Clare Presland first appeared at OHP as Varvara in the 2017 revival of Olivia Fuchs’s production of Káťa Kabanová. ‘I remember being immediately struck by an incredibly tangible atmosphere of warmth… There was an infectious energy from everyone.’

At the time she was pregnant with her son, Ruairi. ‘The team decided to incorporate it into my character. I quote “we don’t need to apologise and hide your bump, let’s embrace it”… My son seemingly had a great time dancing away to Janaček’s score.’

Since then she has had a busy two years that included the birth of her son, performances in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at ENO, her role debut as the Componist in Ariadne auf Naxos and two months of ‘la belle vie’ in La traviata at the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris.

Presland returns to OHP this summer as Susanna in Wolf- Ferrari’s opera, Il segreto di Susanna. ‘It’s a romantic comedy about two newly-weds: Countess Susanna and Count Gil. Susanna enjoys a cheeky cigarette privately in their home, and after Gil gets a whiff of the smoke, he convinces himself that she’s having an affair. It’s set in the early 20th century, when female smoking was considered to be a serious taboo, so there are all sorts of layers within the piece.’

Unlike Káťa Kabanová and many other operas, Wolf-Ferrari’s opera is written for just three people – two singers and a silent actor – which Presland suspects will bring a personal feeling to the rehearsal process. ‘I imagine that we will be able to explore the dynamics between us in a more detailed and creative way, simply because we will have the time to do so. It will, however, require a lot of energy, as we’ll be on stage the entire time.’

Another unique aspect of this particular opera is that it forms one half of a double bill. ‘I’ve actually never performed in a double bill before, so this will be a new experience for me. As a concept, I’ve always loved attending them in the past. I like to compare it to a tapas restaurant or a chamber music concert, in which you can sample different tastes or sound worlds.’

Presland describes Wolf-Ferrari’s music as ‘beautiful, lyrical writing with glorious bel canto lines, mixed with quirky, funny moments and, of course, incredible operatic drama’. As a singer there are advantages to performing rarely staged works. ‘I think it really allows you to put your own stamp on a role, as there are few recordings of the piece… The audience doesn’t have a long standing production or singer in their minds, and the level of subconscious expectation that goes along with that, so perhaps it’s easier to absorb with fresh eyes and ears.’

And what is she most looking forward to about this production? ‘That state of complete operatic immersion. I’m also looking forward to exploring the role of women and smoking within this particular period; the intricacies within that and within the marital home. It creates such drama!’

Interview by Philippa Peall