Christopher Ainslie is notable for his warm voice, polished musicianship and compelling stage presence.
Ainslie believes in singing as a full-body experience, drawing from emotion and physicality for a sound that is appealing and genuine. His technique is strongly influenced by bel canto principles, which inform the free coloratura, thoughtful phrasing and precise accuracy of his singing.
As an actor, Ainslie enjoys opportunities to use his natural athleticism, and performs with high energy and magnetic presence. With sensitivity and uninhibited directness, his characters convey passion and honesty to match his vocal style.
Ainslie is thrilled to be working during this exciting era for the countertenor. At the forefront of the movement to explore the technical possibilities of this voice-type, he sees the countertenor as a dramatically expressive instrument, embracing the vocal requirements of all genres from baroque to contemporary music.
A native of Cape Town, Ainslie grew up in a home filled with music. He studied the viola with Jürgen Schwietering and Hermina de Groote, received piano lessons at school and was a chorister in the St George’s Cathedral boys’ choir conducted by Barry Smith. He regularly attended singing weeks for the study and celebration of German church music. Ainslie developed an instrumentalist’s awareness of collaborative music-making, playing chamber music with his brothers and friends, and performing with the South African National Youth Orchestra for two festivals, including a tour to Moscow.
To improve his choral singing, Ainslie began studying voice with Sarita Stern at the University of Cape Town College of Music. He developed a taste for having his voice trained, and using his body in a new way to produce dramatic sound as an operatic soloist.
Ainslie studied finance at the University of Cape Town and began his career as a chartered accountant, but while on secondment in the UK, he finally decided to take his lifelong music training seriously. In 2005 he moved to London to study singing with Mark Tucker at the Royal College of Music, where he graduated with distinction.
His career accelerated rapidly, and his work attracted critical acclaim as well as recognition within his field. In 2007 he won the Michael Oliver Prize in the Handel Singing Competition at the London Handel Festival, and the next year was the first countertenor to win the Richard Tauber competition at the Wigmore Hall. In 2011 he won the Gianni Bergamo countertenor competition in Switzerland.
Now considered a leading interpreter of his repertoire, he pursues an exciting international performance schedule of oratorios, operas and recitals.
Ainslie first considered singing as a profession after performing the alto solos in Bach’s Matthäus Passion with the St George’s Singers in Cape Town. Since then, this work and Bach’s other major oratorios have been central in his singing life. Bach’s music has taken him around the world, with performances including the Weihnachts Oratorium with Vladimir Jurowski in Moscow, alto cantatas with Les Passions de l’Ame in Switzerland and Belgium, Matthäus Passion at the London Handel Festival with Laurence Cummings, Magnificat at the Wigmore Hall with Retrospect and Matthew Halls, the Easter Oratorio with the St George’s Singers in Cape Town, the Mass in B Minor with Tenet in New York City and cantatas with the Internationale Bachakadamie Stuttgart.
Also central to his repertoire are Handel’s dramatic oratorios, in which Ainslie has enjoyed portraying lovers and heroes such as David in Saul, Didymus in Theodora, Hamor in Jephtha, Cyrus and Daniel in Belshazzar, Micah in Samson, Hercules in The Choice of Hercules, Solomon in Solomon, and Israelitish Man in Judas Maccabaeus. Ainslie regularly performs in Handel’s Messiah, and each year offers new opportunities to explore this rich alto role. Highlights include performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the London Handel Festival, St Thomas Church in New York City, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Classical Opera at the Wigmore Hall, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and the Northern Sinfonia.
Ainslie thrives as a chamber musician, collaborating in song recitals with a baroque orchestra, piano, or lute. He is a founding member of the song recital group Songsmiths, and has recently formed partnerships with lutenist Matthew Wadsworth and guitarist Peter Narun. He enjoys these new opportunities for performing songs from the romantic and contemporary eras as well as more traditional countertenor repertoire. He has performed recitals at the Wigmore Hall, and with Les Arts Florissants, Arcangelo, Les Passion de l’Ame, and The English Concert.
Ainslie has sung his way from the Renaissance roots of opera, as Ottone in Monteverdi’s l’Incoronazione di Poppea (Glyndebourne and Drottningholm Palace Theatre), to world premieres on the cutting edge of contemporary composition, as Theseus / Messenger in Julian Anderson’s Thebans (ENO), Antonio in Andre Tchaikowsky’s The Merchant of Venice (Bregenz Festival), and Innocent 4 in Harrison Birtwistle’s The Minotaur (Royal Opera House).
He has been thrilled to sing title roles in several rediscovered 18th century operas. These include the London modern premieres of Arne’s Artaxerxes at the Linbury Theatre of the Royal Opera House, and Handel’s Poro at the London Handel Festival, as well as the North American premiere of Handel’s Amadigi with Central City Opera in Colorado.
His other opera appearances include Unulfo in Rodelinda and Helicon in Caligula at ENO, the title role in Eliogabalo with Gotham Chamber Opera in New York, Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Voice of Apollo in Death in Venice at Opera North, Eustazio in Rinaldo at Glyndebourne, the title role in Tamerlano at the Göttingen Festival, Voice of Apollo in Death in Venice at Opera de Lyon, Arsace in Partenope at the Les Azuriales Festival, Ruggiero in Alcina with Latvian National Opera and Medoro in Orlando with Independent Opera.
From Baroque to contemporary works, Ainslie seeks collaborations that strive to bring music to the stage in its highest form. He enjoys the sense of possibility in Baroque music, when all the musicians, breathing together, are equally responsible for the music’s vibrant expression. As a stage performer, he relishes the collaborative process of creating a character’s psychology in rehearsal, as well as the adventure of live performance.
He continues to study with Mark Tucker, and has had lessons with Paul Farrington and Ryland Davies. He has sung in master classes with Michael Chance, Peter Harvey, Ashley Stafford and Sarah Walker.
Ainslie practices movement training to ground his singing technique and increase physical expressiveness. He is naturally sporty, and in addition to studying yoga, Alexander Technique, and Feldenkrais, he enjoys surfing, snowboarding, climbing, barefoot running, and the occasional onstage cartwheel.
Ainslie’s other activities include pottery, carpentry, meditation, and grilling his food over an open fire, and he is learning how to play the guitar.
THIS SEASON’S PERFORMANCES
This season, Ainslie returns to Opera North for The Coronation of Poppea in the role of Ottone, and to Opera de Lyon, singing Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. In January 2015 he can be heard in a recital of English and German songs, including the Brahms viola songs and Vaughan Williams’s ‘Songs of Travel’ at the Wigmore Hall.
He is grateful for the support of Independent Opera, the Richard Carne Trust and Classical Opera in the formative years of his career.