Next month Lesley Garrett will be back on stage at Opera North for the first time in eight years and, as Nick discovers, it’s going to be emotional.
HE theory goes that one doesn’t really interview Lesley Garrett so much as sit before her – and that she only really has one gear, which appears to be full throttle. Really there’s little else to do than sit there and let her pour forth. And so it proves when we met at the headquarters of Opera North, the company she began her career with and to which she returns next month. However, a few days later comes a message – Lesley has an important addition to our interview.
After much to-ing and fro-ing we finally speak and she says the one thing she didn’t mention when we met, was the death of her father, just before Christmas.
Unable to choke back tears, she explains her father was – and remains still – an enormously important part of what makes her who she is. It’s why, she says, she is finding performing the solo opera La Voix Humaine so very hard; the opera is about lots of things, but a central theme is loss.
It’s a very different Garrett than the the one who arrived at the Opera North offices having spent the day rehearsing Poulenc’s piece all firm handshakes and appearing every bit a force of nature.
At 10 minutes 54 seconds into our time together (rarely have I been so pleased to be recording an interview), she pauses for breath and says: “I’m sorry love, do you want to start again? Shall we start properly now? What do you want to ask me about?” Almost eleven minutes in and the only question that’s been asked is “how are you?”
“A mixture of really tired and really excited, it’s an amazing piece and it’s getting a mixture of responses – do you know the piece?” Garrett had begun. “It’s just me by myself, which is a virtually unique situation in opera, where there’s just one character on stage – well, there is another character, but he’s imaginary, on the end of a telephone, I’m having arguments, conversations, making love, all on the telephone, it’s quite a challenge.” The words continue to tumble out.
“There’s a 40-piece orchestra, an audience of 1,000, that’s a challenge. I didn’t want to come back with a Gilbert and Sullivan, something predictable, I wanted to come back with something nobody would associate me with and I’m very grateful to Opera North for allowing me to do that. It’s been eight years since my last opera, that was The Merry Widow with the Welsh National Opera and that was an operetta, but since then I’ve been doing mainly the West End show....”
Famously from Doncaster – not famously in the sense that she’s become a professional Tyke with no real connection to the county, but that she has always been an ambassador for her home town and county – young Garrett was raised on a steady diet of music and a spirit of Yorkshire graft.
“We, well, we were poor, it’s a fact, we were poor. We had a piano, but that was all we had,” she says.
What the family was rich in was aspiration. After training at the Royal Academy of Music, she began her career at