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La bohème – 2018

We hope you will enjoy this, and the Where Are They now?

We have really appreciated the feedback we have received from these posts. If you have enjoyed them, please do send us your feedback as well.


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Manchester Theatre Awards

“Clonter Opera does an amazing job each year putting on a complete production of a mainstream repertoire opera, in its own theatre, with young singers who are at the threshold of their professional careers. Its track record bespeaks its skill at talent spotting and the value of its away-from-the-hothouse environment in building skills for future star performers.

This year’s La Bohème is no exception to it form…The set strikes you as soon as you sit down – Grace Venning’s design of a garret for the starving artistic young men…striking and evocative.

Director Harry Fehr presents the story as Rodolfo, the main protagonist, returning to the attic in which those great formative experiences of his youth took place. So he enters the stage before the music starts, looking around and remembering. Everything seems to happen within his memories, and at the end of the other characters slip away backwards through the doorways, like wraiths at the rising of the sun…

The stark and bare third and fourth acts work brilliantly: in fact the last was one of the best acted endings to La Bohème I’ve ever seen.

Movement and placings are well worked out, and at the same time we see young people facing, all unprepared, the reality of death and its ending of their dreams…But with Clonter it’s always the voices that are the thing, and here they have struck gold again.

Estonian soprano Mirjam Mesak (Mimi) is surely a singing actress with a great future, and she effortlessly shone out over the biggest vocal ensembles and accompanimental textures. Russian Alexey Gusev (Marcello) is a natural actor as well as a very good baritone, and Lebanon-born Bechara Moufarrej (Rodolfo) has a refined, mature and flexible tenor voice. Connor Baiano (Colline) and Jolyon Loy (Schaunard) will have much to give in future, too, and Pedro Ometto (Benoit and Alcindoro) has a comic gift in the making. And Erika Gaikoff gave us a Musetta with attitude, not so much a hardened cynic as a youngster blending aggression and naivety(very convincingly), and singing beautifully.

The Clonter Sinfonia, led by Liz Rossi, played the reduced orchestration with fire and affection, and Clive Timms conducted with his accustomed sure hand and dramatic skill. He has been music director for Clonter for the last several years and its achievements under his care have been exceptional” Robert Beale

Manchester Classical Music –

“Clonter trawls far and wide for its singers. The seven principals here came from six countries and four continents, no doubt also testimony to the magnet that Britain still provides for aspiring musicians …  astonishing success rate of Clonter’s protégés since 1974. Nevertheless, Harry Fehr’s production was proof of what can still be achieved on a tight budget…The absence of Parpignol’s Pied Piper procession had an unexpected benefit: we were able to focus on the byplay between Musetta and Marcello without distraction…Clive Timms brought his customary authority to bear on the Clonter Sinfonia and it responded with discipline and enthusiasm. In the end, any budgetary privations faded before Fehr’s successful evocation of nostalgia… Standards were extremely high…” Martin Dreyer, Opera Magazine

Audience Feedback

“I must express my undiluted joy for the emotion generated by last night’s performance…The direction and production were – to me a model of what is needed in opera – simplicity intelligence and clarity in the telling of a story. The principal artists were committed and well prepared and with wonderful voices sang their hearts out to give an unforgettable performance of this great opera. One has heard many performances of La Boheme and yet when the piece is done as freshly and sincerely as this – it comes alive in a way many more elaborately staged and grandly sung performances do not…– it restored by joy in opera – much dimmed by many prententious, often stupid and over directed performances over the last thirty years. Your policy of offering masterpieces such as La Bohème seems to me entirely sensible and justified. … Thank you to all for this memorable evening.” TA

“Thank You for one of the most wonderful nights we have ever had at a theatre. We are totally sold on the idea of Opera … Amazing Emotional Evening. What wonderful young talent.” FF

“We loved the performance. I can’t think how many ‘Bohèmes’ I must have seen but this was one of the most moving. Having the middle-aged Rodolfo remembering his young life and love worked superbly, getting over the problem, at a stroke, of moving the action to the Café Momus and the Barriere. What a group of voices, alone and in ensemble. The quartet in the third act was outstanding. The surtitles were a delight. And what wonderful sounds Clive Timms coaxed from his orchestra…” AB

“One of the most engaging and beautifully sung performances we have seen.”

