‘Singing Sullivan’s melodies is a tonic. Sometimes his music is elating and fizzy and you can’t help but get swept up in the joy of it all’.
Llio Evans returns to Opera Holland Park this year as Rose Maybud in Ruddigore. Having performed the role of Jospehine in HMS Pinafore last season, Llio tells us about how she fell in love with Gilbert and Sullivan and the relevance of comic opera to contemporary audiences.
Can you tell us about your role at OHP this year?
Rose Maybud is a fair young maiden and the object of every eligible bachelor’s affections but she can’t seem to find a match. Instead of following her heart and admitting her feelings for Robin (who’s too shy to admit that he also harbours feelings for her), Rose religiously follows the rules of her book of etiquette which gets her into all kinds of trouble.
What aspects of your role are you most excited about?
The thing I love most about Rose is that she’s completely unaware of how ridiculously pedantic and funny she is. Her dialogue is unknowingly witty but she also gets some beautiful lyrical moments of singing. Her duet with Robin (“I know a youth”) is utterly charming. I think she’s going to be an absolute joy to play.
How did you get into Gilbert and Sullivan?
My first G&S role was Yum-Yum in The Mikado with Co-Opera Co (which sadly no longer exists) in 2013 with the wonderful John Andrews conducting. We had an incredible director in James Bonas who very eloquently explained to me that the comedy only works if your character is seriously invested in the situation. The moment you try to act funny, you’ve lost it. It’s like Alice in Wonderland. To Alice and the audience this world seems strange but for the inhabitants of Wonderland it’s completely normal for them to play croquet with flamingos. It was James who really opened my eyes to the style and I’ve been falling down the G&S rabbit hole ever since.
How do you think G&S and comic opera are relevant to modern audiences?
We all need a laugh every now and again considering the world we live in! Gilbert’s librettos are timeless. He pokes fun at society and particularly quintessentially British traits – like Rose’s impulse to blindly follow the rules of a random book without stopping to think if any of them in fact make sense. He doesn’t just poke fun at human nature, he holds up a mirror directly to it. It’s comedy with a true emotional core: that’s what makes G&S operas so loveable and relatable.
What do you most enjoy about this kind of opera?
I came to the party pretty late which has meant that I approach these iconic pieces with no preconceptions. This allows me to appreciate the incredible music and text for what they are without being too influenced by tradition. Singing Sullivan’s melodies is a tonic. Sometimes his music is elating and fizzy and you can’t help but get swept up in the joy of it all and other times his music is so lyrical and tender it’s heartbreaking. It’s this extensive palette of colours and drama that I absolutely love about this repertoire.
Ruddigore is a tale of ghosts, witches and curses: are you someone who believes in the supernatural?
Oooh I don’t know. I would like to think that there is life after death and sometimes I do feel the presence of loved ones that I’ve lost – or their energy or something. And the inner child in me wants to believe in magic.
What are you most looking forward to about this season?
I can’t wait to be back at Opera Holland Park. It’s a wonderfully positive and creative environment and a stunning place to work in. I’m looking forward to being reunited with old friends from Charles Court Opera, making new ones and putting this joyous wacky piece together. John Savournin and David Eaton are a powerful duo when it comes to this repertoire and I just love their way of working. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us.
What is one piece of advice, musical or otherwise, that has stuck with you?
Gwyn Hughes Jones once told me that it is important to always find the joy in what we do. I’m lucky to be doing what I love but it isn’t always easy, especially considering the last few years. If you can’t find the joy then there is really no point in doing it at all. And how can we spread joy to others if we don’t feel it ourselves? My mam has also been telling me to be kind to myself long before it was a meme. She’s a very wise woman.