IT was a dream come true for tenor Matthew Ibbotson when he found himself singing for an audience of more than 40,000 people packed onto the Mall.
The occasion was the ceremony to mark the transfer of the Olympic Games from Bejing to London in 2008 and Matthew was a member of Only Men Aloud, the choir which won the BBC reality TV series ‘Last Choir Standing’.
“It was an amazing experience. The estimated TV audience for the concert was 60 million around the world,” he said.
Twenty-six-year-old Matthew is now rehearsing for two roles in the new musical ‘1888’, a show set against the backdrop of the Ripper murders in east London, which opens at the Union Theatre, Southwark, on June 7.
He credits his music teachers at Rastrick High School for giving him the support and encouragement to take his singing seriously.
“I was the first student at Rastrick High to be allowed to take music and drama at GCSE level. I was persistent and badgered them until they let me do both,” he said.
“I was quite musical at school and played cello and double bass in the concert band. Alison Pryce-Jones and Jonathan Marriott at Rastrick High were very encouraging and I learned a lot from them.
“At A-level I started to study maths and physics but I realised they weren’t the subjects for me and swapped to music. I realised it was what I wanted to do and was really pleased when I was offered a place on a four-year course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.”
It was while he was at the college that he met Tim Rhys-Evans, founder of Only Men Aloud. Matthew joined in 2006 and was a member of the choir when it sung its way to national prominence on ‘Last Choir Standing’. After the choir won the final, Matthew decided to move to London to further his theatrical career.
“I look back on it as a really great time. We were a typical bunch of lads, we liked a pint and enjoying ourselves but we also happened to be very good at choral singing. There was a bit of myth that singing in a choir was boring and we wanted to dispel that. The programme did a lot to popularise choral singing and change its image.”
Last year Matthew made his professional musical theatre debut in Milton Morrissey’s production of ‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Tour’ and he is also a member of Eschoir, London’s newest male chorus for which he has performed as conductor, choreographer and soloist. He is also working hard on his vocal technique and trains regularly with Wynne Evans, one of the UK’s leading tenors.
But at the moment it is preparations for ‘1888’ which are taking up his time. “It’s really exciting to be involved in a new show. It’s very atmospheric and dark in places and it has similarities to ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Sweeney Todd’. I have two roles - as the Queen’s surgeon Dr Fozzard and as Jack Pizer, a Polish boot-maker in the East End.
“The theatre is actually under a viaduct in Southwark, which is the area where Jack the Ripper carried out some of his crimes, so that adds to the atmosphere. It’s a great company and we are all hoping that the show will be taken to the West End.”