“Conductor James Southall showed that he doesn't just know the music but loves it and understands it. It is difficult to take seriously an overture which includes a variation of 'God Save the Queen’ but Southall did and drew a performance of striking drama from the orchestra. Throughout he showed a nice tendency to push the more dramatic sections, creating some vivid moments, whilst giving the singers space in gentler passages. This created a feeling of urgency in the drama which matched the performance, whilst never making us think it was over-metronomic or rushed.”
- Robert Hugill, March 2019 (Roberto Devereux)
“James Southall’s conducting is a major contributory factor – his tempos are on the speedier side, and with fantastically responsive playing from the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera allied to some engaging continuo playing there is a great spontaneity and nuance.”
- Alexander Campbell, March 2018 (Don Giovanni)
“With some supple singing and deft ensemble interplay throughout, they are helped by conductor James Southall’s airy punchiness, and fine playing from the WNO Orchestra.”
- Steph Power for thestage.co.uk, February 2018 (Don Giovanni)
“He directed a performance both tight and fluent, rhythmically exciting and supportive of the singers (and dancers) on stage. The orchestra seemed to be relishing the music a good deal, and, especially in the orchestral preludes, notably that to Act III, there was some outstanding playing.”
- Glyn Pursglove for Seen and Heard International, October 2017 (Die Fledermaus)
“Members of the WNO orchestra under James Southall played Le Vin Herbé on-stage with grave beauty, and the WNO chorus sang Martin’s mournful declamatory lines with their wonted urgency and passion…”
- Ivan Hewett for The Telegraph, February 2017
"Conductor James Southall brings the score to life with zest, and there are moments when his connection with the soloists is exciting – almost as if he were a member of the cast himself."
- Kate Kellaway for The Guardian, February 2017
“James Southall conducts a neat, crisp reading of the score, and WNO’s excellent orchestra revels in Rossini’s trademark crescendos. The sum of it is pure entertainment, never something to be sniffed at..”
Articles by James Southall
On the Vitality of Vixen - WNO programme notes, October 2019 (see excerpt below)
James Southall joined WNO Music Staff in 2008 and has worked most recently on Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking as part of WNO’s FREEDOM Season. In Spring 2019 he conducted performances of Roberto Devereux and in 2018 he was the musical director for Don Giovanni and La traviata. He is currently Assistant Conductor on The Cunning Little Vixen.
Describe a day in the life of WNO Music Staff
Varied! We are responsible for coaching singers, conducting/playing the piano during production rehearsals and being on-hand to advise conductors when we get to stage rehearsals. I think that a curiosity about language is important for what we do. At the moment, I’m familiarising myself with Czech. This is the seventh language that I have worked with at WNO - one of which was Pali, as part of Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream. I particularly enjoy being part of a huge creative team, where I get to see people’s passion for what they do on a daily basis.
Why is it important that WNO are doing a Janáček Series?
Janáček’s operas form a crucial part of the Company’s history. Former WNO Music
Director Charles Mackerras was a passionate and tireless advocate/researcher of
Janáček’s music, and he, along with Richard Armstrong and David Pountney,
brought Janáček’s music to prominence at a time when it really wasn’t that well-
known in the UK. It started with the co-production between WNO and Scottish Opera of Jenůfa in 1975. We are very grateful to the WNO Janáček Circle for so generously supporting the current Janáček Series.
Why is The Cunning Little Vixen so popular?
Simply put, it’s a good story enhanced by a truly magical score and, in this case,
enhanced even further by a wonderful production. Even though Janáček’s Vixen is
nearly a century old, he still has such an original-sounding voice. Tomáš (Hanus,
current WNO Music Director) summed up this originality the other day when he said
that ‘Janáček has no predecessor and no successor’. The notion of transforming a
picture-book from the local rag into an opera is a brilliant touch - it works perfectly
with Janáček’s compositional style and the scenes are generally short and distilled. I don’t think that it is possible to pigeonhole his style, but what is undeniable is that it is music with an incredible emotional truth. He gets to the core of things, it’s
exposed… there’s no beating around the bush. Janáček’s music feels sincere and
approachable, not esoteric… and he is able to communicate a world of profound
You can’t but admire the Vixen, even when she’s turfing the grumpy old badger out
of his sett. She is an energetic force of nature who accomplishes a lot in her short
life. Janáček had an Indian Summer of creativity and the score too has an energy
that leaps out from the page. I definitely appreciate nature more when working on
Vixen, and I imagine our audience will leave the theatre with a greater feeling of awe and wonder for the world around them.
Which moments of the opera stand out for you?
There are so many… firstly, it has to be my favourite last page of any opera that I
know - the feeling that you get from it is ‘life’, somehow. I can’t express that better in
words - you just have to hear the orchestra. Also, the Vixen’s ‘coming of age’ music
in Act I is glorious and expansive - there is no singing, but a sort of ballet during
which the orchestra invites you to feel the space and freedom of the forest. The
moment where the fox cubs appear is one of pure joy and, finally, the Forester’s
Farewell is an incredibly moving scene - a paean to nature where our Forester is
rejuvenated by the natural world around him.
What is your involvement in A Vixen’s Tale?
I think it’s bold and exciting to commission a brand new Augmented Reality
experience which fuses opera with cutting-edge technology. I selected the music for A Vixen’s Tale to enable users to get inside the Vixen’s world as she goes on her life journey, which is represented by the changing of the seasons. Through the music you will get to know the characters and the themes that represent them. The
Cunning Little Vixen’s score has a very cinematic feel which suits this highly visual
If you could be any animal in The Cunning Little Vixen, what would you
The frog is cool, he’s got a catchy little tune right at the end of the opera…but I think
I’d be a squirrel - they get to do a nutty dance at the end of Act II and I’d like to have
the agility to scamper up a tree.
James was in conversation with Elin Jones, the Nicholas John Dramaturg at WNO.