Night at the opera for star singer

Kitty Whatley in English Touring Opera's  Cosi fan Tutte  with Laura Mitchell, right
Kitty Whatley in English Touring Opera's Cosi fan Tutte with Laura Mitchell, right

As she heads for Sheffield next week with English Touring Opera, Bernard Lee talks to mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately

YOU might have half-expected Kitty Whately to follow mum – Madelaine Newton, and dad – Kevin Whately, into the acting profession.

Kitty Whatley of  English Touring Opera

Kitty Whatley of English Touring Opera

Indeed, she appeared as her dad’s screen daughter in the first two seasons of Auf Wiedersehn, Pet as a two/ three-year-old

But she became a singer instead, a mezzo-soprano more precisely, and appears at the Lyceum on Monday in English Touring Opera’s production of Mozart’s Così fan Tutte.

“I’m a different person,” she says assertively. “I went school (in Bedfordshire), got interested in music; started to study music; had singing lessons; then decided that’s what I wanted to do.

“I was in the school choir, lots of school plays and musicals and it was something I enjoyed right from an early age. I learnt piano, mum wanted me to have lessons when I was about seven, which I enjoyed. There was a lot of music in our household so it’s always been a part of my life.”

Worth recalling is that Kevin was a folk singing guitarist before turning to acting when music followed him into his most famous TV role, Lewis, in the Morse spin-off series and, more so, the original Morse.

One episode in 1990, built round Mozart’s Magic Flute, also featured Kitty’s mum Madelaine playing the irascible Morse’s love interest until she was bumped off.

However, back to Kitty, in fact, christened Catherine.

“My grandmother on my mum’s side was called Kitty. They did call me Catherine for a while but Kitty developed over the years and stuck,” explains the singer.

Everything is pointing to a glittering career for the mezzo-soprano following her impeccable music education pedigree: Chetham’s School of Music, Guildhall School of Music, Royal College of Music.

She made her English National Opera debut in December having worked there as an usher for five years previously

“I had a gap year between my A-levels (at Chetham’s) and Guildhall and started working there then and continued the whole time I was at Guildhall. I got to see all the operas; it was a brilliant spell. It’s the sort of thing you do on the side as a sort of way of backing up your finances and I really miss it now, but I have a daughter (Ivy) so it doesn’t work for us in the evenings, unless I have a concert.”

Winning the Kathleen Ferrier Award in 2011 will not have done her any harm?

“No, it was great. It’s a nice way to get your name around and obviously the prize money is very handy. For the whole of that year I had recitals at the best festivals. It was a really fantastic part of winning that prize.”

But, with two years in the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus behind her, the singer’s eyes are now focused on opera.

“I did quite a few roles at college and with Bedfordshire Youth Opera and there was a time when I wanted to do recitals, which I love doing, more but now my heart is in opera as something I really want to do.

“My main ambition is to sing with the principal UK opera companies, partly but mainly because of my daughter. I don’t want to be working too far away, although I have ambitions to work internationally.”

She actually strays abroad this summer to sing in the world premiere of an opera at the Aix-en-Provence Festival and also has a concert performance of Britten’s Albert Herring, as Nancy, lined up with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

In the meantime, she has ETO’s tour to complete as Dorabella in Mozart’s Così.