“After finding myself crying by the interval I was sure it would not happen in the second part. I was crying even more though by the end … And I was not the only one of our group weeping. The voices were beautiful.” DC

“…the best La Bohème we have ever seen… It was amazing to think most of the young cast had never before performed La Bohème, as they sang with great confidence and spirit.The quartets sung by the four male singers were superb and so too was Musetta. Their acting and fooling around was so cleverly devised and carried out.  Brilliant all round! … Congratulations on a triumphant achievement” MH

“Fabulous performance of La Bohème at Clonter Opera. We are lucky to have such art in the Congleton constituency, promoting young talent…” Cllr Sam Corcoran re-tweeted by Michael Unett, Labour candidate for Alsager


Where Are They Now?

Bechara Moufarrej- Rodolfo

Since performing the role of Rodolfo in Clonter Opera’s production of La bohème in 2018, Bechara has recorded Nessun Dorma for Classic FM’s Classics You Know series with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He is now a Principal Tenor with the Serbian National Theatre where his roles include Alfredo La Traviata, Il Duca Rigoletto and Rodolfo La bohème.

Full Biog –

Reviews – Iyad Kanaan Joseph le Juste – World premiere – Lebanon – ‘The soloists form a beautiful quartet that dialogues with natural emotion… The expressiveness of Bechara Moufarrej, whose duet with the soprano is one of the highlights of the oratorio, combines perfectly with the mesmerizing voice of Fernando Afara.’ L’Orient Le Jour, 1 June 2018

Part of 12:40 – Twelve new opera arias for the National Opera Studio’s 40th Anniversary 2018

La bohème in Lockdown from Germany Lebanon Ukraine Russia & Serbia –


Mirjam Mesak – Mimi

Since performing the role of Mimi in Clonter Opera’s 2018 production of La bohème, having taken part in Clonter’s May Masterclasses in 2017, and the Opera Gala in the same year, Mirjam received both her Masters degree in voice from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama with a First Class Honours under the tutelage of Prof. Rudolf Piernay. For the season 2018/19 she was a member of the Opera Studio at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Mirjam has gone on to work with the finest singers and coaches including Helmut Deutch, Graham Johnson, Edith Wiens, Birgitta Fassbender, Eugene Asti, Julius Drake, Stephan Loges. Mirjam has since performed as a soloist in several of London’s renowned concert halls such as the Barbican Hall, Milton Court Concert Hall (including as part of the LSO’s This is Rattle festival), and Wigmore Hall. Recent opera engagements include Iolanta, Iolanta, Papagena Die Zauberflöte, Erste Geist/Erste Uhr Karl V and Blumenmädchen at the Bayerische Staatsoper, to name a few. Season 2019/20 at the Bayerische Staatsoper includes roles such as Juliette, Die Tote Stadt, Taumannchen, Hänsel und Gretel, Esmeralda Die verkaufte Braut, Xenia, Borid Godunov, Mignon, Mignon and Gianetta, L’elisir d’amore. Concert highlights include Beethoven 9th with the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra and conductor Erik Nielsen, as well as the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra and Kahchun Wong. In 2019 Mirjam was awarded with the Bavarian Art Prize in the section Performing Arts – Bayerische Kunstdörderpreis in Der Sparte Darstellende Kunst.

Full Biog –

Blaibach – Michaela’s Aria “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante, Carmen, Bizet  2019

Reviews‘…I’ve not heard Lauretta’s “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi delivered with such artistry in concert; Mesak has the measure of authentic messa di voce and phrase-roundings, as well as an understanding of the young girl’s plight…’ David Nice, The Arts Desk, 2017 a light soprano with amplitude in her soaring,’ David Nice, The Arts Desk ‘Estonian Mirjam Mesak (Mimì) is surely a singing actress with a great future, and she effortlessly shone out over the biggest vocal ensembles and accompanimental textures…’ Robert Beale, 2018…Never is the radiance of her voice careless, there is always skepticism, longing, the idea of ​​a woe. A wonderful artist…’Egbert Tool, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2019…Mirjam Mesak stood out as Iolanta. Fragile and fairy-like, her lyrical soprano let the princess shine from within. With a slightly rapturous timbre, she played and lived the blindness credibly and thus gave her role an unbelievable amount of depth…’ – Norman Schwarze, Bachtrack, 2019


Alexey Gusevy – Marcello

Since performing the role of Marcello in Clonter’s 2018 production of La bohème, Alexey continued as a Scottish Opera Emerging Artist for the 17/18 season with roles inIolanta, Eugene Onegin, Ariadne auf Naxos and The Fiery Angel, and completed a further season in 2018/19. A keen concert artist Alexey has appeared with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic / Vladimir Jurowsky in Prokofiev Semyon Kotko and at the Golden Mask, En Blanc et Noir, Malvern, Llandeilo and Salisbury Festivals. He numbers amongst his artistic collaborators the conductors Stuart Stratford, Alexander Polianichko, Andrey Anikhanov, Valery Voronin and Maurizio Dones.

