Baritone Benson Wilson talks about taking part in the English National Opera’s Harewood Artist Programme

The Harewood Artists Programme, Established in 1998 by the English National Opera aims to support talented Opera artists on their performance journeys. A mixture of vocal and language training offered by various experts in their field, the programme also offers the chance for performers to take part in current ENO productions. Twelve artists will be joining the 20/21 cohort, one of which will be award winning baritone Benson Wilson. Ahead of his training and performance in ENO Drive and Live’s La Bohème, Benson tells us more about taking part in the programme.

Hi Benson, you’ve been announced as one of three singers taking part in this year’s Harewood Artists Programme. How are you feeling ahead of the programme?

I feel very excited to be joining the Harewood Artists Programme this year and I look forward to joining the family at the English National Opera. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the family at the English National Opera have already been very supportive, and I am already benefiting from the coaching that I have received with Jane Robinson and I look forward to more coaching as well as performance opportunities.

During this time, what do you look to gain from the programme?

I look forward to the performance opportunities, working alongside amazing artists as well as the coaching that we receive. Although we are in the middle of a pandemic, I believe that the ENO are leading in terms of discovering what the “new norm” is, this is evident in ENO Drive and Live that I will be involved in.

Your first role as a Harewood Artist with ENO will be in their Drive & Live performance of La Bohème this September. What are you looking forward to most from taking part in the production?

I am very much looking forward to being a part of the ENO Drive & Live performance of La bohème as it will be a first time for me performing for an audience in their vehicles outdoors, but not only that I am also looking forward to working with the cast, all who are doing amazing things in the industry.

You’ve won multiple awards, including the prestigious 64th Kathleen Ferrier Award. How does it feel to have been acknowledged for your work?

I feel very honoured to have been acknowledged for my work through various awards. There are many great singers who have had the most illustrious careers who don’t have any awards and haven’t won any competitions which remind me that I am honoured and blessed to have been acknowledged. I think competitions and awards can help a young singer’s career but ultimately, they don’t make a career. I am blessed to have received the recognition for my work, but for me, this is only the beginning and there is more work to be done and I look forward to learning more about what I can offer the world with my art.

This season will witness you debut for Opera Queensland, do a recital tour of New Zealand including for Auckland Chamber Concert Hall, Hawkes Bay Opera House and Auckland Opera Studio before giving recitals in the UK. How have you prepared for the season?

In preparation for this season, I have had to plan out my learning into a schedule as many of these opportunities will mean that I will have to learn new repertoire. A learning schedule will mean that I can prioritise my repertoire learning and organise it so that I am well-prepared for each opportunity. 

Your career has seen you perform for various venues including Glyndebourne and the Welsh National Opera. What have you learned during this time about the craft and yourself?

Something I have learnt performing in these awesome venues is, you have to trust your gut when it comes to making artistic choices on stage whether they be musical or dramatic. If you don’t trust yourself, or 100% commit to your artistic choice, the chances are that the director, conductor or the audience in a theatre won’t completely understand the choice you have made. Make a choice, commit to it, then be open to feedback and BE FLEXIBLE.

One of the biggest things that I have learnt performing on stage with these amazing companies is that when you have contracts with companies, you become a part of a family, and although it is labelled as a “solo career” there is very little about the career that is “solo.” Even in arias, you may be singing on stage by yourself but, you also have massive teams in the wings, orchestral pit, backstage, in the lighting box, in your changing rooms all doing their part in making that moment possible. There is no “I” in “Solo performer”

What inspired you to pursue a career in Opera?

This is a very hard question for me, as I don’t have a singular moment in my life that “inspired” me to have a career in Opera, Opera, for me, is a passion, it is something that I really enjoy doing. I think that when people are driven by passion, everything that you do in relation to your passion inspires you and I can say that this is definitely the case for me. I have a passion for serving others, and when I get feedback that my art brought a tear to someone’s eye, or made them feel happier, I feel like I have done my job. 

What advice would you give to aspiring Opera performers?

The best advice that I was ever given as an aspiring Opera performer was given to me by New Zealand Wagnerian tenor and friend, Simon O’Neill, he said “Be the best colleague”. When Simon originally told me this piece of advice, I didn’t really know what he meant, but as my career started unfolding itself, I realise just how important his advice is.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

ENO Drive and Live’s La Bohème will be showing from Saturday 19th to Sunday 27th September 2020 at Alexandra Palace. To find out more, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop