Opera star back after 20 years
THERE are a few living Cornishmen who are world ambassadors for all that is special and unique about Cornwall.
International opera star Ben Luxon is a perfect example.
So it should be celebrated that the man is returning to his homeland for his first professional production on Cornish soil for 20 years.
Ben has left his home in Massachusetts, USA, to act in Miracle Theatre and English Touring Opera's Tin, which tours World Heritage Sites in Cornwall and Devon from March 20 to April 24. This exciting collaboration, which also includes eight schools across the region and local community choirs, is a heady mix of epic theatre, multimedia magic and top-notch singing.
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West Cornwall 1890. The shareholders are throwing good money after bad down their once glorious tin min.
Just when they manage to hoodwink an outsider into investing in the failing enterprise, a troupe of windswept actors arrives in town to perform Beethoven's Fidelio.
As these two very different worlds collide, love stories unfold and melodrama spills over into everyday life as the villagers and actors seize an opportunity to transform their lives ....
Taking a break from rehearsals, Ben told me how excited he is about the project.
"It's a wonderfully colourful story. Quite apart from having an excuse to come back to Cornwall, what attracted me was being part of an ensemble and the chance to work with such a great group of actors."
Ben plays Charles East, the mine's beleaguered owner. Among those he will act with are such well-known Cornish theatrical names as Steve Jacobs, Jason Squibb, Ben Dyson and Dean Nolan, as well as members of English Touring Opera and newcomers like Helen Bendell, who found out about the production on Twitter.
Ben added: "The arts scene in Cornwall is surprisingly rich – it's come on hugely since my time. Tin itself is an extremely ambitious project for the county."
It's fitting that Ben is currently rehearsing with the cast and crew at Redruth's Krowji arts centre, as he was born and raised in the town.
Over a 30-year career Ben sang with most of the world's major symphony orchestras, many of the leading opera houses (Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne, Metropolitan Opera) and even had a part specifically written for him by Benjamin Britten. He was appointed a CBE in 1986.
However, his world came tumbling down around him in the early 1990s when he went deaf.
"It changed my life overnight. I didn't even think about my career, I was just worried about being totally deaf," Ben exclaimed, as he showed me his life-changing cochlea implant.
After getting his first hearing aid, Ben returned to the stage but soon found that he was "too damaged" to continue.
"There was nothing wrong with the voice but I just couldn't hear myself or others. I felt very isolated on stage. The anxiety meant there was no enjoyment left in it."
So Ben retired at the age of 56.
Since remarrying and moving to the Berkshires in Massachusetts, he has busied himself with stage acting, holding masterclasses, poetry reading and directing.
He added: "This role has come right out of the blue – it's a lovely surprise.
"Bill (Scott, Miracle director) and I made a funny little film seven years ago and I remember he was obsessed with this novel Tin; he really wanted to adapt it for the stage.
"I read it and could see the attraction. It's a very Cornish tale and Bill's vision has turned it into something else entirely."
Ben says the story has a personal resonance as his great grandparents and grandparents worked the mines of America.
"I worry that the world is moving so fast that we are losing touch with our heritage. One of the attractions of Tin is that it puts us firmly back in touch with that – Cornwall should hang on to it."
Although Ben is acting in this production he does sing briefly as part of an ensemble piece.
"Just to prove to people that I can still croak out a tune."
Tin plays at Heartlands, Pool (March 20 to 31), The Count House, Botallack (April 2 to 9), The Wharf, Tavistock (April 11 and 12), Sterts Theatre, Liskeard (April 18 to 21) and the Hall for Cornwall, Truro (April 23 and 24).
See www.miracletheatre.co.uk for full details.