Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Opera Star Given a New Wonderland to Explore.Panto!

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Opera Star Given a New Wonderland to Explore.Panto!

Article excerpt

Byline: David Whetstone Culture Editor

THEY tend not to shout "Behind you!" at the opera, or throw custard pies, so Anne-Marie Owens could be in for a bit of a culture shock.

"This is completely different," agreed the renowned mezzo-soprano "...which is exciting in a way. And terrifying."

Anne-Marie is to star in Alice in Wonderland, chosen to be this year's panto at the Customs House, South Shields, because both Lewis Carroll's famous story and the building are 150 years old.

She is to play the Queen of Hearts so presumably will have to say "Off with their heads!" At yesterday's photo shoot she was still getting acquainted with the towering wig and elaborate frock put together by Paul Shriek, production designer.

Anne-Marie was born in South Shields but she said there was no professional panto in the town when she was a child.

"We always used to go to Sunderland Empire. That was the annual outing."

She went on to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in London, and then at the National Opera Studio.

She made her professional debut with Glyndebourne Touring Opera and went on to become a principal at English National Opera for 10 years.

Her last operatic appearance in the North East was with Opera North in 2010 at Newcastle Theatre Royal.

The move from opera to panto sounds unconventional so how did this come about? Anne-Marie said she had known Ray Spencer for several years. Ray runs the Customs House and is also directing and performing in the panto - as the Duchess.

"We came as a family to see the panto last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I went backstage to see Ray and my sister joked, 'She's always wanted to be in a panto'.

"They must have remembered that because when they decided to do Alice in Wonderland they asked me to be the Queen of Hearts. …

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