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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Budding opera star from Antrim to open for superstar soprano

* Helenna Howie at Llangollen Railway Station with, seated from left,
vocal coach Janet Haney, Anne Williams-King,
vocal coach Deborah Lea and David Bartleet.

A budding opera star from Northern Ireland will join singers from across the UK as a warm-up act for superstar soprano Katherine Jenkins at this summer’s Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod
Helenna Howie, from Whitehead, near Carrickfergus, will be among opera singing students who are in for the experience of a lifetime after being invited to appear on the outdoor stage at July’s 70th Eisteddfod opening day ahead of Katherine Jenkins’s Carmen concert.
They have been raising the roof at a Llangollen church while being put through their paces by husband and wife opera voice coaches Anne Williams-King and David Bartleet.
Anne has returned to her Pen-y-Cae home after spending most of the past 20 years living and working in London with her husband David.
She’s now just finished her third sell-out course for aspiring opera singers at Llangollen’s Methodist church in Princess Street and is thrilled her students will be at the iconic festival.
The top soprano, who has performed at opera houses around the world, said: “I moved back from London to be closer to my mum some six years ago now. However, she passed away three years ago.
“There isn’t anything in the area for aspiring opera singers so I decided to run these courses. It isn’t just about teaching voice it’s about working on characters too.
“We want to give aspiring opera singers an idea of what it’s like in the business. I want students to learn the skills they need in the correct way.”
Williams-King, who successfully battled ovarian cancer a decade ago, added: “The Eisteddfod Musical Director, Eilir Owen Griffiths, has invited my students to perform on the outside stage ahead of the opening concert by Katherine Jenkins on Tuesday, July 5. What an amazing honour for them!
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to showcase their voices and acting talent and believe me, we have some wonderful singers who deserve to be heard and who will grab this amazing opportunity with both hands.”
Anne Williams-King’s husband David Bartleet, who won the Opera Scholarship at the Royal College of Music, said: “Anne and I decided to run opera courses in Llangollen as there are very few opera companies in the UK and conservatoires are so expensive.
“We have students coming from all over the UK and beyond and the standard on our courses is remarkable.”
Mezzo soprano, Helenna, says she suffers from nerves so having the chance to appear on a stage at Llangollen International Music Festival would be invaluable experience for her.
The 23-year-old, who will be performing in the chorus for the premiere of The Belfast Opera in June and with Northern Ireland Opera later in the year, said: “Singing and being on stage at the International Music Festival is great exposure to a wider audience. The whole event will be wonderful and such a fantastic experience.
“I attended Bangor University in North Wales and graduated in 2014 with a degree in music.
“I want to make as a many contacts as possible and progress to the next level. I heard about Anne’s opera course through the university and it’s been absolutely amazing. I’ve really enjoyed it
“I just can’t wait for July and the chance to impress on the Llangollen International Music Festival stage. The fact Katherine Jenkins is appearing at the festival the same day is both amazing and wonderful.”
Eilir Owen Griffiths said: “We are always looking to showcase new talent especially those who have had instruction from a renowned soprano like Anne Williams-King and a tenor like David Bartleet.
“This will be the 70th Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod and I’m incredibly proud to be associated with it.
“I’m sure these young opera stars of the future will enjoy the experience and I’m sure the festival audience will welcome them with open arms.
“It is important the eisteddfod continues to showcase the very best music and voices and I know festival goers are going to thoroughly enjoy seeing Anne and David’s students perform.”
Tickets sales for the concerts at this year’s Eisteddfod, which begins on Tuesday, July 5, are already going well, especially for the opening night when superstar Katherine Jenkins gets the programme off to a sensational start as she sings Bizet’s Carmen.
Wednesday will be International Children’s Day and will include choral and dance competitions and also a new Under 16s solo competition while the evening will feature the Voices of Musical Theatre.
The great Bryn Terfel will headline the 70th Classical Gala Concert on Thursday evening while the day will see the crowning of the Children’s Choir of the World.
Friday will celebrate Rhythms of the World and will be a feast of music and dance from the best of the Eisteddfod’s international competitors with the Dance Champions of the World competition climax at the evening concert.
It will open with a Caribbean Carnival Extravaganza, followed by the International Peace message delivered by Theatr yr Ifanc, Rhosllannerchrugog.
In a change of the scheduling Friday will also see the Parade of Nations, led by Eisteddfod President Terry Waite, switched from Tuesday in anticipation of bigger crowds and more competitors being present.
Saturday is dedicated to the top choirs and concludes with the Choir of the World competition for the Pavarotti Trophy while Sunday sees the Eisteddfod let its hair down for Llanfest before the climactic final concert.
To book tickets and for more details on the 2016 festival go to the website at

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