Brindley Sherratt is about to make his debut as Fiesco in ENO’s new staging of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra by the Russian ‘wunderkind’ director Dmitri Tcherniakov. Over the last few years this accomplished British bass has made his name at ENO and The Royal Opera in a variety of roles ranging from Pimen (Boris Godunov), to The King (Aida) and last season sang an acclaimed Pogner in Richard Jones’ award-winning staging of Wagner’s epic Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg for the WNO.
But as I found out, he came to singing quite late. “I’ve had a slightly different route to where I am now compared to most of my colleagues. I studied trumpet at the Royal Academy of Music, and singing was my second study. Whilst at college I won an opera prize which my teacher had only put me forward for to gain some experience but I won it nevertheless and began singing small parts in opera there as well, so I thought to myself ‘well maybe I’m quite good at this’.”
When Brindley left college, performing in opera took something of a back seat as he got a job singing in the choir at St George’s, Windsor where he stayed for about three years before joining the BBC Singers. These must have been halcyon days as Sarah Connolly and Jeremy White were also in the choir. Brindley remained there for thirteen years, eventually leaving in 1999. “I left because people had been telling me that given my voice I should be doing opera and to be honest I didn’t really fancy the lifestyle but it got to a point where I thought ‘it’s now or never’, so I sang to a few people and I was told that I needed some coaching as I was a bit rusty.”
He went away and had some coaching from David Syrus, who is head of music at the Royal Opera House, and began getting some auditions through his agent. “We weren’t talking major roles but Covent Garden were great to me as they gave me a small role in 2001 in Haydn’s L’anima del filosofo, and then Publio in La clemenza di Tito – that was very much the ‘here I am’ kind of thing as the cast included Anna Netrebko, Barbara Frittoli, Vessselina Kasarova and Colin Davis was conducting. I was absolutely terrified and I was convinced that I had slipped through the net. One day I completely froze and the director asked if I was OK, and I replied ‘well no I’m not – look at all these people. I have all their recordings, two years’ ago I was in the BBC Singers’. His reply was ‘well you’ve fooled me and them, so shut the ‘F’ up and get on with it.’”
He went on to sing more roles with The Royal Opera, the WNO and made his debut with ENO in 2004 as Sarastro in The Magic Flute. Amongst the many standout moments of his career he cites his debut as Rocco in Fidelio at Glyndebourne in 2006 as one of the most important. “That was probably the first large role I’d done at such a high level, surrounded by big international voices and because Deborah Warner was directing, this was the first time that I realised that I actually enjoyed acting as well as singing. She helped me enormously – that was a really significant moment for me in my career.”
Another project which Brindley was thrilled to be part of was Richard Jones’ staging of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger last season at the WNO. “I sang Pogner in that and absolutely loved it. Pogner isn’t one of the biggest roles I’ve done by a long shot, but it was a joy to be involved in something that was a one-off. It was a fantastic production, and an amazing cast – such a wonderful project and Pogner was my first proper Wagner role. And we had the luxury of nine weeks’ rehearsal.”
He is full of praise for the theatrical intensity that Deborah Warner and Richard Jones bring to their projects and now he’s working with the acclaimed Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov on ENO’s new Simon Boccanegra, who is well known for being an exacting perfectionist. “Like the other directors I’ve mentioned Dmitri is incredibly well prepared. He knows the score backwards and the direction comes from the music but like Jones and David McVicar he likes to control each scene. He has a very clear idea how the scene works, what is going on, what the relationships are and certainly doesn’t give you a blank page. He gives you a page with the diagrams pretty much finished, which just needs a bit of colouring in now and again. He is the most exacting director I’ve ever worked for. He doesn’t take prisoners.”
Although Tcherniakov has been working at a breakneck speed, and Brindley has found the rehearsal process intense, he has the utmost respect for his ideas and is full of praise for the way he has developed each scene. All of the Russian director’s previous stagings have proved controversial so what is his take on Verdi’s tale of political intrigue going to be like? “He’ll tread on some toes, has stretched the plot here and there, and breaks away from every Verdi tradition of doing this piece. He’s pushing the boundaries and it’s very theatrical and detailed. He’ll offend some people, he always does, but he definitely boldly goes where no one has gone before with this piece.”
Brindley Sherratt sings the role of Fiesco in ENO’s new staging of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra from June 8. www.eno.org
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