What brought opera’s “power couple” to Branscombe Festival 2013?
10:28 03 August 2013
Soprano Ailyn Pérez and tenor Stephen Costello say they have never experienced anything like the reception - and the local honey - that they received at Branscombe last weekend
BRANSCOMBE – let alone other parts of Devon – has never witnessed anything quite like the prestigious three-day music festival staged in the village last weekend (July 26-28).
Masterminded by London lawyer, philanthropist and Branscombe resident Ian Rosenblatt, the festival featured performances from international classical, opera and jazz artists, rarely seen outside London, Glyndebourne or New York.
Opera’s “power couple” – American soprano Ailyn Pérez and her husband, tenor Stephen Costello – were a star attraction. What brought them to Branscombe?
“We knew this was going to be something special, so we had to jump on it,” says Stephen, 32, shortly after their memorable performance on Saturday night.
“We’re happy that Ian invited us here,” says Ailyn, 34. “We know it’s a special place. Ian is a resident here. He loves the arts, he loves the young talent and he loves sharing it with as many people as possible.”
Their recital was very intimate…
“Yeah, it was wonderful,” says Stephen. “It was nice to be on stage and to see people’s faces.”
Not only did they enjoy their performance, but the couple also loved Branscombe.
“We’ve never stayed on a farm with local honey where people keep bees,” says Ailyn. “It’s a different experience. It’s a wonderful village and we’re glad the community embraced us.”
“We’ve never experienced anything like this,” says Stephen. “As much as it is for the people in the town to get a chance to see art like this, it’s a chance for us to come and see a part of England that we would never think of coming to, because it’s so far away.”
“We’d be delighted to come back,” says Ailyn. Ian Rosenblatt – the man behind the festival – has been equally delighted by the audience’s response to the inaugural event. “I’m thrilled,” says the 54-year-old lawyer, as we chat near the end of the festival’s second night. “I can only judge that by the feeling that I’ve had a great time. All of the audiences seem to be delighted.”
What had been his favourite moments?
“Listening to Philip Higham playing cello in the church was amazing, to get the Carducci String Quartet… just to see these international artists performing in these intimate venues in this village is just amazing in itself.
“However, if I had to choose a favourite moment, it was Stephen Costello singing part of the aria from La Boheme to my mother.”
You mentioned the intimacy of the venues. Was that deliberate?
“Just the way it is. You get a great cellist in a Norman church, and you can’t go wrong!”
What inspired him to stage the inaugural festival?
“I’ve had a house in Branscombe for 15 years and I had a concert series in London – the Rosenblatt recital series. We did one concert here – about six years ago – which was successful.
“I had friends staying. Pianist Iain Burnside was going to St Endellion in Cornwall where they have a festival and it sparked my imagination. So I thought we’d give it a go in Branscombe and see what happened.”
What did he think he’d brought to Branscombe?
“International artists of the sort you’re not going to hear normally outside London,” he says. “From a village point of view, it’s brought people, so I hope it’s helped to contribute to the local economy. The local church has raised some money today, so that’s good.”
What difficulties had he experienced in putting on the event?
“No mobile phone signal! We even tried walkie-talkies and they didn’t work either! Other than that, no problems. And the local community have been incredibly helpful, very supportive.”
Presumably – with the low ticket price and small venues – the festival wasn’t about making profit?
“No, it’s lost money. There’s no chance of it making a profit at all! There are easier ways of making a profit than putting on live music!”
You’ve said in the press that you’d like more festivals. Is that possible?
“Yes, I hope so. I want to assess it, but I’d love to be able to make it an annual thing. We need to ensure that the word gets spread around the South West of England as much as possible. Obviously we want local support in Branscombe, but also it’s music and events available to people from all over.”