Pillaton WI Report - November 2018

Open Meeting with William Shimell

Well, I took notes but how does one write a report of an evening like this? William Shimell is a raconteur par excellence and his lively, entertaining talk was full of anecdotes and fun.

His Wikipedia entry describes him as “an English baritone who has had an active international career performing in opera and on the concert platform since the 1980s and more recently has appeared in non-singing roles in films.”

He claims his mum was partly responsible for his career, having enrolled him as a choirboy at Westminster Abbey where he sang for 4 years. Growing up, he went to (and then dropped out of) university and started working life in a bank. Realising a 9-5 grind in a bank wasn’t for him, he applied for a place at the Guildhall School of Music and on leaving started his singing career in the chorus of Kent Opera. By the third season he was cast in the lead role.

Specializing in singing Mozart, his next big role was as Papageno in "The Magic Flute" with the English National Opera, costumed, as William put it, “in feathers”. After 2 years with the ENO, William decided to freelance and worked for Welsh Opera, Glyndebourne and debuted at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1985, in "La Boheme"".

His big break came with an invitation to audition to sing at La Scala, Milan. He described (with an Italian accent) to our great amusement the ordeal of the audition, which was postponed several times during the day, and his subsequent drinking binge to forget the ordeal – only to return to the UK and discover he had been selected! As he said, the opportunity opened doors for him to sing all over the world, including Tel Aviv where he performed the "Marriage of Figaro" and the local currency seemed to be dollars, cigarettes or tights!

In 1990 he recorded "Don Giovanni" with the Vienna Philharmonic and he has sung in Italian, French, sometimes in German and even occasionally in English. At the height of his career he was booked 4-5 years in advance.

He claims much of opera is about sex – and tricks of the trade include being totally believable in the role and of course familiarity with the music. William entertained us with anecdotes of twirling skimpily dressed on stage as Don Giovanni, having just attempted to seduce the commandant’s daughter, and regaled us with the tale of playing dead on stage during performances of "Hercules".

It was in 2008, whilst singing at Aix en Provence, that William was approached by film director Abbas Kiarostami who offered him a role in a film opposite Juliette Binoche. "Certified Copy" ("Copie Conforme") was released in 2010 and William went on to act in another French film, "Amour", directed by Michael Haneke and released in 2012.

William illustrated his talk with recordings of himself singing and ended the evening by offering for sale a CD made in aid of St. Luke’s Hospice – “I’ll walk beside you”.

This was such an enjoyable evening and I look forward to playing the CD as a memento.

Thank you, William Shimell!

Ann Henderson

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Last updated: 16 November 2018 Contact Us