Why has Britain blanked its Bayreuth star?

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is planning a concert performance of Strauss’s Elektra a year from now.

It will feature Catherine Foster in the title role.

It is her first opera on British soil in 20 years.

Foster, 44, has been a fixture at Bayreuth as Brünnhilde since 2013. Yet no UK opera company has found room in its schedules to present this outstanding British singer.

Could it be a class thing?

Foster spent 15 years as a midwife and nurse in a Nottingham hospital before moving to Germany as a member of the Weimar National Theatre.

She did not come up through the British opera system, a system which persists in denying her existence. She believes the system failed her.

 

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  • Thomas Silverbörg says:

    The system fails most singers, big or small, as management views them more often than not as liabilities, not assets, and treats them accordingly.

  • Henry Rosen says:

    Norm. She has had. GREAT career in Germany, a country of massively more operatunities than the UK especially in this field/fach and that should be celebrated. Just because she hasn’t sung in UK doesn’t mean so much does it? Performers go where the work is. And let’s face it Bayreuth is the tops.

  • Viola da Bracchio says:

    Not having the Jolly-Hockey-Sticks background stymies your career chances in every aspect of British society – not only opera.

    [Cue the usual avalanche of denials, from people who all *did* serve their time as Head Prefects…]

  • Jane Susanna Ennis says:

    Britain’s loss! I saw her as Brunnhilde in Bayreuth two years ago, and she was splendid.

    • Tribonian says:

      I heard her at the same time – outstanding singing and stage presence in a truly dire production (although I only managed to get a ticket for Siegfried). For those who haven’t seen the Castdorf Ring, the third act of Siegfried features giant model crocodiles moving around the stage in the final love duet. I’m a keen Wagnerian, but it was hard not to watch the crocs…

      As someone who knows nothing about the business/booking side of opera, I wasn’t surprised that I had never seen her perform in England. I just assumed that we couldn’t compete with Bayreuth and the other German houses, or that scheduling was the problem given the limits on how often anyone can sing the biggest roles.

      As so many other commentators have said, it’s our loss whatever the reason. And I don’t believe that anyone who sings Brunnhilde at Bayreuth can have a chip on her shoulder about professional recognition, so I think Ms Foster must have a point about why she’s not booked here.

  • olivia nordstadt says:

    she did not sing Elektra at the met last year – although she did sing (with considerable success) two ring cycles with the Washington national opera;

  • Zaxman says:

    Without wishing to appear ungallant, Ms. Foster has a few more miles on the clock than 44! She finished at the National Opera Studio in 1999 after previous studies in Birmingham and Manchester. This would make her the first practicing midwife at primary school!

    It is indeed a great shame that Catherine has not been seen in the UK for 20 years but we all know that Germany is where the work is for a dramatic soprano – the repertoire just isn’t performed as much over here and the comparison in fees is laughable.

    Of course BSO and Weimar share a chief conductor and thus, I presume, the invitation for Elektra. There are dozens of international class British opera singers in Europe (and particularly Germany) that the UK opera public will never see – plenty of work and double the fees – one can understand why!

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Our source for her age is the German National Library.
      https://portal.dnb.de/opac.htm?method=simpleSearch&cqlMode=true&query=nid%3D1014062926

      Yours?

    • Viola da Bracchio says:

      She is simply not the kind of voice proper British people admire. Next season they will finally be doing a Ring Cycle featuring Dame Emma Kirkby as Brunnhilde and Ian Bostridge as Siegfried – with a chorus of Choral Scholars from Bodleian College, Oxbridge, and an orchestra led from a charming historic spinet by an organ scholar whose father is a jolly successful stockbroker. The important thing, though, is the Long Interval picnic platter of organic cheeses – from Grabber & Grabber, in the High Street.

      • Eric says:

        Kirkby’s tiny prim early-music voice would be perfect for the role. And no-voice Bostridge would convince with his sensitive interpretations. Too bad Peter Pears isn’t around to sing Mime.

        • olivia nordstadt says:

          but he did sing david in Meistersinger at covent garden in the late 50s; I believe that the eva in some of those performances was joan sutherland

        • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

          Well, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sang Hans Sachs, which proved that in the electronic age, size doesn’t matter and anyone can sing anything.

      • MJA says:

        Oh dear, oh dear – chip on the shoulder much?

      • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

        “Grabber & Grabber” — isn’t that the name of the law firm President Trump hires to defend him against sexual-harassment lawsuits?

    • Opera Buff says:

      44 must be inaccurate. Wikipedia gives her DOB as 1975 but she says in an interview with the Birmingham Post that she did O-levels at school. GCSEs came in in 1989 which means she must have been born at the latest in 1973. Leaving school in 1991 still wouldn’t have given her time to be a midwife for 15 years before going to NOS in 1998…

      • Viola da Bracchio says:

        Guess what, Sherlock? Some people manage to do *two* *things* *at* *the* *same* *time*.

        • Zaxman says:

          Absolutely:
          10 am – singing lesson
          11am – forceps delivery
          12 pm – Italian coaching
          1 pm – home birth
          2 pm – opera scenes
          3 pm – Cesarean section
          4 pm – drama and movement
          An everyday occurrence in music colleges throughout the land!

  • olivia nordstadt says:

    it was not miss foster who sang at the met in Elektra last year, but, rather, Allison oakes, the Bournemouth chrysothemis who sang the same role at the met last march – having attended that performance I can vouch for her excellence; miss oakes has sung at other venues in the usa as well as in Lisbon, Trieste, the dob in berlin, hamburg, Bayreuth and at the Budapest june wagner festival; I believe that the Bournemouth performance will mark her british “operatic” debut

  • Mike Schachter says:

    Occasionally British singers who have spent most of their career in Germany resurface here. For instance, Louise Alder whom I saw in Frankfurt. But there are a great many opera houses in Germany!

  • Edgar says:

    Could it be a class thing? With the likes of Johnson, Rees Mogg, Farage, and their ilk – you betcha!

    Yet: a performance of Götterdämmerung in Westminster with Catherine Foster as Brünnhilde in these troubled times is as appropriate and necessary as ever, as it tells a very true and warning tale which needs to be heard by the cigar smoking unhinged Etonians…;-)

    • Player says:

      A class thing? Most of the British opera singers I know are hardly from the top drawer… Oh.

    • Viola da Bracchio says:

      [[ Yet: a performance of Götterdämmerung in Westminster ]]

      Certainly no problem in casting a Niebrexitheim tribe of lying, thieving dwarves (Mogg, Gove, Fabricant, all ready to stab each other for a shot at power), an obese, dim-witted, greedy and reptilian Fafner (Fox); Vince Cable thumping hammers hopelessly as Donner; Emily Thornberry as Fricka, and Jezza Corbyn as a Wotan who’d flog his wife’s sister off for short-term expediency. Our dear Lord Meddlesome was born to play Loge, while Tony Blair already has form for turning himself into a Slimy Toad.

  • FS60103 says:

    A mountain of dodgy assumptions here. She doesn’t say how many UK agents she approached, but the fact that 97% of the German ones she approached rejected her hardly suggests great open-mindedness on that side of the channel either. “Class”? Come off it – UK opera is full of successful singers, from Lesley Garrett to Bryn Terfel to Thomas Allen to Alwyn Mellor, with equally humble backgrounds. Read her biog: she had excellent community-level support for her ambitions, got into two top-notch colleges and won a high-profile prize. Then found that her career took off in Germany – which is hardly surprising since she had a German agent and specialises in German repertoire.

    In fairness, she’s not really making any of these silly claims for herself, so why detract from her real achievements with spurious point-making? I remember a few years ago when a certain British conductor was causing a splash with a German orchestra and all we heard was “such a great talent forced to work abroad”, “what petty British narrow-mindedness prevents us from recognising his genius?” and so on: the whole kneejerk cultural cringe. When in fact, anyone in the UK who’d tried to book him could have told you that his agent didn’t return calls, his diary was always full when they did, and if by some miracle you could pin him down to a date he’d demand a fee on a par with Herbert von Karajan. Or rather his agent would: the conversation would end there and said maestro would duly give interviews about how “no British orchestra ever invites me”. He probably believed it, too. These stories are rarely as flattering to one’s prejudices as they might at first appear.

    • Plenty o’ Nothung says:

      Yup, the “forced to work abroad” myth doesn’t really stand up. I work in Germany because that’s where’s the good jobs – and the appreciative audiences – are.

    • Sir Kitt says:

      How very dare you. You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself. You don’t come to this neck of the online woods with facts and reasonable arguments. This is the official classical music mud-flinging arena. Pick up a shovel or sod off. 😉

  • David Hilton says:

    I saw her Elektra only 4 weeks ago, in Karlsruhe, and, yes, it was absolutely sensational. But the entire affair was a British evening — Justin Brown conducting; Keith Warner directing — and Rachel Nichols covering the other performances of the title role. Seems there is a lot more work for great British talent off-shore than on?

  • Lauren says:

    Singers lie about their age all the time… shame they feel the need to.

  • Fred says:

    This is not a typical British thing the same applies to all other countries. E.g. it too the netherlands quite some time to discover EvaMaria Westbroek and even after that she was hired only occasionally. The reason is totally incompetent theatre directors who have no clue about voices and therefore hire the same singers over and over again who sang in other theatres (copy and paste). Real talent scouts are rare, likewise in football….It used to be different though in the old days….

  • Anonymous says:

    Those having a go at her for ‘altering’ her age should take note that there are lots of theatres in the world who, though they would not say so out loud, have a negative stance on hiring female singers over the age of 50 (and some male singers, too).

  • Martin Snell says:

    Luke 4:24 (NKJV) Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    I guess she is hardly going to sing for the English Touring Opera (who don’t perform Wagner anyway). Given her repertoire, she really has to perform at Covent Garden since the other opera houses rarely do Wagner and that kind of repertoire, and in any case these other companies probably can’t afford her fees. Given she is not particularly well-known in England, she won’t help sell tickets to the show, which again limits how much anyone here is prepared to pay her. Perhaps it is surprising she hasn’t performed at Covent Garden, but they have a free-pick of the greatest singers in the world.

    • Chris says:

      A small point Saxon – many of the major Opera Houses in the world, including Covent Garden, may have the pick of the ‘greatest singes in the world’ but too often they turn out to NOT produce the goods when required.

      Whatever happened to Linda Finnie, the Scots alto who went to Germany to work for most of her career?

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