Next month, our partner Welsh National Opera welcomes our Young Artists for a weeklong residency. We caught up with tenor Rhydian Jenkins who, alongside his colleagues, will be taking to the BBC Hoddinott Hall at Wales Millennium Centre to perform a specially curated and directed programme with WNO Orchestra entitled The Things You Do for Love.

How did you discover your passion for singing?

I’ve always sung since I was a little boy back home in Wales at our annual National Eisteddfods, which are Welsh festivals that includes competitions in many fields including singing and poetry, so I’d always compete in different individual and ensemble events each year. I always wanted to pursue a career in opera when I started learning some Italian pieces, so during my year of PGCE training I started having consultations at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama where I met my current teacher, Adrian Thompson, which then led to me studying there at the David Seligman Opera School, and everything just progressed from there to where I am now.

Last Season you performed the role of Sergei in WNO Youth Opera’s production of Cherry Town, Moscow. How does it feel to return to your home city and Wales Millennium Centre with National Opera Studio?

Well I guess there’s no place like home, right?! I have been fortunate to have had a few experiences with WNO when I was at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama - performing in two Opera Galas that were conducted by Maestro Carlo Rizzi and accompanied by the WNO Orchestra, and most recently performing as Sergei in their production of Cherry Town, Moscow, and I can honestly say (in a non-biased way), that it is such a wonderful environment down at WNO in Cardiff Bay. When I heard that we at the National Opera Studio will be going to do a residency there, this was music to my ears being a proud Welshman. It’s no lie that it helps that my home in Maesteg isn’t too far from the Wales Millennium Centre too, so I’m excited to hopefully be a tour guide for everybody at the studio for the week!

Do you think being part of WNO Youth Opera has prepared you for NOS? If so, how?

Without a doubt. The production was alongside professional members of staff including director Daisy Evans who is now directing The Magic Flute at WNO, and conductor Alice Farnham who is conducting L’Elisir d’Amore at Longborough Festival Opera this summer, so these experiences were so valuable for me, and being able to apply any feedback to my rehearsals at NOS, as at the time we were starting to rehearse for concerts, and also our Baroque Scenes. Having the opportunity of working in and around a professional company like WNO and the intense rehearsal schedule prepared me to manage my work-life balance at NOS by understanding when to put the brakes on from singing and have a breather, whether that’s doing a physical activity or anything, it keeps the mind fresh, which I think is vitally important in an opera singer’s career.

When did you join NOS and what does a typical day at the Studio look like?

I joined NOS in September 2022 as a 2022/23 Young Artist, which is one of the best and easiest decisions I have ever made. I think it’s safe to say that every day at NOS is different, which keeps us all on our toes. But a typical day is between 10:30am to 5:30pm, which would normally include vocal sessions with members of the music staff along with guest coaches, acting classes, physical development and movement sessions and language coaching. We also have recording days once or twice a term for us to record any material that we need, which is extremely handy. One of the best things at NOS is it’s such a warm and close environment, every member of staff is there to support you, whether it’s the check-in sessions we have or even if it’s on email, everybody is always willing to help.

What’s involved in bringing a programme such as The Things You Do for Love to the stage? 

This is probably the most difficult part of the process, choosing the repertoire and concept. I think the most obvious thing here is choosing repertoire that fits under the story of the performance, followed by suitable scenes and roles in order for us to convey the story of the performance, which was all done by the music staff. In order for us to bring The Things You Do for Love to the stage, we will have music calls and studio rehearsals with both the director Linda Kitchen and conductor Wyn Davies at the studio for around two weeks prior to travelling down to WNO and perfecting everything the best we can in line with the director’s concept of the performance. We will then spend a week down at WNO putting all this together and getting used to the performance space at the BBC Hoddinott Hall in the Wales Millennium Centre, as well as getting familiar with the orchestra – it’s a lot different than just having a piano! What’s even better is that we will be bringing this performance back up to London to RADA Studios, which gives us another opportunity to bring this wonderful show to life.

Which musical number are you looking forward to performing and why?

