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Home / Latest News / From schoolboy chorister to leading man for The Pirates of Penzance star

From schoolboy chorister to leading man for The Pirates of Penzance star

AS someone playing a pirate, Samuel Furness experiences a life on the ocean wave every time he steps on stage.

And it seems he enjoys the water in real life too.

“I’m on a veranda looking at the bright blue sea,” he tells me when I call him. “I’m spending four days in Croatia with a couple of schoolfriends. We’ve just been chilling out, although there has been the occasional raucous moment. It’s the first week off I’ve had in ages.”

Furness, a former chorister at The Cathedral School in Llandaff, Cardiff, is playing one of the leading roles in the Gilbert and Sullivan farce The Pirates of Penzance.

For the last few months he’s been touring with the Scottish Opera/D’Oyly Carte production which docks at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff next week – the last venue of the tour.

And Furness couldn’t be more pleased as he will be playing to a home audience after recharging his batteries in Croatia.

“I’ve never performed at the Wales Millennium Centre before so that’s really exciting for me,” says the 26-year-old. “A lot of my early opera experiences have been in that building watching Welsh National Opera.”

And it seems there will be plenty of support in the audience.

“My mum and dad have booked an extremely embarrassing number of tickets to the opening night in Cardiff,” he laughs.  “I will be a bit more nervous on that night as I’ve got to perform well for them.”

One thing’s for sure, he has come on in leaps and bounds since his first ever appearance in The Pirates of Penzance – at the tender age of five.

“My mum tells me I was in the chorus in a school production of The Pirates of Penzance in Llandaff but I don’t remember that at all. I played one of the policemen and forgot all of my words apparently. My mum’s still terrified that I’ll forget my words on stage.”

After nine weeks on the road and six weeks prior to that in rehearsals, Furness knows his lines like the back of his hand.

The tenor – a choral scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge, before training at the Royal Academy of Music in London – plays Frederic, who, having turned 21, should be contractually released from his apprenticeship to a band of pirates.

But as his birthday is February 29, he works out that he’s really just five years old so, taking his duty a little too literally, he decides he needs to spend another 63 years with the pirates. But his true love Mabel promises to wait for him.

“It’s very fast-moving, silly and fun,” Furness says of his Scottish Opera debut.

“I wasn’t a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan as I’ve always liked quite serious opera.”

Furness became a boy chorister while at The Cathedral School.

“I used to have piano lessons but never practised so my piano teacher used to make me sing,” he recalls.”I really enjoyed singing and, as a chorister, I would do it every day but my parents didn’t really want me to do it as they felt I would be giving up too much but I didn’t care.

“I had a bit of a wobble when I was 13 or 14 as singing was considered terribly uncool but I went to see a production of La boheme by WNO and during that performance I realised I wanted to sing after all.”

While his parents – Jonathan and Anne – were not musical. his younger siblings have all followed in his footsteps.

Jack, 25, who is working as an assistant director with Scottish Opera, Robert, 23, and 18-year-old Pollyanna, who’s reading music at Cambridge, were all choristers while growing up.

And while the older Furness brothers were both at university in Cambridge, Jack launched Shadwell Opera so they were involved in putting on many productions.

“It was a really good opportunity to sing some good roles,” says Furness, who loves singing Mozart.

With The Pirates of Penzance tour coming to an end in Cardiff, he’s enjoyed his time on the road.

And he’s not the only Welsh member of the cast. He’s joined on stage by Cardiff-born Sian Winstanley, chorus member and understudy for the lead role of Mabel; Sioned Gwen Davies, from Colwyn Bay who plays the role of Kate and CatrineCOR Kirkman from Swansea who plays Isabel.

After the run, he’s heading to Santiago in Chile to play The Novice in Billy Budd.

“It’s going to be exciting but a lot colder over there as it’s their winter.”

And then in September, Furness, who now lives in London, will be marrying his long-term girlfriend Laura, who works in PR.

As for his future career, he’s looking forward to a variety of opera roles.

“I wouldn’t be averse to straight acting but there are plenty of roles in opera for me to play.”

But, for now, it’s a certain pirate who’s at the forefront of his mind – once he’s enjoyed a couple more days of Croatian sea views.

The Pirates of Penzance is at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff from July 16 to 20. The box office number is 029 2063 6464 or visit www.wmc.org.uk

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