Listen: A glimpse into the Opera Footwear department
Supervisor Cheryl Knight speaks to BBC Radio 4 and reveals how shoes are key to a great on stage performance.
20 November 2013 at 12.29pm | Comment on this article
Shoes from Royal Opera productions (left to right: Le nozze di Figaro, Faust, Rigoletto) © ROH/Chris Shipman
Opera Footwear supervisor Cheryl Knight spoke to BBC Radio 4′s Midweek to give listeners an idea what it’s like to work in one of the Royal Opera House’s less well-known departments.
‘Opera shoes? What a niche job! But they are important,’ said Cheryl, stressing the importance of comfort to opera singers who have to act as well as sing. ‘The Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad was asked what it took to make a great Isolde and she said “A comfortable pair of shoes”. The shoes are often the first things asked for in a rehearsal because the singers are asked to do these incredible things, the last thing they want to do is wobble on stage. Shoes help define their character and personality.’
Cheryl took a pair of Bryn Terfel’s shoes from Faust to the BBC studios, worn by Bryn Terfel in the scene in which Méphistophélès is dressed as a woman in David McVicar’s production and complete with a small heel: ’The gentlemen do take a while to get used to a heel so we thought we’d play safe’. She also brought a pair of extremely ornate platform shoes from Aida worn by the singer playing Amneris, ‘the most extraordinary shoes we’ve ever worked with…fairly late on the role was recast – the original singer had to withdraw. The lady who took over is someone who’s really no-frills, is quite happy in a pair of jazz shoes, but she was really game. We’ve all had a go – They’re easier to wear than they look!’
The Opera Footwear department has recently been working on the upcoming new production of Parsifal with its huge chorus of 94 and a total cast of 132 (‘with multiple pairs of shoes!’ Cheryl noted).
Other guests on the programme included soldier-turned-writer Andy McNab, who revealed that he is a big opera fan.
Cheryl was the first ‘face’ of our current philanthropy campaign to raise awareness of the Royal Opera House Foundation, which inspires individuals to support our work through donations. We rely on voluntary contributions to present extraordinary performances, incredible craftsmanship and inspiring learning and participation projects. Find out how you can support the work of the foundation.