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George von Bergen on preparing for Madam Butterfly

15th April 2016 in News

Baritone George von Bergen studied at the University of Bristol, Royal Academy of Music and the National Opera Studio.

He made his ENO debut as Schaunard in La bohème during the 2010/11 season.

As an ENO Harewood Artist George has also sung Obstinate/Herald/Lord Hate-Good The Pilgrim’s Progress (2012/13), Sharpless Madam Butterfly, Zurga The Pearl Fishers (2013/14) and Marcello La bohème (2014/15).

This May George returns to ENO to reprise the role of Sharpless in Anthony Minghella’s Madam Butterfly.

How do you approach returning to a role you have performed before?

Returning to a role such as Sharpless is always a pleasure, especially in the Anthony Minghella production. The American Consul plays such a key role in the story, and although he is slightly understated as a personality, and possibly even weak, he punctuates Butterfly’s story and is with her for her profoundly tragic moments. My main preparation has been to leave it alone for as long as possible.

As an artist you are always developing artistically and vocally and I’m keen to apply my most recent experience to the role, rather than just a copy my previous run. Coming back to the music fresh is important although I’m still finding that much of the music is still hardwired after two years. The job is to keep moving forward with the role and instill it with how I am able to sing two and a half years on.

Do you think the experience you have gained over the past two and a half years will change the way you play your character?

Since my last Sharpless I have sung Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor, Zurga in The Pearl Fishers, Marcello, the Count, Don Giovanni and even Steward in Flight. All have presented challenges both dramatically and vocally, but been enormously enriching to my experience.

With practically every performance you learn something new about your art and try and apply it to the next show. Zurga and Marcello were especially rewarding and I was lucky to be cast with wonderful colleagues. All these experiences will go into the melting pot of my approach to Sharpless when we start rehearsing next week.

You are starring with Rena Harms (Cio-Cio San), David Butt Philipp (F. B. Pinkerton) and other Harewood Artists Matthew Durkan (Yamadori) and Samantha Price (Kate Pinkerton). Are you excited to be part of a cast full of young up-and-coming singers?

It’s always exciting to be part of a group of up-and-coming singers and I’m especially looking forward to being back on stage with David Butt Philipp! Believe it or not we both studied as baritones together at the Royal Academy of Music, and Dave and I appeared in The Rape of Lucretia together as Junius and Tarquinius respectively. Having worked closely as Rodolfo and Marcello in La bohème a year and half ago, I think we have the foundations to do the work justice as tenor and baritone.

What are you going to be doing next?

At the end of the Summer I will be leaving the Harewood Artist programme but will continue a close relationship with the company.

Having been on the programme for four years I have progressed enormously and ENO has nurtured me through a large part of my career and safely delivered me to the other side of what are often troublesome years for the baritone voice.

As the male voice matures there are many pitfalls and, in negotiating these, a singer needs a relationship with a team of people they can really trust. The Harewood Artist programme is renowned for providing that team.

The opportunity to hone my art and gain invaluable experience all under the guidance of such a great opera house is a privilege. Since the ensemble system in Britain no longer exists, this type of guidance is rare and in the modern era: Harewood Artists are able to benefit in a way that only singers of the past were able to–by gaining experience on the stage, learning from working with other great singers under the guidance of a great house. I can’t give too much away yet but next season I will be singing Verdi and Don Giovanni again.