Yeoman of the Month – Wesley Biggs

I wouldn’t say I was a ‘born singer’; until my voice broke, my vocal sound was really quite horrible and gruff. Having my tonsils taken out at the age of six may have had something to do with that, but back then I sang more out of love for music which my parents encouraged, rather than to showcase any natural talent!

My voice broke in the most awkward of places: on stage, at school. I was half way through singing Joy To The World at the Christmas concert when my voice suddenly went crackly and all over the place. I sounded like Scooby-Doo. Luckily the shakiness only took a month or two to settle, after which I started to sing in school productions such as Pirates of Penzance and Carmen, which I loved. This was preceded by my first singing lesson at age 11, after which my teacher turned from the school piano and said: ‘well, there’s plenty to work with.’ Being at a state school with such a great music department definitely helped sustain my singing interest throughout my teens, especially when I started to feel unchallenged at around 17. At that point my teacher handed me an aria from The Marriage of Figaro which set me on a different career path to the one I’d planned.

I’d wanted to be an RAF pilot, but, inspired by the new repertoire and possibility of a baritone singing career, I decided to apply to the Birmingham Conservatoire. The Conservatoire is unusual in that it doesn’t have its own theatre, so my first big operatic performance was in my third year at the city’s Crescent Theatre where I played Georgetta’s tormented husband, Michele, in Puccini’s Il Tabarro. I was petrified at singing such big music with a tenor and soprano who were far older and more experienced than me, but the press loved it, describing my performance as “believable… and tormented.” I certainly felt tormented at the time!

After a gap year following graduation, I entered the Royal College of Music (RCM) where I’m now studying under the direction of vocal professor Justin Lavender and repertoire coach John Blakely. People often ask, ‘how can singing take up all your day?’ Well, a lot of our job involves singing in other languages, so we spend a lot of time on translation. Knowing what you’re saying and sounding native is vital to communicating convincingly with audiences, and as an opera singer, you need to be absolutely comfortable singing in French, German and Italian. I also practice Russian, as there’s a huge Russian opera repertoire.

Since my ‘Puccini’ experience at the Crescent, I’ve performed a number of wonderful roles including The Father, Hänsel und Gretel (Leamington Sinfonia), Papageno, Die Zauberflöte (RCMIOS – Opera Scenes), Death, Savitri (Shrewsbury Cantata) and Simone, Gianni Schicchi (Opera Alberelli). Playing Marcello, La bohème, for Arcadian Opera is probably the role I’ve most enjoyed because it’s so relatable. The story follows the life of a young poet Rodolfo and his seamstress girlfriend Mimi who are confronted with the cruel realities of poverty and ill-health. It evokes the full range of human emotions. Singing Oratorio is another particular passion of mine, and my most recent engagements include Mendelssohn’s Elijah (Shrewsbury Cantata), Mozart’s Requiem (Orpheus Choir) and Handel’s Messiah (Market Harborough Choral Society).

Being at the RCM means I have to choose work that fits around my studies, but I’m thrilled to have been granted permission from the college to spend next term rehearsing and performing in the chorus and singing the role of the jailor in Puccini’s Tosca at the Nevill Holt Opera Festival. I’m really looking forward to performing this role, but if I had to choose one role I’d really like to play in the future, assuming my voice developed accordingly, it would be Iago in Otello. His overpowering lust for evil makes him such an entertaining character to play and a really thrilling character for audiences to watch. If I could perform this role at the Royal Opera House, with its wonderful acoustics, gorgeous interior and magically swishy curtains, I’d certainly feel I’d achieved a life-long dream.

You can find out more about Wesley at wesleybiggs.com.