Rising star of opera anything but dull

Opera – boring? No chance, not with adrenaline junkie Julianne Young around. Sarah Hardy meets the mezzo-soprano with a passion for life before she sings in Norwich.

Opera is one of those things that has a bit of an image problem. Many of us believe it's a stage for big ladies and gentlemen to belt out incomprehensible numbers in a foreign language, and that it's only for the middle classes - and those of a certain age, too.

But up-and-coming opera star Julianne Young is keen to dispel any such thoughts. A mezzo-soprano with Opera North, one of the country's most exciting operatic companies, Julianne is one of those upfront, go-get-'em type of girls with no airs and graces.

When she's not singing her heart out, our action girl thrives on the thrill of tandem parachute jumping, gorge swinging, quad biking in the desert, and white water rafting on the Nile.

And that's before she starts to tell you about being charged by a bull elephant, riding ex-racehorses at Lake Malawi, bunking off school to learn one of Nelson Mandela's first speeches and visiting the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

Now Julianne is using her considerable energy to making opera a bit more funky.

“It does bug me that people have this view of opera - that it's somehow not for everyone. I'm very keen to encourage people to give it a go. It has a bit of everything - lust, love, humour and sadness. You get to use all your emotions.

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“People should realise that it's actually really entertaining - that you can have a really good night out.”

Julianne's zest for life most likely comes from her upbringing. Now aged 30, she was born in Scotland but moved to Cape Town, South Africa, when she was a year old.

“It was for my dad's job, he was a town planner. It was a great place to grow up, the climate is lovely, and I suppose I might end up back there one day,” she says.

Julianne cannot remember when anyone realised she had a great voice, saying: “I think they rang from school when I was aged about six, to say that I should be in the choir.

“I always really enjoyed it, and they hold Eisteddfods in Cape Town which we all took part in.”

As a child, Julianne also played the flute, piano and recorder but, she says, she actually wanted to be a vet and helped out at a practice one day a week.

“But I'm glad I didn't: my singing career is very satisfying. From the first moment when you set foot on stage, it's a very special feeling. Nothing can ever replace that.”

After school, Julianne studied at the South African College of Music and then came to England seven years ago to train at the Royal College of Music for three years. “If you want an international career, you do have to be in England, in London, really,” she says.

She has since performed with several prestigious companies such as English National Opera and has taken part in the Aldeburgh Festival.

Julianne appears in Norwich during the first week of May as Cherubino in Mozart's highly popular piece, The Marriage of Figaro. Julianne explains: “It's a great role, I play a page boy in love with the idea of being in love. He's impulsive and impetuous, and simply goes with the flow. He's great fun.”

Although in the process of buying a house in Leeds, where Opera North is based, Julianne enjoys life on the road, saying: “It's part and parcel of the job. People think that it must be glamorous but it's not really. You stay in hotels and live out of a suitcase.”

But she does enjoy exploring a new area, although says she already knows Norfolk fairly well as she has performed at Norwich's Theatre Royal with the Glyndebourne company and has friends in Bungay.

“Opera North is a great company, it's really fun to be in as it has a young cast so we have a good time on stage and off. I'm on tour until June and I'd certainly love to do something else with them if they'll have me.”

Julianne appears in The Marriage of Figaro with Opera North at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, on May 3 and 5. The company is also performing La Rondine by Puccini on May 4 and Arms and the Cow by Kurt Weill on May 6. Call 01603 630000 for details or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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