Opera’s poignant note

l to r: Sophia Carroll, Rosie Middleton, Andrea Tweedale rehearsing the Gypsy Trio from act two of Carmen with Catherine Benson at the RNCM ahead ofthe  Evening of Opera at St Andrew's Psalter Lane Church in aid of the  Make-A-Wish Foundation
l to r: Sophia Carroll, Rosie Middleton, Andrea Tweedale rehearsing the Gypsy Trio from act two of Carmen with Catherine Benson at the RNCM ahead ofthe Evening of Opera at St Andrew's Psalter Lane Church in aid of the Make-A-Wish Foundation

Soprano Sophia Carroll is putting on a concert for a charity which helped a childhood friend in her final days. Bernard Lee reports

SOPHIA Carroll had wanted to do what has become this Saturday’s Evening of Opera at St Andrew’s Psalter Lane Church in memory of her childhood friend, Jemma Smith, in her final year at Sheffield University.

All proceeds from it will go to Make-A-Wish Foundation and the young soprano says: “Originally, I intended to do it around what would have been her 21st birthday which was in my third year but with working towards my final recital, also people taking part, it was just too difficult to put together.”

As Sophia will be in the company of such ‘uni’ contemporaries as Rosie Williamson, Matthew Palmer, Gareth Lloyd and near contemporary Andrea Tweedale, it could be that the delay has had its advantages.

They will be joined by a couple of Andrea’s fellow RNCM postgraduates, mezzo-soprano Rosie Middleton and tenor Tom Morss, for a very attractive evening hinged on operatic scenes, albeit containing extremely well-known music in most instances.

Mozart is a common thread: the Wie? Wie? Wie? quintet from act two of The Magic Flute; La ci darem le mano from Don Giovanni; while The Marriage of Figaro begins and ends the concert: the opening scene to Figaro’s Se vuoi ballare and finale to the opera, respectively

Elsewhere are the familiar: Quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto; Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann; end of act one of La Boheme; opening of act two of Carmen; and the slightly less so these days: the first and second scenes of act two of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, including the ‘Evening Prayer’; the love duet from act two of Faust; plus scenes from act one of Donizetti’s Elisir d’Amore.

Everything is sung in English and accompanied by pianist Catherine Benson, also a contemporary of Sophia who describes Jemma Smith, who died in 1999 at the age of nine, as her “best childhood friend”.

“We went to the same school in Blackburn and it would have been in autumn 1998, she found out that she developed cancer in her leg.

“She had been going to the doctor for a while because she’d been having pain in her leg and it had taken a while to have it investigated. By that time it had spread quite badly and after about a year of battling very hard and having some horrendous chemotherapy she unfortunately passed away.

“She loved to sing and play music. Even when she was ill, we got the recorders out and did some singing together. It really lifted her and brought a part of her old self back.

“She was a really huge part of my life then up until the end, and I’ve been waiting for a long time to do something because she has never left me, if that makes any sense?

“So I thought the best way to honour her and raise money for the charity (Make-A-Wish Foundation) that helped her a great deal was this concert to help it to grant more wishes to children in similar situations.

“They took her and her parents to Lapland to see Santa Claus as her wish and the difference, the happiness in her when she came back was just phenomenal, and in her parents as well.

“I can’t even begin to describe how much this charity can lift children who are in the absolute depths of despair suffering horrors that no one should have to bear, never mind a child.”

Need more be said?

Sophia graduated in July 2011 and has taken a year out to ponder auditioning for music college or pursuing a “real interest” she had developed in making music more accessible for disadvantaged children and communities.

Opting for the latter, she has just started a masters degree in community music at York University but hasn’t ruled out the former at some stage.

“Definitely not,” she insists. “I’ve still got a singing teacher who teaches at the Royal Northern College of Music (Thomas Schulze, Andrea Tweedale’s teacher there) but felt this other avenue was the one to go down right now.

“I love performing on stage. No matter what happens in the future, opera will play a very big part in my life,” asserts Sophia who was auditioning for a Marriage of Figaro production in York last Thursday.

She appeared as Angelina, the plaintiff in Trial by Jury with West Riding Opera in May, and has just understudied Marguerite in Faust with Sheffield City Opera (going on for the matinee) with whom she appeared as Papagena in The Magic Flute last year.

And she does appear to be operatically ambitious when she says: “I’d call myself a soubrette (high soprano) at the moment but would like to develop as a lyric soprano. It would be nice to sing Musetta in La Boheme one day and have a go at other leading roles.”