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Mark returns to his roots for directorial debut at Buxton International Festival

Buxton man Mark Burns, pictured here in rehearsals for the Festival's 2017 production of Albert Herring, is to make his Buxton directing debut in July.
Buxton man Mark Burns, pictured here in rehearsals for the Festival's 2017 production of Albert Herring, is to make his Buxton directing debut in July.

Buxton International Festival’s leading role in creating the theatre professionals of the future will be centre stage in July when the British premiere of an opera is directed by a local man who began his career as a 12-year-old in the event’s youth programme.

Taking part in a children’s opera led Mark Burns to a career in the musical theatre, working extensively as a Director and Assistant with The Royal Opera, Glyndebourne, English Touring Opera, Opera North, Royal Academy Opera, Silent Opera, Bury Court Opera and Opera Danube.

Now 30, London-based Mark is coming home to direct the British premiere of Tisbe, a rarely-performed but highly regarded opera by Brescianello which will be performed by baroque music specialists La Serenissima as part of the festival, which runs from July 6 to 22.

“This is the first time I’ve directed at the festival,” said Mark. “It’s a dream come true. Buxton is where it all started for me. I was very lucky to grow up in a town where we had so much when so many other towns in the north don’t.”

And it proves that the festival’s outreach programme of encouraging children to enjoy music really works.

“These education projects do pay off,” said Mark, who was a pupil at St Thomas More School when he took part in the children’s opera Burning Waters, directed by Caroline Clegg, now a tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM).

“My coming back as a director proves that point.”

Directing Tisbe is a rare opportunity, as it is thought that even the composer never got to see a live performance despite the fact that his music is seen as the same quality as Vivaldi, famous for the Four Seasons.

“It’s going to be an interesting evening,” said Mark. “There’s nothing to judge this against, so we have the freedom to explore the opera.”

The performance of Tisbe, a Romeo and Juliet-style tragic love story, is semi-staged, which means the singers won’t have a set to perform against – so Mark is going to use the chorus instead.

“There’s a scene where a lion attacks Tisbe, so the chorus are going to be the lion!” he said.

Caroline, whose new show Rhondda Rips It Up opened on June 7 for Welsh National Opera (WNO), said: “I met Mark as a youngster in Buxton when he performed in Burning Waters, a large scale community programme for the Millennium Buxton Festival.

“Years later I mentored Mark in the outreach department of RNCM during his undergraduate years. He had an outstanding talent from day one and developed his skill set through his work with Young Company and on other projects that he assisted me on.

“It was clear that he would develop into the fine director he has and I have no doubt that he will have an international directing career.”

She added: “Buxton Festival provides a world-class stage at a local level and that is a rare jewel in our industry. My first freelance directorial debut was in Buxton’s Il Campenello after a year as a staff director at WNO and I am always delighted to come back. It is one of the best festivals in the UK.”

• Tisbe will be performed on July 12 and 17. Tickets, priced £16 to £52, are available at www.buxtonfestival.co.uk.