Full Biog – &

Reviews‘Gusev has a wonderfully clear,immaculately-focused voice.Both his tone and his diction arecrystal clear and his top registeris glorious to hear’. ‘Alex Gusev giving a compellingaccount of the title role’ The Herald ‘Russian lyric baritone Alexey Gusev made a great impact in the lead roles, Napoleon and Andrey Bolkonsky in Prokofiev’s War and Peace.’ ‘In this show, Napoleon wins the singing prize, if not the war – a superbly mature performance’. Richard Morrison, The Times, Iolanta, Scottish Opera 2017 –  ‘Alexey Gusev’s Robert is impressive, and one to watch’, New CD Release: Decades -A Century of Song Vol 3, in the highly acclaimed series with Malcolm Martineau … delightful Russian songs….Baritone Alexey Gusev, with his dark, unmistakably Slavic timbre, dispatches these with elegance and point, patently relishing the verbal music of his native language. This is another young singer to watch’ Gramophone Magazine

Britain’s Got Talent 2020

La Boheme in Lockdown from Germany Lebanon Ukraine Russia & Serbia


Erika Baikoff – Musetta

Since performing the role of Musetta in Clonter Opera’s 2018 production of La bohème, Erika went from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama to the Lyon National Opera Studio. This season she will appear as Le Feu/ Princesse/ Rossignol in Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro and sing the soprano solo in Mahler’s 4th Symphony under the baton of Daniele Rustoni. Last season, she was heard in the role of Juliet in Boris Blacher’s Romeo and Juliet and Anna in Verdi’s Nabucco. Erika is a 2020 Metropolitan National Council Semi-finalist. She is also the recipient of the first prize at the 2019 Helmut Deutsch International Lied Competition, 2019 Career Bridges Grant, 2018 Mondavi Young Artist Founders’ Prize, 2018 Audience Award at the Art Song Preservation Society Competition, 2018 Paul Hamburger Prize at the Guildhall School of Music. She has been featured in masterclasses with world-class musicians such as Dalton Baldwin, Julius Drake, Margo Garrett, Graham Johnson, Malcolm Martineau, and Ann Murray. She has also participated in summer courses such as the Internationale Meistersinger Akademie, directed by Edith Wiens, the Chautauqua Institute, and Songfest as a Schubert Fellow.

Full Biog – &

IMA (Internationale Meistersinger Akademie) 2019 O luce di quest anima – Arie der Linda aus Linda di Chamonix, Donizetti

Reviews – ‘The wonderful Erika Baikoff brought relief to the Mahler landscape in the last movement sublimely introduced by the harp and the clarinet. With a pure and very expressive voice, both in the music and in the text, the Russian-American soprano envelops in a fragile but transparent case the paradise described in this wonderful music.’ Augustine Javel


Jolyon Loy – Schaunard

Since performing the role of Schaunard in Clonter Opera’s 2018 production of La bohème, Jolyon has gone on to perform the roles that include Tarquinius The Rape of Lucretia 2020, Aeneas Dido & Aeneas, Figaro Le nozze di Figaro, Marquis de la Force Dialogues des Carmélites* and Owen Hart in the UK staged premiere of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). Upcoming appearances and recent highlights include residencies at Opera North, Scottish Opera and Welsh National Opera with the National Opera Studio, the final rounds of the 39th International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition at Dzintari Hall in Latvia, the 4th Éva Marton International Singing Competition at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, 2nd Prize & the Bayreuth Festival Award at the 2019 Wagner Society Singing Competition at the Wigmore Hall, baritone soloist in Zemlinsky’s Lyrische Symphonieat St John’s Smith Square, Apollo in John Eccles’ Semele with Cambridge Handel Opera Company and the Academy of Ancient Music (recorded on AAM Records), Le Directeur (cover*) Les mamelles de Tirésias and Marco* Gianni Schicchi at London’s Hackney Empire Theatre with British Youth Opera and the Southbank Sinfonia, Don Fernando (cover*) in Fidelio as a 2020 Garsington Opera Alvarez Young Artist and Stimme der Wächter in Die Frau ohne Schatten under Valery Gergiev at the 2019 Verbier Festival. Jolyon is due to join the National Opera Studio in London as a Young Artist in 2020/21. [* cancelled due to Coronavirus]

