By opening its new season with Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, English National Opera is going for a very traditional kick-off, though, with Richard Jones in the director's seat, these verismo classics may emerge in a new guise. Noticing that the doomed lover Silvio in Pagliacci will be sung by baritone Mark Stone, I'm intrigued, since he has brought a way-out freakiness to the other parts he has sung with ENO this year. His Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor was queasily incestuous, and his young prince in Candide was camp to the nth degree.
Meeting Stone is a surprise: he's at once diffident and debonair – a cross between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant – and he tells his story with sardonic amusement. Discovering that he was insufficiently obsessed with money to cut it as a merchant banker, and realising that the Guildhall School of Music & Drama was just up the road from where he worked, he applied for a place there. "While at King's College, Cambridge, I had failed to get into the choir, but I had done some amateur singing. I had such disgust for my then-career that I was prepared to take a risk. I didn't want to find myself at 60 saying I could have been a singer – It was better to try, even if it failed."
They turned him down for the specialist opera programme, but accepted him for the postgraduate course. When he finally made it on to the specialist programme, he got a shock. He had sung Figaro in a Bracknell production of The Barber of Seville the previous year, but discovered at the end of his first year that he couldn't sing the arias: "A lot of deconstruction was needed before I could get any better. They took my voice apart, and methodically put it together again over the two years. They give you tools you can use in any situation, which is useful if a director doesn't give you a strong lead and you have to direct yourself."
The novel freakiness he brought to Enrico in Lucia was one of the fruits of this training: stand by for a fresh take on Silvio.
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