It’s no secret that cooking is popular amongst opera singers. Indeed, you can’t set foot in an opera rehearsal these days – and this is especially true in America – without someone, usually a mezzo, sharing out something they baked last night: a cake, cookies, invariably something tempting and sweet. The director or conductor are usually given first pick of the chocolate goodies, of course, while cynical tenors mutter jokes under their breath about brownie-nosing.
My American-born mezzo wife, Lucy Schaufer, stuck a molasses cookie recipe in the booklet of her solo CD when it came out in 2013, and you’ll find several singers these days blogging about eating healthily on the road, not least another American ex-pat Corinne Winters (who stars shortly at ENO in La Boheme). While I’ve taught Lucy to call “Mac ‘n’ Cheese” Macaroni Cheese, rather against the current tide, it doesn’t look like Corinne would be a fan of the dish. But I could be wrong. And I really don’t mind, just as long as she calls it, now that she lives in London, properly, MACARONI CHEESE.
Of all the voice types, basses seem to be the least adept in the kitchen. In fact in The Great British Bass-Off the competitors might be struggling hard in the technical challenges:
Sir John Tomlinson. Not a known cook, though I could be mistaken. Probably a steak-and-kidney man.
Gwynne Howell. I’ve shared many meals with Gwynne, none cooked by him. While his wife Mary wears the apron, Gwynne mows the lawn and tends the vegetable patch.
Brindley Sherratt. Again, many a meal shared, but not known for his prowess at the stove. Now the owner of a small plot of land and his own geese and sheep, you never know, he may yet get a touch of the Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstalls.
Clive Bayley. Known internationally as an expert on the all-day-breakfast, he will tell you that there is no acceptable substitute for the tinned, plum tomato. Can he open the tin though?
Peter Rose. Can knock up a very good spaghetti alla puttanesca, but would his Ham Cooked in Coca-Cola impress the judges?
Robert Lloyd. Again, a bit of a culinary unknown, but as he’s shortly to appear as The Mikado, he might want some tips from our next bass…
Matthew Rose. A dab hand at roasts and barbecue, he has just returned from the Royal Opera’s tour to Japan, inspired to knock up some ravishing ramen.
But if I were a betting man, I’d put a tenner on Stephen Richardson, who lives in France but regularly sings Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier at the Bolshoi. I know he’s a good cook because I’ve shared digs with him a few times and I’m about to do it again in Belfast while we do Turandot. I’ve yet to experience his baking, even though he’s partial to a bit of cake (and my bread pudding).
Stephen’s great passion is fishing. I know this because he once dragged me around a tackle shop for an hour in the heart of Tokyo, but it really came to the fore when we shared a house in Aldeburgh while doing Peter Grimes on the beach. He would frequently disappear after shows to stand on the shingle and angle for several hours, almost until dawn. I would come down for breakfast and, on opening the fridge, where I expected to see the butter, there would be a dead bass. (I know it would make the reading of this a lot easier if I said sea-bass, but Stephen gets very cross when you call the fish a sea-bass; it is, he says, simply a bass.) But the bass who had put the bass in the fridge wouldn’t just leave a bass there. Reaching for what I thought was large pot of yoghurt, I pulled open the lid to find it filled with writhing lugworms, the bass’s leftover bait from catching the bass.
Curiously, having caught the thing, Stephen was rarely interested in eating it, and I took to knocking up some rather good ceviche. Still, I think Mary Berry would be very taken by his tartiflette. Not so much, his lugworms.