High-flying tenor Iestyn Morris straps up for Peter Pan opera

Iestyn Morris as Peter Pan. Picture: Clive Barda

Iestyn Morris as Peter Pan. Picture: Clive Barda - Credit: Archant

Former Highgate School pupil Iestyn Morris is tested to the limits by a new operatic version of J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan that requires him to sing in a harness, finds Michael White.

As countertenors go, Iestyn Morris is the low-flying variety: an alto “comfortable around middle C”. But he’s flying rather higher in the new Welsh National Opera production that tours to Covent Garden this weekend, because the piece is an operatic take on Peter Pan with Morris in the title role - which means he spends the evening swooping round the upper reaches of the mainstage, on a wire.

Stage-flight is tough enough for speaking actors. For a singer, who needs all the breath his lungs can capture, it’s a human rights offence. You’re strapped into a harness. Staying vaguely horizontal uses muscles you never knew you had. And whatever the training, there’s a degree of unpredictability.

“I might start rotating”, says Morris, “or the wires might get caught up – though I’ve learned routines to get me through. If I find I’m facing the wrong way I can turn upside and sing like that. It’s disconcerting but possible: you just have to keep testing your limits”.

In other ways, Iestyn Morris has been testing his vocal limits since he was a boy at Highgate School where a teacher encouraged him to take an interest in opera. At age 13, he found himself singing Miles in a production of Britten’s “Turn of the Screw” at no less a house than La Fenice, Venice.

With a break like that, you might have thought a stage life would be mapped out. But instead, he went to Bristol to read mechanical engineering, And it was only after several terms of singing countertenor as a lay-clerk in Bristol Cathedral that he decided on music.

Since then, like most countertenors, he’s done his fair share of baroque concerts. But it’s a big voice, suited to opera. And he’s developed a speciality in championing new stagework: hence the “Peter Pan” by British composer Richard Ayres which premiered in Stuttgart in 2013 before opening at Cardiff in a different production - the one about to come to London.

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Morris has seen the opera from its beginnings, and he describes it as “certainly not a pantomime”.

“If you go expecting a jolly show, you’ll get that, but it’s more. It asks questions that wouldn’t normally get asked in Peter Pan, about the nature of growing up and what it is to be free, or responsible”.

As for the music, Morris calls it “modern, but not in a way that puts people off. Everyone in the cast get things we enjoy singing. Though we’d probably enjoy it more the right way up and on the ground”.

Peter Pan runs at the Royal Opera House, Fri 24th & Sat 25th.7.30pm. roh.org.uk