Jonathan Eyers is a Kiwi baritone, currently based in the UK, studying at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. You may have seen him on stage as Billy in Ross Harris and Vincent O’Sullivan’s Brass Poppies, performed at New Zealand Festival of the Arts and Auckland Arts Festival in March 2016. He played Belcore in our Opera in Schools production of The Elixir of Love the same year.
Tell us about where you are in lockdown. Where did you come from to be there? Who are you with?
During the lockdown, I decided to stay in the UK where I have been living and studying for over a year. I am very fortunate to be spending the lockdown with my partner and his family in a small coastal village called St Margarets-at-Cliffe, which is only a few miles up the coast from Dover in Kent. It is a beautiful part of the country, with lots of wonderful walks along the chalk cliff coastline and rolling fields.
What are you doing with this time in one place – learning roles, personal projects?
The first four weeks of the lockdown was a very strange time. It was quite difficult to be motivated to do anything as all of the days seemed to blend into one! However, after the Easter holiday, I started the final term of my Masters degree online at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which was really helpful in adding structure to my week. This means that I have been having my one-to-one singing lessons with my teachers Robert Dean and Stephan Loges, as well as drama and movement classes, and language coaching, all through Zoom. All of the classes are going really well, and I feel like I am learning a lot through the online teaching. It is a brand new kind of learning for me and I am enjoying getting to grips with it.
A personal project that I am working on is to learn the role of Count Almaviva in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. It is a dream role that I have been wanting to learn for a long time. It is also a fantastic vehicle through which I can work on my Italian. I am being coached on the role by Alex Ingram and receiving Italian coaching from Emanuele Moris both of whom are fantastic teachers. My partner (who is also a singer) and I are also working on learning the epic Schubert song cycle Die schöne Müllerin together, with him singing and me accompanying him on the piano. I am very keen to use this time not just to work on my singing but also to develop my piano accompaniment skills. It is a great opportunity to delve into this Schubert masterpiece.
What have you been up in recent months career-wise – performances, any other highlights?
After singing in the chorus for Opera Holland Park’s Un ballo in maschera and Manon Lescaut and covering roles in British Youth Opera’s Scoring a Century last summer, I began the second year of my Masters degree at Guildhall. The past two terms have been very busy, and I have been fortunate to have some really great performing experiences including performing as a member of the Guildhall Consort with Alison Bolsom and the English Concert at the Barbican Hall, a public masterclass with Thomas Quasthoff at Wigmore Hall and a public masterclass with Christoph Prégardien as part of the London Song Festival. One of my recent highlights was performing Gesang des Achill for the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s Immersion Weekend of German composer Detlev Glanert in conjunction with BBC Radio 3. This piece was a 20 minute unaccompanied monologue and was undoubtedly one of the most difficult pieces of music I have worked on thus far. I was very fortunate to work on this with Jane Manning, one of Britain’s most accomplished performers of contemporary music, as well as with the composer himself. Another exciting project that I was fortunate to be a part of was Guildhall’s Song Guild, a chance to develop and perform a concert programme focussing on German Lieder with renowned song pianist Graham Johnson.
Looking forward, I have been cast in the role of Monsieur Presto for British Youth Opera’s upcoming production of Les mamelles de Tirésias in early September, I hope that the performances will still go ahead as planned. I have also been accepted into the Guildhall Opera Studies programme, which comprises two years of advanced study honing the craft of opera. I am really excited to get started in late September and hope that by then we will be allowed to study at the Guildhall in person.
You’ve been busy singing internationally, which makes us so proud. Do you think there’s anything special about Kiwi singers and what they add to the mix when performing around the world?
I think that Kiwi singers bring a ‘can do’ attitude to rehearsing and to performing. There is a willingness to try anything, to push the boundaries, and to step outside of their comfort zones. This willingness to dive in headfirst is perhaps a product of relocating so far from home in order to sing internationally. We’ve already taken the biggest risk of all to pursue our passion. I also believe that there is a lot to be said about the Kiwi positivity and friendliness. We are always told that the most important part of being a professional is to be the best colleague you can be, and I think that the Kiwi demeanour is perfect in this regard. We put the hard work in, we are prepared, and we are also positive, friendly, kind, and fun, which is very important!
What does being part of the New Zealand opera community mean to you, and what does it mean to sing at home in New Zealand?
Being part of the New Zealand opera community is like being part of a big extended family. No matter who you talk to or what stage of their careers they are at, they are always supportive, encouraging, and inspiring. I feel very fortunate to be part of such a wonderful group of people.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to sing back in New Zealand since coming to the UK, but I know that the opportunity to sing back at home would be so exciting as I would be able to show you all what I have been working on overseas. It would be such a pleasure to be able to give back to the communities that helped nurture me as a young artist and perform for them again soon.
Is there something you do to stay focused and relaxed that may be useful for others at a time like this?
I know that during this time it is easy for one’s focus to drift and to lose motivation to do anything constructive. Being able to go outside and go for a walk has always been my go-to to clear my head and help me to relax. I am very fortunate to have some beautiful countryside to be able to walk in. I find that when I have spare time on my hands, I feel a pressure to achieve lots of things, like to read all of the books I had meant to read, totally rethink my audition package or to suddenly become fluent in a new language. Whilst using time in lockdown to achieve goals like this is great, I have realised that it is equally important to be kind to yourself and to give yourself time and space to breathe. I love watching TV to relax and that is OK! Something new that I have started doing is origami, which I am finding really relaxing, and also a great way to stay focused. I am also listening to lots of music (naturally!) and some great podcasts.