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Jersey singer called to rescue English National Opera show

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A JERSEY opera singer was thrust into a starring role at the English National Opera after being called up just hours before the curtain raised.

Gabriella Cassidy takes her bow at English National Opera (26561414)

Former Grainville student Gabriella Cassidy had been the ENO’s understudy for the part of Eurydice in their production of Orpheus in the Underworld.

However, as the show came to the final night of its run, the soprano had not been required to take to the stage.

That was until she received an emergency message six hours before the curtain went up to say that cast member Mary Bevan had been taken ill and that she might be required for the final performance at the London Coliseum.

Having not sung for a few days, she asked the company manager to give her half an hour to test out her voice before confirming that she could take over if necessary.

Ms Cassidy said: ‘After half an hour my voice seemed fine, so I pretty much had to throw some clothes in a bag and get straight on a train from Burton-on-Trent to London. During the journey, which seemed to go on forever, I was phoned again at around 4pm to say that the decision had been made and I was going to be performing the role.

‘I just couldn’t believe it. Being an understudy is such a tricky job. You have to be so prepared and learn the role exactly as the rest of the main cast, but you usually only get less than two weeks rehearsal, which will be without having costumes, props, orchestra or set. It means when you are called upon it’s a very exciting but daunting experience.’

Ms Cassidy described what happened after that as ‘a bit of a blur’ but what sticks in her mind is dancing the celebrated can-can in the final act of the opera to the tune that everyone knows and loves.

‘It was mad to sing with the full company, especially when this was the first time. Also, because it is an operetta, there is a lot of dialogue which was probably the scariest part of the role but also the most memorable, as I didn’t get a word wrong,’ she added.

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‘Because it was the final night out of 12 performances, I hadn’t actually rehearsed the dialogue or the music with anyone else apart from myself for six weeks.’

Following her performance last week, she has now been told to expect her official debut for the company.

A former member of the Musical Originals Singers in Jersey and a past student at the Wales International Academy of Voice, the Royal Northern College of Music and Chetham’s School of Music, Ms Cassidy has understudied four significant roles during her time with English National Opera, which she says has been invaluable to her career.

‘I have definitely learned to be over prepared for everything. Even if it’s the last night, there is still a possibility you can go on,’ she said.

Last week’s experience has brought a memorable year to a close and she is already looking forward to a string of impressive engagements in 2020. Ms Cassidy starts the year with Opera North in an opera based on Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham by Robert Kapilow, before she understudies with Welsh National Opera. Then Jersey audiences may have the opportunity to hear her again, because she will be performing with the touring company Diva Opera who are regular visitors to the Island.

While she does not yet know when her debut for ENO will come, she said: ‘Although I can’t remember much about the last night performance, it must have gone well.’

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