Full Biog –

Reviews – The Rape of Lucretia, RCS, 2020 – ‘Tarquinius was well sung by Jolyon Loy. Loy recently won 2nd Prize in the Wagner Society’s singing competition at Wigmore Hall, and his suave lyric baritone suggests a natural Don Giovanni, Almaviva or Onegin’ Hugh Canning, The Times ‘[…] the handsome, soft-edged Jolyon Loy turned Tarquinius into a tragic, almost sympathetic character’ Andrew Clark, Opera Magazine, Semele, Academy of Ancient Music, 2019 ‘As Apollo announcing the birth of Bacchus, the baritone Jolyon Loy was a suave, commanding and suitably joyful presence’ Sandra Bowdler, Opera Magazine

‘Wie Todesahnung… O du mein holder Abendstern’, Tannhauser, Wagner 2019


Connor Baiano – Colline

Since performing the role of Colline in Clonter’s 2018 production of La bohème. His other experience includes the roles of Bertrand in Iolanta (2019, Royal Academy Opera), Balthazar in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors (2018) and Black Bob and Tom in The Little Sweep (2018, Cambridge Youth Opera). In 2018 he also sang in the chorus for Der Fliegende Holländer with Longborough Festival Opera, and sang the bass solos in Mozart’s Requiem, performed with Prior Park Choral Society, Bath. In November 2019 Connor sang the role of Sarastro in Royal Academy Opera’s production of Die Zauberflöte.

Full Biog –


Pedro Ometto – Benoit/Alcindoro

Since performing the role of Benoit and Alcindoro in Clonter’s 2018 production of La bohème, Pedro has performed the roles of Theseus in Midsummer Night’s Dream at the São Pedro Theatre in 2018, Don Bartolo Le Nozze di Figaro at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and Banquo Macbeth for Duchy Opera in 2019.



Marcus Harman – A Waiter

Since appearing as the waiter in Clonter’s 2018 production of La bohème, Marcus has gone on to be the Alternate Evan Hansen, and cover for Jared and Connor, in the West End production of Dear Evan Hansen.




Mirjam Mesak – Mimi
“Thank you so much for helping me realise my dream of singing Mimi and letting me do it in the best environment possible! With so much kindness, support, belief in me… I mean it when I say that Clonter… has a very special place in my heart…I will never be able to say thank you enough times…”

Erika Baikoff  – Musetta
“I really loved how professional everyone was with arriving with their parts already learned and rehearsals really kicked off from the very beginning… there was only one cast and so it was entirely our responsibility to perform our best each night…I really appreciated that our orchestra was not a full-size orchestra because it was a good introduction to singing with orchestra without pushing too hard… living on-site at Clonter, really added to the charm. I loved making opera in the countryside, so far away from London… the single cast aspect is great and even the fact that we have no covers, puts a lot of responsibility on the performers to take care of themselves. Additionally, performing standard operatic repertoire is really beneficial and not many opera programs provide that opportunity.”

Harry Fehr – Director
“Most, if not all, of our cast had not done an opera course at a music conservatoire: some were hoping to do one, others had chosen different pathways (or had different pathways chosen for them). What this meant was that they all had minimal experience of performing principal roles, in a proscenium arch theatre, with orchestral accompaniment. The ability to have this experience in a supportive, development-focussed company such as a Clonter was therefore highly valuable. They will have finished the project having learnt practical skills and, hopefully, having also gained in crucial confidence…I hugely enjoy working with young singers. Their enthusiasm and delight in the work is uplifting. …For singers: the opportunity to essay a core-repertoire principal role at a very early stage in their career, to build confidence, and to learn practical skills and knowledge. For designers: the opportunities to work with an established director and also to design an opera at an early point in their careers, and simply the chance to design a production on the kind of scale which is rare for most young designers… I am thrilled to have discovered a new collaborator in Grace (Grace Venning designer); her attitude, commitment and artistry were all wonderful … In Mel, Megan and Marcus, we were also fortunate to have a hugely reliable stage management team. For the audience: the chance to hear highly talented young singers at early points in their careers.”

Until next week, take care!