“It became clear to my parents from an early age,
that I was a horrendous show off.”
This manifested around the age of three when I would burst in on unsuspecting guests bellowing “Why, why WHYYYYYY Delilah?!!” in a frighteningly accurate impersonation of Tom Jones, and demand applause and cake before I could be removed.
Things became worse in school (St Julian’s Comprehensive, Newport) where I joined every available music club; recorders, choir, orchestra and the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. We were incredibly lucky to have the fantastic music teacher, Alan Moore, who challenged us with difficult repertoire and whom I eventually bullied into giving me star roles such as Mad Margaret in Ruddigore and Carmen in an English adaptation of the Bizet opera called Passion Flower. I was hooked.
I went on to study music at the University of Reading in the glory days of Professor Peter Wishart and under his tutelage and that of his wife Maureen Lehane, I discovered a profound love of baroque music and especially Handel. I little knew then, back in the huge haired Eighties that George Frederic would later on in life, be so kind to me (- over a hundred performances of Messiah have helped me pay my mortgage and indulged my inexplicable need for glass vases!)
After three years of post graduate study at the Royal Academy of Music studying with the feisty Patricia Clark, and a further year at the National Opera Studio in London, I was unleashed into the largely disinterested world.
Early jobs included a fabulous summer in the Glyndebourne Chorus for “Cosi” and “Death in Venice” wearing incredible costumes and playing endless cricket on the lawn.
Did you know?
Hilary sings vocals on the theme titles of BBC’s The League of Gentlemen?
Did you know?
Hilary sings the lament of Aragorn’s dead mother on the extended dvd version of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Another fun fact
Birgit Nilsson awarded Hilary a crystal rose bowl for being one of the most promising students at the first Brereton summer school. During this course Hilary shared a dormitory with seven dramatic sopranos.
My first professional role was as Schwertleite in Wagner’s Die Walküre which was terrifying more for the fact that I had to wear stilts than sing in the legendary Valkyrie scene.
My big break came when I was asked to sing on the CD and DVD Recording of Handel’s Messiah with King’s College Cambridge under Stephen Cleobury. As a grizzled veteran of this piece I am still incredibly proud of these recordings. This led to yet more prestigious Handel, this time with William Christie, in the long running Robert Carsen production of Orlando. And so it began and very happily for me, continued. I am one of the fortunate and relatively unusual singers that is equally busy in concert work as in opera. I mainly specialise in Baroque and Contemporary repertoire (and yes, I DO like modern music and and much of it very beautiful and incredibly rewarding. Of course you get a few stinkers, but you do in any period; it’s all part of the job.)
I was hugely privileged to have worked with the legend that was Pierre Boulez. He conducted me numerous times in projects such as Stravinsky’s Les Noces and Ligeti’s Aventures and Aventures Nouvelles, but it was in working on his masterwork Le marteau sans maitre that we really became friends. I performed this piece under his baton over twenty times and our recording of it won a Grammy Award. During a rehearsal in the early days I remember getting stuck on a passage and getting cross with myself and letting out a loud fruity expletive beginning with F. I looked up shamefacedly expecting a reprimand and Pierre was chuckling quietly and said “Ah these Saxon words – I do not understand them at all!” RIP Pierre.
I have been a massive fan of Michael Nyman and it has been my great delight to have collaborated with him on so many projects over the years. Singing with the Michael Nyman Band is an experience like no other. His music brings out a huge emotional response in me as both a performer and a listener. The soundtracks of Prospero’s Books and The Draughtsman’s Contract would both be on my Desert island discs. If I was being immodest I’d add our recordings of the Celan songs and War Work too, mainly because I just love the music and they bring great memories of all our performances together.
Working with Michael allowed me to dabble in film music and I’ve sung solo on several of his soundtracks as well as Joby Talbot’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and Howard Shore’s “The Fellowship of the Ring”.
It is always a tremendous pleasure working with Christian Curnyn and his marvellous ensemble, the early opera company. I have recorded six Handel discs with him and been his stalwart contralto in countless exhilarating concerts. He is an incredible Handelian and musician and I rejoice in him. One of my greatest claims to fame is that our recording of “Semele” features glowingly in the PD James novel “The Private Patient”. I am a huge devourer of crime fiction and was beside myself with pride when I read the book and discovered myself in it!
I have been so fortunate in being able to have a career doing the repertoire I love with extraordinary musicians in exciting locations. Long may this continue. For a more detailed biography of roles and venues etc, I point you towards my page on the RayfieldAllied website. Let this website be the place for how it all started and favourite things.
As a jolly jape...
Hilary dressed up as Terry Bull (a baritone from West Wales) and sang Bess you is my woman now and the libera me from Faure’s requiem (at pitch) for the audition panel at the Royal Academy of Music. He/She was sent to the Scholarship panel who were gruelling in their grilling but nonetheless offered Him a place if things didn’t work out as a contralto...