Ian Storey – a personal insight into how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted on the world of performing arts

The coronavirus pandemic has touched the lives of many across the world as we have seen regularly reported in news media. Many have lost loved ones and others have had their careers adversely affected. The work impact has been particularly keenly felt for those working across the arts industry, with many performers forced to pause their careers or look to new avenues of income generation after losing their regular work in theatres and music venues.

Whilst some sense of normality was starting to return with live performances once more pre-Christmas, the Omicron variant has thrown up new concerns and no-one can predict what might happen next. We recently caught up with alumnus and professional opera singer, Ian Storey, to find out about his career, recent experiences, and how his Loughborough degree has helped him ride out the career storm brought on by the virus.

Ian was born and raised in Chilton, County Durham. He graduated from Loughborough in 1980 with a BA Hons in Creative Design and Education and was subsequently awarded an Honorary Degree (DLitt) in 2008 for “outstanding contribution to Opera”.

It was at Loughborough that Ian’s talents for singing were first spotted. He used to sneak into a practice room on campus, often late at night, so he could use a piano and basically sing alone for his own enjoyment. One evening a member of the music department heard him singing and asked him to audition for a forthcoming student production. He went to the audition but found a room full of people and was too self-conscious to take part. Days later he was tracked down in his room at William Morris and once again encouraged to audition. He was persuaded and went on to secure the lead role of Tony in The Boyfriend.

Ian comments: “I love to sing, but do not consider myself a dancer. The role in The Boyfriend required me to do a little dancing, a soft shoe shuffle. I could never remember the steps and did something a little different every night of the performances. On opening night my friends were in the audience, and I was ribbed endlessly for my dancing efforts.”

After leaving Loughborough a career in education beckoned and Ian worked in New Zealand for six years.

A keen sportsman, Ian turned to singing again when he couldn’t actively take part in sport due to injury. He joined the Hamilton Civic Choir and eventually agreed to have singing lessons. His life changed from there. Returning to England in 1986, his opera career began in 1991 singing the role of Male Chorus in Rape of Lucretia with Opera East. Further training followed, initially at the National Opera Studio in London and then in Milan (sponsored by  Walter Scott and Partners who heard him performing with Scottish Opera and offered the chance to study abroad).  In 2004 he made his debut in La Scala and returned several times for opera and concert performances. He has performed many lead roles in 6 languages and in over 30 countries around the world in iconic opera houses and concert halls. He has also undertaken many radio performances and recorded both CDs and DVDs.

“My absolute favourite opera is probably Otello by Verdi, which is based on the Shakespeare play, but I also very much like performing Tristan und Isolde by Wagner, Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten, and Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame. They are all enjoyable for different reasons.” Ian says.

Whilst his career in opera has taken priority, his love for design and cabinetmaking has remained with him and his time away from performing was spent on projects in his family home where he built 3 extensions and did all the interior designing. It was his skills in this area that he returned to when the pandemic hit, and live performances were halted across the globe. He was in Australia when the number of covid cases started to rise and had been home a matter of days when the country went into lockdown.

“As a freelance opera singer my work dried up in an instance. After several months, savings were dwindling and so I had no choice but to identify another source of income. Whilst I hadn’t done any major woodworking for over 30 years, I guess I was luckier than many in that I had skills I could turn to.”

Ian has been designing and working in wood for over a year now. He makes a range of items using top quality wood, including everything from small furniture items to pens and more artistic pieces. He is a member of The Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen and has exhibited work in Malvern, Ledbury and in London.

“I am lucky that I have fans and colleagues that are interested in buying my pieces. I have sold to clients in Australia, the USA, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain and Finland, as well as the UK.” The issue is to become more widely known. Several people thought I had a “nice hobby” as they didn’t know my background. It is not a hobby. Many other professional craftsmen now keenly follow his work as Ian Storey Creations.

P‌hoto: One of Ian's creations, a bowl created from Burr elm

Looking to the future, Ian is unsure whether he will be able to fully re-embark on his singing career but remains hopeful.

“Omicron has proved we just don’t know what is around the corner. Some opera performances are starting again, but it seems that venues are opting to go for smaller, low-cost productions using ‘in-house’ performers rather than risk having to cancel the large operas that are my repertoire. You can see this makes sense, but it leaves uncertainty for many freelancers like me. I keep working my voice and talking to my agent so that I can respond to any opportunities that arise. In the meantime, I am looking at ways to grow Ian Storey Creations - ISC”

We wish Ian the best of luck at home in his studio and workshop and, when the time is right, back on stage.

For more information about Ian can be found here.

Main image: Ian starring as Herod in Salome during a performance in Melbourne in Feb 2020.