, from music therapists to creating a horticultural centre in the disused walled garden. The residents are all funded by the Local Authorities, which means that there is very little money left over for enriching the residents' lives.

Brindley's daughter Amy has been living at The Meath for four years. Brindley and Christina had a huge fight to get funding for her place, and Brindley comments that everyone living at The Meath as been through the mill to get Local Authority funding. He describes The Meath as pretty unique, there are not many places like it. The residents all have complex epilepsy and other associated needs, with some being autistic and some having severe physical disabilities. Amy has around seven seizures per day, not of the type where she drops to the floor, she simply 'disappears' for 30 seconds. This means that not only can't she do things like drive, but she needs 24 hour care. Prior to moving into The Meath, Amy spent three years at St Piers College, in Lingfield, Surrey (which is part of Young Epilepsy). But before then she lived at home, with her care managed by Brindley and Christina, which was exhausting.

One result of this was that, as a singer Brindley did not travel much. When Amy became settled away from home their lives changed, and Brindley was able to start travelling, from around 2011/2012, and he made five major international debuts in two years, which in itself was exhausting.  He was away from home for about 15 months, only able to pop back briefly.

Brindley describes the atmosphere at The Meath as happy, whilst the needs of the residents are severe, it doesn't feel like that. He is aware that such charity galas can be heavy and he is trying to avoid that and assures me that the concert will be fun!

Brindley's forthcoming UK performances are mainly concerts with Beethoven's Fidelio with Sir Mark Elder and the Halle and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican coming up imminently when we talk. He is also singing at the BBC Proms this year, at the first night and at a performance of Handel's Saul.

Britten: Billy Budd - Brindley Sherratt as Claggart, Glyndebourne 2013 (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Britten: Billy Budd - Brindley Sherratt as Claggart, Glyndebourne 2013 (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
He will be making his debut with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich as Pimen in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, and then is singing in Puccini's Manon Lescaut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in April. Further ahead he will be playing the Doctor in Berg's Wozzeck at Aix-en-Provence with Christian Gerhaher in the title role, Sir Simon Rattle conducting and Simon McBurney directing. He feels that life is good at the moment, and his wife Christina is able to travel with him; he adds that when he is in Aix 'everyone wants to come out to visit'.

Next year, he will be performing Hunding and Hagen with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra in their complete Ring Cycles (Jurowski and the orchestra have being doing each opera from The Ring in concert and 2021 will see them performing all four as together for the first time). Hagen is one of the roles that  Brindley wanted to do before he died, and this will be his debut. It was a role that he held off from performing, but once he started to perform more as Claggart in Britten's Billy Budd [see my review of Glyndebourne's production in 2013 with Brindley as Claggart], he decided that he could do Hagen now.

And 2021 sees Brindley continuing to challenge himself as he will be making his debut as Gurnemanz in Parsifal with Opera North, with Richard Farnes conducting. Whilst he has always done 'bits and bobs' of Wagner, he now wants to do more and this is happening during the next two or three years. In his early days, most of the opera he sang was Italian, but he now has far more German and Russian opera in his repertoire.

One of the reasons for this change is that developing the stamina to sing the long Wagnerian roles took time. He points out that Hagen and Gurnemanz are two of the biggest roles in Wagner's operas and that Gurnemanz has a total of around 90 minutes of music! Brindley adds that Gurnemanz is like Baron Ochs in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier (another long, wordy role) but slow. And he adds that Gurnemanz is real medicine for the voice as it sits just right.

Brindley is 57 and people ask him if his is going to be winding down, but there is no sign of that at the moment and when he gets Hagen and Gurnemanz out of the way he will see how things develop. One of the reasons is that he started late, and began his operatic career only when he was 37.

Before that, he had spent 13 years with the BBC Singers (where he knew Dame Sarah Connolly who was also in the ensemble at one point). As a result he didn't do young artists programmes and was, instead, thrown off the deep end. Two years after leaving the BBC Singers he was performing Publio in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Whilst in the BBC Singers he had always done solo work as well, performing in Handel's Messiah, Haydn's Creation and Verdi's Requiem, but at a relatively low level. His children were young, and as a member of the BBC Singers there was no pressure, no travel, you got weekends off and received holiday pay. But after ten years he started to get bored, and as he approached his late 30s his voice was getting stronger so it became difficult singing in a choir. He got a bit glum and his wife encouraged him to sing to a few people, to see what they thought. An agent suggested that he get some coaching [his voice was OK, if a bit rusty but he had no opera on his biography], and after this he started to be put forward for auditions and his hit rate wasn't bad; he went to Welsh National Opera for three covers, Colline in Puccini's La Boheme, Leporello in Mozart's Don Giovanni and one of the conspirators in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera.

Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier - Brindley Sherratt as Baron Ochs, Glyndebourne 2018 (Photo Robert Workman)
Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier - Brindley Sherratt as Baron Ochs, Glyndebourne 2018 (Photo Robert Workman)
The BBC was very helpful, giving him six months unpaid leave to see if it would work. He felt he had been let off the leash, and loved it. Lower male voice types always develop relatively late, and with Brindley it came rather later. A big turning point was singing Claggart in Britten's Billy Budd at Glyndebourne in 2013. Before being cast, people had said to him that he wasn't a Claggart, that he was too nice a chap to play the role and that his voice was too smooth, but Brindley's response was 'give me a shot at him'. It turned out to be one of the most successful things he had done so far, and it led to performances as Baron Ochs in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier (with Welsh National Opera in 2017, see my review, and with Glyndebourne in 2018).

Brindley comments that people like to put you in boxes, whether it be German opera, Italian opera or character singer, whereas what really matters is that either you are a good artist or not.

He regards himself as very fortunate, when he was younger he never dreamed that he was going to be doing this. When he left the BBC Singers the peak of his expectations was a small role at Covent Garden!

Bringing the House Down: a concert at Glyndebourne for the Meath Epilepsy Charity - Sunday 10 April 2022, 3pm - further details from the Glyndebourne website

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