Nicholas Lester, Baritone – Tait Memorial Trust Award Winner 2009

Below is a report we received from Nicholas Lester, Baritone. Awarded a Tait Trust scholarship in 2009 he  has gone on to build a remarkable career here in the UK  and now broadening his work to the continent and his native Australia.

“Mark well the dark eyes watching in the crowd! Love waits for you!”

Escamillo the Toreador sings in Rory Bremner’s translation of Carmen!

We’ve just completed our London rehearsals and are moving to Wales to start our tech week before opening a 23 venue, 27 show tour of Wales and some of England too.

Nicholas Lester, Baritone
Nicholas Lester, Baritone

Escamillo is my 5th of 6 roles for the year, of which 5 are brand new and I start rehearsing the last new role just before the year is out where I will make my debut with Danish National Opera.  Two have been in English, the remainder all Italian. It’s fantastic to have such a busy schedule, but it requires quite a lot of forethought and planning.  This means: carefully planned learning and memorising time, language coaching, singing lessons, repertoire coaching and study, all this delicately coordinated around the family schedule (We are a family of four with a boy about to start school and a girl soon to turn one). This usually involves cups of tea accompanied by chocolate (Haighs is currently on supply after a trip home to South Australia) and the scribbling-in of diaries and/or the updating of computerised calendar entries too. What would we have done without technology?

Nicholas Lester singing Schaunard, La boheme

Growing up in a country town of about 1500 people I enjoyed getting stuck into whatever activity was available. I played pretty much any of the sports available in the community, took part in the Scout group and stuck with it through to obtain my Queen’s Scout Award, and got interested, at about the age of 10, in performing. One of my first performing memories was as Friedrich in The Sound of Music – probably quite odd to have a very tall 10 year old singing higher than a lot of the women in the chorus. From this, the high school music teacher offered to give me some singing lessons. During my school years my performing was just for fun – I had never really planned to take it any further than that. It wasn’t until I met my wife (I auditioned for her…well she was on the panel when I auditioned for a company she was a part of!) that I got properly fired-up and interested in performing. I started not only to be interested in G&S, musical theatre and acting in plays but more and more in classical songs and opera more specifically.

I attended the University of Adelaide, starting with a broader Arts Degree and commencing s Diploma of Languages alongside it with Bahasa Indonesian as my language. After a while on the vocal degree I decided instead to defer the degrees and instead to work to pay my bills, audition and get as much practical singing experience as I could. I started to bother/court/coerce a Welsh baritone who had emigrated to Australia to teach me, eventually he relented!

I moved to London with my wife and for the first few years she did the auditioning thing, while I worked for The Salvation Army. I worked with a great teacher Raymond Connell and started to get some coaching. I also worked for a period with Russell Smythe, which really fired my understanding of what roles I wanted to learn and perform. By 2005 I had started to audition and worked with companies like British Youth Opera, got into the Glyndebourne chorus, started covering roles and doing small ones. Basically instead of learning my rep in a college or institution I have done an extended apprenticeship. It has been great for me, even though at times it may have felt a little bit of a slow progression career-wise.

Nicholas Lester with Anne Sophie-Duprels. The Jacobin, Buxton Festival 2014
Nicholas Lester with Anne Sophie-Duprels. The Jacobin, Buxton

“Tall and distinguished looking, Nicholas Lester made a finely attractive Bohus (he impressed earlier this year as Rossini’s Figaro at Opera Holland Park). His opening solo was the character’s big moment, and Lester showed a feeling both for Dvorak’s dramatic line and for the feeling of nostalgic melancholy in Bohus’s love of his homeland.” Dvorak’s The Jacobin in Buxton, Planet Hugill, Robert Hugill

After three attempts I was offered a place at the National Opera Studio, which I attended 2008-9. I was also very lucky to have fantastic financial support during my NOS time from generous people such as Serena Fenwick, Christopher Ball, plus a scholarship from Glyndebourne Festival Opera, and after the course by organisations including the Simon Fletcher Charitable Trust, Tait Memorial Trust, and Independent Opera who awarded me the NOS Opera Postgraduate Voice Fellowship. This practical financial support meant that I could concentrate on the singing and training, not about how I was going to pay my bills!

Figaro, Opera Holland park 2014

The National Opera Studio gave me an intense environment where I could try out several roles, learn music quickly, and could develop and test my stamina. As a result of the time I’ve been able to take, or that my career development has taken, I have been able to adapt the repertoire that best suits me. Waiting and adjusting as my voice makes it clearer what repertoire I can or should be singing. I have felt more and more confident singing larger and more demanding roles many of which I’ve been lucky to sing. I have really solidified my technique and trust that my voice will do what it’s told the majority of the time!

I also had several companies take a risk on me and by doing so provide a great training ground for me. I’ve been given the chance to perform smaller roles whilst covering larger ones. English Touring Opera, Opera Holland Park and Scottish Opera have all been instrumental in this. The last few years in particular have enabled me to sing some of the best operatic roles for my voice such as Onegin, The Count, Figaro (Barbiere), Marcello and Malatesta from Don Pasquale. The extra privilege of being able to sing any of these roles for a second or even third time is fantastic!

The Count-The Marriage of Figaro, English Touring Opera
The Count-The Marriage of Figaro, English Touring Opera

I was really chuffed to be invited back to Adelaide to make my principal role debut with the State Opera of South Australia, and the following year to return and create the role of Edward Lear in a newly composed opera based on his life ‘Ode to nonsense’ – created by an entirely South Australian team I believe. I really look forward to returning to Australia in the future, if nothing else it’s a great way to be able to spend time with family who still live there.

The singing community in Adelaide is relatively small, but it is interesting that in London the community can also feel small. Despite the apparent size of the community there is plenty of competition for an ever-shrinking amount of work both here in Europe and in Australia.

After 11 Years in the UK I am starting to feel a part of the industry here. I remember that at some of the first auditions I ever attended in the UK being a little thrown by how lots of the singers seemed to know each other, greeting the panel and colleagues like good friends, names being mentioned “…when I was working with…..” OR “oh…..she/he is lovely/a great colleague” OR “you must know…”. Now I have to be careful to avoid repeating particular circle/practice myself-I’m certainly not perfect.

I’m led to believe that I still just sneak into the category of a younger baritone. It’s hard to believe this as I do more and more jobs where I am no longer one of the youngest artists!

I’m looking forward to what the future holds, but also trying to make the most of what I am doing now. It would very easy for me to think forward and imagine how future work is going to be great fun, without enjoying the present.

There is a very exciting bit of work news that I am very keen to share with my friends, but am still obliged to keep under wraps. Stay tuned for more info.


Schaunard-La bohème (Nationale Reisopera-Netherlands 2011)


Nicholas’ website