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Nicholas Sillitoe (Boy Soprano)

As a boy soprano, Nicholas Sillitoe enjoyed a fine career as chorister, soloist, and opera wunderkind.

As a pupil at King‘s College School, London, encouraged by music teacher Michael Jenkins, he pursued private piano studies with Jeremy Brown (Royal Academy of Music), choir practice and music theory with organist and mentor David Bevan, and further vocal studies with opera coach Esther Salaman.

 

Nicholas performed several roles at English National Opera & The Royal Opera House in London, from 1982 – 85. These included the role of “Miles” in Jonathan Miller’s production of Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw” at the ENO, and a triumphant tour of the USA in 1984. 

Of his performance of “Miles”, the Guardian newspaper wrote Not since the original Miles, David Hemmings, later to find adult stardom, has the boy Miles had such threatening confidence, imaginative in detail in both his singing an acting”. Across the pond, The New York Times also described Nicholas as "a remarkable young Miles: a really beautiful boy soprano voice coupled with adept acting".

Other notable roles and performances included “Paris” in Tippett’s “King Priam”, both at The Royal Opera House, and on tour in Athens, “Young Herman” in “The Queen Of Spades”, and the Shepherd Boy in Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”. He also sang “First Spirt” in Mozart’s “Magic Flute” at both London opera houses, on several occasions.

 

Nicholas also performed as soloist with the London Young Symphonia in Haydn’s “Creation”, the Brahms “Requiem”, and also the incidental music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Barbican centre, in London.

 

In May 1984, Nicholas was invited by EMI to record an album of “boy soprano” repertoire for the “Classics for Pleasure” label.

 

The album “On Wings of Song” was released worldwide later that year, on vinyl and cassette.

Jeremy Brown, his piano teacher (and renown concert pianist) accompanied Nicholas on this classic collection of songs, recorded at St. Barnaby’s Church, London.

 

Some bizarre (but true) facts: 

 

Nicholas once performed as a soloist at a “Friends of The Royal Opera House” gala in 1985. It was a night made famous for the legendary episode of Lady Diana’s “scandalous” dance routine with Wayne Sleep, in front of an embarrassed Prince Charles (and equally stunned audience).

 

Nicholas not only watched the whole performance from the wings, but also managed to share some precious moments with the Princess, as they both waited behind the curtain, smiling nervously at one another. They both wished each other “Good Luck”, before she entered the stage, to rapturous, shocked applause.

 

Nicholas also appeared in a BBC documentary “The Treble”, with another famous boy soprano, Aled Jones, who first met him at an audition with conductor Christopher Hogwood.

 

Aled amusingly recalled is his recent biography...“Nicholas Sillitoe, who was a soloist at the Royal Opera House was very experienced at this sort of work. I was particularly apprehensive, never having auditioned for anyone before. When I arrived and met Nicholas, there seemed something odd about his hair – it turned out that he had decided to have a go at cutting it himself with his mum’s nail scissors the night before. Although we were the same age, we looked poles apart. I was dressed in the very best Burton’s had to offer, while he was incredibly cool in a battered old baseball jacket. I was very conscious that I looked like a country bumpkin compared to this very funky London boy”.

 

Over just a short space of time, before his voice ‘break’, Nicholas was thankfully exposed to the endless wonders of music. From heavenly acoustics in cathedrals and opera houses around the world, to the inner workings of the classical & opera traditions.

 

From the hush and the rumble emanating from deep down in the orchestra pit, to the glare of the conductor and the seemingly never-ending mirage of the dress circles and balconies high above. And of course, not just the passion, discipline, loneliness, togetherness, but also the madness of it all; both onstage and offstage! 

Photo: Nicholas Sillitoe as "Miles", ENO (1984)

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On Wings Of Song

Nicholas Sillitoe (Treble)

Jeremy Brown (Piano)

Format: Album/Cassette

Cat#: CFP 41 4475 1 EMI

© 1984

 

Side 1

 

1.   Mendelssohn: On Wings Of Song 

2.   Schubert: An Silvia 

3.   Brahms: Wiegenlied

4.   Bach (arr. Gounod): Ave Maria

5.   Schubert: Stänchen

 

Side 2

 

1.   Mendlessohn: O For The Wings Of A Dove

2.   Schubert: Heidenröslien

3.   Frank: Panis Angelicus

4.   Schubert: Ave Maria

5.   Reger: Mariä Wiegenlied

6.   Fauré: En Priére

7.   Handel: Where’er You Walk

 

 

Note: The original "On Wings Of Song" EMI release is now sadly out of print, but copies do sporadically appear for sale in various online marketplaces. 

 

Some unauthorised videos from "boy soprano" fans have also surfaced online, but hopefully one day EMI/Classics For Pleasure (or +47) will re-digitise/reissue this original heritage recording, with optimal sound quality and original liner notes. Fingers crossed.

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For all info, synch, licensing, press & bookings etc, please get in touch with +47

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