Dear Dominic and Kelly, thank you so much for inviting me to take part in this intensely rewarding experience in Fontainebleau. I have learnt more in the space of 3 weeks than I have in years of training in certain aspects my craft! It has been a joy to discover what stretching my limits has taught me, and you were an inspiring life force behind this! You’ve shown what an equally gruelling and gratifying experience opera can be which can only help me in the future. 
— Bertie Watson
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I spent three weeks working with Dominic Wheeler, Kathleen Brett and Kelly Robinson in Fontainebleau during the summer in 2016. Having completed my first year on the Guildhall Opera Studies programme in London, it was a wonderful opportunity to continue the dedicated work I had been doing in greater detail, in the beautiful surrounds of Fontainebleau.

Having worked with Kelly and Dominic on a set of opera scenes earlier in the year in London, this three-week period was different in the sense that our main focus as students was encouraged to be on the process of learning, rather than our final performances. I was able to use this extra time to really come to grips with Kelly’s particular methodology of directing, and there were more opportunities for open dialogue between us all as a cast to discuss our ideas and challenges. Having the time to ask all the questions I had, to take risks and explore different ways of bringing stories to life through opera helped me to make crucial developments in my performance.

A particular strength of the current programme that Dominic has been leading at Fontainebleau is the focus on creating new operatic work, with the collaboration of composers and librettists. I found it fascinating to be a part of the process right from the beginning, and it motivated me to explore more contemporary repertoire and make it a focus of my ongoing training.
— Bianca Andrew

The summer programme in Fontainebleau offered me the opportunity to explore and develop as a singer and artist in a very safe and supportive environment. Away from the pressures and intensity of London study, I felt a sense of freedom in the charming and beautiful French town, which, paired with gentle encouragement from the programme faculty, enabled me to step outside of my comfort zone and take risks I may not have taken in London. 

From the outset, the intention was never to create a “finished product” performance, which alleviated the pressure to achieve perfection and paved the way for a more fun and playful process. The performances were then seen as part of the process, and I felt free to continue experimenting from one performance to the next. The large and enthusiastic audiences were wholeheartedly supportive and very understanding of the “work in progress”. A particular highlight for me were the cabaret performances - a chance to perform some lighter repertoire in a very informal and intimate setting, weaving amongst and interacting with the audience. 

Working with creative team Kelly Robinson and Dominic Wheeler was stimulating, inspiring, and eye-opening. Both Kelly and Dominic demand a high level of detail, and in striving to meet these demands, I developed tools and strategies to enhance my artistry. The programme of study is full-on and intensive, but every moment is filled with something new to learn or discover. In addition to working on scenes, the dance and yoga sessions made me focus on how best to use my body to serve my craft, and the drama sessions taught me how to approach text in a different way, separate from music. Language coaching is an equally important part of the programme and the coaches worked to a brilliant level of detail and with such passion for the text and music.

Finally, one of the most exciting aspects of the programme is the opportunity to work with young composers and librettists as they compose a short scene. It is very insightful to watch their process and then workshop their work - an exercise in speed learning music!
— Chloe Treharne

I was lucky enough to attend the GSMD Fontainebleau Summer course for two consecutive years. The first year as a student singer and the second year, whilst completing my Fellowship in Movement Direction at the GSMD, as both a singer and movement coach. This was without a doubt one of the most beneficial and important parts of this experience for me. Dominic and the other heads of the course look at the people attending and specifically cater the course to assist each of their individual needs and skill sets. For me, that was a need to gain experience in movement direction and teaching, and they therefore utilised this both to my advantage and (hopefully) to that of my fellow peers.
This course is about integrating various artistic disciplines and creating skilled performers, not just singers. This is IMPERATIVE now, as the days of the park-and-bark opera singer are long gone. Movement and drama classes as well as language coaching from experts really allowed us to master the pieces/scenes we performed. I also learnt so much from having the opportunity to work with composers and librettists my age and have specific pieces of music written for my voice. The process of creating these works enlightened me into how composers think and work and, I hope, having us singers there to work with was similarly a useful tool for the composers.
Since completing the course I have gone on to work with several of the composers, librettists and singers I met whilst in Fontainebleau, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity. What seems like a wonderful holiday in a picturesque village in France in also an amazing learning adventure which I hope many others have the opportunity to experience in the future.
— Lauren Zolezzi

For the past two Summers I have joined the Opera Course Summer School in Fontainebleau as a writer/librettist.  The experience of observing and working alongside a world-class team has been enriching beyond measure.  In Fontainebleau, for the first time in my career, I was given the support, structure and mentorship that enabled me to focus solely on the opera scenes we were working on for those two weeks.  Under Composer Stephen McNeff’s guidance we were encouraged to think carefully about the singers we were writing for as well as the context and precinct within which we were working.  We interrogated process and form. Stephen’s constructive criticism during the first year gave me the basis of a toolkit I continued to develop during the Opera-Makers MA.  It was an invaluable experience. 

This Summer, joined by Aiofe Mannix and Conor Hanratty we shifted focus to dramaturgy and structure. Once again, Stephen’s insightful mentoring and commitment to our learning and development enabled me to work at an exciting pace and with an intensity which I have rarely matched elsewhere. Coupled with the opportunity to observe and dialogue the next phase of making new work in the rehearsal room with Dominic Wheeler and Kelly Robinson and an ensemble of committed, thoughtful and hugely talented singers, this created opportunities for creative exchange and collaboration which were both enriching and challenging. It was a feast.  A opera-maker’s smorgasbord!

In addition to being a fantastic learning opportunity, Fontainebleau has been the birthplace of professional relationships I hope will continue to flourish. My collaboration with composer Lliam Paterson has lead to the development of a new opera which is currently shortlisted for a main stage commission. I have also forged a relationship with Soprano Lauren Zolezzi who is currently touring in my children’s opera Catch A Sea Star.

Thank you to everyone who made this truly wonderful experience possible.
— Zoe Palmer

As a young opera composer, any opportunities for me to gain experience of devising, workshopping and collaborating in situ are absolutely crucial for my artistic development. Fontainebleau presented the perfect context for me to explore these aspects of my practice: I was given time and space to play and explore the work, while also being able to benefit from the supervision of Stephen, Dominic, and Kelly. I would recommend this course to any composer looking to branch out into opera composition.
— Laurence Osborn