Fergus, 28, is English National Opera’s youngest conductor in six decades

Fergus conducting the English National Opera. Picture: Tom Bowles/English National Opera

Fergus conducting the English National Opera. Picture: Tom Bowles/English National Opera - Credit: Archant

Anyone can enjoy opera. Shrewsbury Town FC is proof of that.

So says Fergus Macleod, the English National Opera’s youngest conductor in 60 years.

He is probably the first ever person to relate opera audience demographics to a struggling League One football team from Shropshire.

Fergus, 28, of Ripplevale Grove, Barnsbury, was speaking ahead of the launch of Gilbert and Sullivan classic The Mikado on Saturday last week.

Whether fair or not, opera has a stuffy, highbrow image. So, we ask, why don’t more young people get involved?

“I would love to see more young people coming to opera,” he says. “Look at it like this: I’m not a massive football fan. I never used to go because I didn’t think I would like it.

“But I remember going to see Shrewsbury Town, at the old Gay Meadow, for the first time. I loved it. It had been a lazy assumption that I would dislike a football match.

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“I think people may also look at the opera and think, ‘I’m not going to understand it’. But I don’t think anyone understands it!

“I don’t think understanding comes into it. You are either entranced or you find it deadly boring.

“It’s something we try to address here at the English National Opera. Tickets for The Mikado start at £12 so it means people are more likely to give it a try.”

Having such a senior role, so early on in his career, Fergus admits people see him as young. It is only a matter of years since he left university.

Having read music at Cambridge, he took a year out before studying for a two-year master’s degree in Zurich.

Fergus then moved to Glasgow, where he was assistant conductor to Donald Runnicles at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

He joined the English National Opera as conductor in September last year, but says age isn’t an issue.

“I’ve never really thought about it. Some people would describe me as foetal in terms of being a conductor, but I’m happy to have had such amazing opportunities so early on.

“Younger conductors are not given an inch, and rightly so. Being younger, you really have to perform. Lack of experience is not an excuse. I have to know a score twice as well as someone who is 50.”

The Mikado has a run of 13 shows at the London Coliseum until February, including one to be broadcast live in cinemas on Thursday.

Each night, Fergus will oversee a chorus of 48, orchestra of 40 and eight soloists. And that’s not to mention his work with direction, backstage and lighting.

He admits: “The buck stops with me, whether it’s music, pace or quality. I’m the person that has to put it all together and unite the vision.

“But I don’t really feel the pressure. I used to play violin and would get more nervous before I performed with that.

“The way I see it is if I have done all the preparation, then I can achieve it. So it’s more expectation than pressure.

“The English National Opera is a fantastic place to work. It’s very unique, where everybody is only concerned with making the best product possible. That’s all we strive for.

“We leave our personal lives at the door and it’s amazing to be part of that focus every single rehearsal.

“There’s nothing quite like making music when it clicks and unites. It’s very powerful.”

For more information about The Mikado, visit eno.org

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