Winner of the first prize in the 2013 Nei Stëmmen International Singing Competition in Luxembourg, Benjamin was a Choral Scholar at King’s College Cambridge where he read Philosophy before studying at the Royal College of Music in London (Vocal Faculty and Opera School), where he won First Prize in the English Song Competition. Benjamin won third prize and the Audience Prize in the 2015 CantateBach Competition in Greifswald, Germany, was a Semi-Finalist in the 2014 Kathleen Ferrier Awards, and won the 2011 Royal Overseas League Competition with the ensemble Cries of London.
Benjamin has sung Bertarido in Handel’s Rodelinda, Tassile in Handel’s Alessandro, and Mirtillo in Handel’s Il Pastor Fido in the London Handel Festival with Laurence Cummings. He has understudied roles with English National Opera (Ixbalanqué in Purcell’s The Indian Queen, Bertarido in Handel’s Rodelinda and Seraphim 3 in John Adams’ The Gospel according to the other Mary), Glyndebourne, Scottish Opera, Opera North, and English Touring Opera.
Benjamin’s other roles include Ottone in Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea with Ryedale Festival Opera, Tragedy in Jacopo Peri’s Euridice with British Youth Opera, Arsamenes in Handel’s Xerxes with Fitzwilliam Chamber Opera, Hamor in Handel’s Jephtha (Grimeborn), Kaspar in Kaspar Hauser by Alexis Pope (Grimeborn & Tête à Tête), George Saintsbury in The Lovely Ladies by Peter Cowdrey with Opera Unlimited (Buxton Festival), Spirit in Kettlehead by Darren Bloom with Size Zero Opera (Grimeborn & Tête à Tête), and Q in A Sign in Space by Nick Morrish with Gestalt Arts.
Concert highlights include Handel’s Brockes Passion with Stephen Cleobury and King’s College Choir on BBC Radio 3, Purcell’s The Fairy Queen with Matthew Halls (Wigmore Hall, London), Purcell’s Hail, Bright Cecilia with Josef Wallnig (St. Petersburg, Russia), Bernstein Chichester Psalms with Edward Higginbottom, Oxford (Perugia, Italy), Messiah with Jan Łukaszewski (Gdansk, Poland), Bach’s Mass in B minor (Logrono, Spain), Handel’s Messiah (Riberac, France), and the World Premiere of Jonathan Dove’s Arion and the Dolphin.
Benjamin is also committed to art song and gives regular recitals, most recently, ‘The Art of the Countertenor’ in Corfu for the Corfu Arts Foundation. As well as Early Music, Benjamin’s repertoire includes Lieder, Mélodie, and 20th Century English Song, as well as contemporary music: the composer Peter Foggitt has set for him two song cycles of Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti.
Benjamin is the Co-Founder and Vocal Consultant of Sloane Square Choral Society, a lecturer with Opera Prelude, a jazz pianist and a singing teacher. He is also partial to port and decadent condiments.
Q&A with Benjamin Williamson
What was your operatic debut?
My very first opera was Handel’s Xerxes with Fitzwilliam Chamber Opera. I had just finished my studies at Cambridge and I was about to begin at the Royal College of Music in London. Cambridge University Opera Society never puts on any Baroque Opera (all too often preferring to be overly ambitious with Romantic Repertoire!), so I was delighted to hear of auditions for a Handel opera. I got the role of Arsamenes (the role of Xerxes being a fraction too high for most countertenors) and prepared by watching the DVD of Nicholas Hytner’s fantastic production, which was incidentally premiered in 1985, the year of my birth. It was a real challenge to learn so much music off by heart and I relished the chance to really get into a role. It was a wonderful group of people to work with - the conductor was Fergus Macleod, now the Mackerras Fellow at ENO, and most of my fellow cast members were similarly exploring doing a role for the first time. It was a wonderfully supportive atmosphere and definitely kindled my love for the stage.
Has anything gone especially wrong during dress rehearsals?
When I was singing in Handel’s Rodelinda in the London Handel Festival, there was a moment when Grimoaldo had to slide a chair across the set in anger. However, in the dress rehearsal, he practically threw it into the side of the set where it became lodged, rather breaking the illusion of a sturdy wall! In the same opera, I had to fire blanks and kill the henchman Garibaldi (no, not the biscuit), but luckily they always went off, or I would have had to improvise an alternative murder!
What was your childhood dream?
It wasn’t exactly my childhood dream, but I wanted to be an astro-physicist when I grew up! However, as I became older and it became clear my brother was much better than me as physics I rather gave up on the idea. He in fact ended up doing a PhD in Particle Physics at Oxford, which is clearly down to me inspiring him to copy my ambitions! I always had a passion for singing, but it never seemed like a real career option. Only when I was awarded a Choral Scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge, did I realise I had a realistic chance to make a career out of singing. The path to success as a soloist of course is never something you can take for granted, and even the stage I am at now is only really a starting point.