One of the pleasures of a career singing Mozart is that you can simultaneously upgrade your status vocally and socially: thus it is that sparky Welsh soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, who made her Royal Opera debut last year as a Coronation Street incarnation of Papagena in The Magic Flute, now graduates to doing the princess Pamina in Armonico Consort's touring version of the opera.
What's it like making this transition? "Lovely," she replies. "Singing Pamina is every girl's dream. I've also done Despina and Susanna, and Pamina is the next notch up. She gets to act out her strength, and although Mozart's maids get things their own way, she is the princess they're aspiring to be. And the Flute is such a joyful piece. I came to it quite late – I was 18 when I first saw it – but it's supremely magical. And as Pamina not only are you in love, you also have a best friend – Papageno, who turns up and holds your hand in that marvellous duet when danger threatens. To have a Platonic relationship in opera is quite unusual."
Thomas is as bred-in-the-bone Welsh as Bryn Terfel, with whom she converses in her mother tongue whenever they coincide on stage. This background led her to read Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic languages at Clare College, but she's still inexorably drawn back by the real thing: "I'd like to be in Wales, speaking Welsh every day. I now have to ring home to get my dose." And she grew up singing in her local Annibynwyr ("Independent") chapel, which is another thing she misses, living in Sussex.
She recalls her shock when enrolling as a chorister at Cambridge: 'I thought people were pulling my leg when they said you turn to the altar to sing the Creed, and the cassock and surplice they gave me seemed like fancy dress for the first day of term."
She wishes there were more Welsh operas. "James MacMillan has just written a piece for Welsh National Opera called The Sacrifice, based on the tales of the Mabinogion, which is partly sung in Welsh. I'd love to sing in that."
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