John Rawnsley returns to Colne to sing at the Hippodrome

COMING HOME:  Colne's home-grown opera star John Rawnsley
COMING HOME: Colne's home-grown opera star John Rawnsley

Opera star John Rawnsley, whose musical progress began with Colne Orpheus Glee Union and Colne Operatic Society, is returning to the town to sing at the Hippodrome next month.

The genial baritone tops the bill in a concert on Sunday, May 15th, celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Orpheus, who claim to be England’s longest-established male voice choir.

At the age of just 14 in 1965, John joined his dad Fred in the Orpheus to become its youngest member. He also joined Colne Operatic Society, and before long was playing principal roles such as Bill Sikes in “Oliver!”, Bill Hickok in “Calamity Jane” and Kipps in “Half A Sixpence”.

John left his job at Smith and Nephew in Colne to study music full time in Manchester, joining the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1975. He developed a reputation as a magnificent baritone of tremendous stage presence with Opera North and English National Opera, and he has starred at many of the world’s great opera houses, earning plaudits for starring roles such as Macbeth, Don Giovanni and Rigoletto.

John has also appeared in the West End “Cats” as Old Deuteronomy and played other roles on London stages, ranging from The Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance” to Lord Salt in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

Orpheus president Brian Bird, the choir’s longest-serving singer with 48 years’ membership, has kept in touch with John throughout his career and invited him back for the choir’s latest celebrations.

He said: “When John first joined the Orpheus, his superb voice and musical talent were evident from the start. Together with his confidence and sense of humour, his outstanding abilities have led him to perform leading roles all over the world, yet it’s to his immense credit that he has never forgotten his roots with Colne Orpheus Glee Union.”

John, now 59 and living in London with his wife Nuala, also a professional singer, said: “It’s going to be a moving moment for me to come back to Colne, see the choir and think that’s how it all started for me.

“I won’t be singing any tragic grand opera pieces. It’ll be old favourites such as Victorian parlour ballads. I want the audience to have an enjoyable evening with plenty of fun.”

The concert also features the Orpheus and Pendle Youth Choir, conducted by John’s pal from Glyndebourne, former opera singer David Wilkinson. Guest soprano is Stella Whitehouse.

Admission for the celebration concert, at 7-30 p.m., is £6 for adults and £3 for age 17 and under - all seats unreserved. Tickets are being sold at Colne Library foyer on Saturdays April 30th, May 7th and May 14th. For ticket inquiries call 867152.