Opera singer excited to be returning to her roots

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SOPRANO opera singer Carola Darwin – who is related to English naturalist Charles Darwin – is returning to the village of Great Henny next month to sing in a concert in a church that holds many happy childhood memories for her.

Carola, who has appeared in numerous operas and recitals throughout Britain, has been hoping to sing at St Mary’s Church in Great Henny for years due to her family connections with the village.

Her grandparents retired to Great Henny in the 1960s, and she and her family spent many care-free days cycling around village lanes and singing in Christmas concerts at the church.

She said: “My mother has many stories about riding her pony in the local lanes and bridleways, and about my grandmother hauling the shopping back from Sudbury on a bicycle, when petrol rationing was still in force.

“My grandmother played the organ in the church until she was over 90, and was a churchwarden.

“My childhood memories are full of Henny and of music ... cycling in the lanes with my sisters and cousins, singing descants in church at Christmas, and playing chief fieldmouse in the musical version of The Wind in the Willows which my mother and sister wrote. So it’s perhaps not surprising that I’ve been meaning to do a concert at St Mary’s for a long time.”

Carola said the problem had always been the accompaniment because the church does not have a piano and moving one into the church would cost a lot of money.

“It’s a wonderful place to sing unaccompanied, but I thought a whole concert of unaccompanied music might be too much, for the audience, as well as the singer,” she said. “Then it occurred to me that I should combine with a string quartet, and a friend recommended the Hermitage String Quartet, and so the plan was made.”

Carola, who was awarded a PhD in music from the University of Sheffield last year, will sing in the concert on Sunday, November 6, at 3pm, and she and her fellow musicians are giving their time free to raise money for church funds.

The Hermitage String Quartet are David Bogle and Paula Tysall (violin), Michael Blee (viola) and Elizabeth Nevrkla (cello).

The concert features arrangements of Schumann Lieder by Aribert Reimann, a modern German composer, and the quartet will feature an extra viola played by Jenny Bogle for a performance of Mozart’s G-minor Viola Quintet.

Carola will sing an unaccompanied piece by Nicola LeFanu, a composer who is also her mother’s first cousin.

Great Henny vicar, the Rev Margaret King, praised the singer and her musical colleagues for coming to the church to help raise money for church funds.

She said: “All of the professional musicians are waiving any fees and expenses to help our beautiful church.

“We are a tiny congregation, so holding concerts such as this really help us cover our insurance, heating and all kinds of other costs to keep the church open and functioning.”

Carola’s many opera performances include Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen, Surrey Opera; the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, Opera! Festival, Netherlands; and Berta in The Barber of Seville, Opera East.

She read chemistry at Trinity College, Cambridge, and then gained a master’s in singing at the Royal Northern College of Music. Since then, she has combined an opera and concert career with researching, writing and producing her own material.

Her future plans include performing songs about the life and work of Charles Darwin, the famous scientist who devised the theory of evolution and who is Carola’s great-great grandfather. The songs are by composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad, in collaboration with Opera North.