I think it’s safe to say I’m really looking forward to performing all of my scenes at WNO, as well as watching and supporting everybody else’s scenes too. I am particularly looking forward to performing Ernesto’s aria ‘Com’è gentil’ from Don Pasquale as it’s such a lovely serenade aria and isn’t too serious a character and mood by this point in the opera, so hopefully I can do a half-decent job on this! I’m also really looking forward to performing Nanetta and Fenton’s love duet in act 1 from Verdi’s Falstaff alongside Sarah Seunghwa Chae, as it’s one of my favourite duets with such lovely music and I would absolutely love to perform the role of Fenton.

Do you have any pre-performance routines? If so, what are they?

I tend to keep to myself before performances in all honesty. I’d like to think I’m a calm person so I normally sit at my chair (or in my dressing room), listen to some music, have a hot lemon and ginger tea, steam with my Dr Nelson inhaler (seems that this is quite popular these days!) and share the odd joke or two with others. This just helps me relax and try to treat performances just like any other day. I’d normally just look over my music once or twice just to remind myself of what I’m meant to do once the performance starts. Every musician is different of course, I guess you just need to do what works for you.

Why should people come and experience the showcase?

The Things You Do for Love has something for everyone, and there are certainly some familiar musical numbers that the audiences will recognise. I think there’s a great balance of music, comedy and romance fitted in with musical styles of composers going from Mozart to Verdi to Donizetti to Rossini just to name a few. It also shows how the music and storyline is linked throughout each scene and will hopefully show how much fun all of us as Young Artists have on stage together alongside working with Linda Kitchen as the director, and Wyn Davies as the conductor.

How has your time at NOS helped you prepare for your career?

In every way possible. Without a doubt my time at NOS has been so valuable to me already, this includes coachings from the music staff at NOS and renowned professional artists, to constructive opportunities from external professional conductors and directors. We are extremely fortunate here at NOS to have the relevant industry experts to come in and prepare us for all factors that comes with being an opera singer beyond the performance aspect, to ensure that us as Young Artists have a much better and clear understanding of a career as an opera singer. For me personally, NOS has helped me significantly in establishing who I am as an artist currently, and the future goals and targets towards the end of my time at NOS and beyond. It has also made me realise since being here how fortunate we are as Young Artists to have such great opportunities at the studio, which you wouldn’t necessarily have had elsewhere.

What advice would you give an aspiring opera singer?

It’s a marathon not a sprint. Opera comes with so much experience and learning – have a go at as many arias, songs, roles that you would like to visit, but also to remember to listen to your teachers. From my point of view, I always liaise with my teachers over repertoire or any audition opportunities whether I feel certain over something or not. Remember, they are there to help and support you.

Don’t always see ‘rejection’ or ‘criticism’ as a negative thing. Yes, it’s not the response you’d ideally like, but unfortunately, this is a major part of our careers as opera singers. Use this instead as a motivation and platform to develop and grow as a singer and as a person. Believe in your abilities and all your hard work, and if anything helps, I always stick to the moto of ‘onto the next’ to help me focus on what I need to do.

What is your dream role and why?

I think this is the million-dollar question! It’s hard to pinpoint specific roles that are my dream, but in the near future I would like to perform roles such as Nemorino L’Elisir d’Amore, Fenton Falstaff, or Tom Rakewell The Rake’s Progress, just to name a few, because I love these roles and feel like I can relate to them in some capacity, so I would love to put my own stamp on these. However, if I had to pick the biggest of my dream roles, it would probably be hard to look past the roles of either Rodolfo La bohème or Cavaradossi Tosca - sometime hopefully later on in my career, there are some cracking iconic arias here, but we shall see!

If you didn’t follow a career in music, what would you be doing?

I would hope to have been a rugby player. Being Welsh you could argue that this is a common stereotype! I have grown up playing rugby along with the singing all my life, and it’s a big part of me as a person and always will be. I was extremely fortunate to have played semi-professional for a number of years for teams including Pontypridd RFC and Bridgend Ravens RFC, and from time to time I always go back home and play for my home team, Maesteg Quins (when the singing schedule is emptier!). I think I’d also most likely be a teacher as I studied as a Welsh primary school teacher before I went to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. But for now, I am completely happy sticking to be an Opera singer!