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Jazz Opera

A template for a new kind of singer

Commissioned by the City of London Corporation for the 2007 City of London Festival to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first parliamentary bill to abolish slavery, Bridgetower - A Fable of 1807 by Julian Joseph (music) and Mike Phillips (libretto), tells the remarkable story of black Polish-born violin prodigy George Bridgetower.

Cleveland Watkiss plays Bridgetower. Born in 1778 to an Abyssinian ex-slave, he came to London in 1789 to escape the French Revolution, where he performed to King George III and the Prince Regent, who in 1791 became his patron. Bridgetower studied with Haydn and was a great friend of Beethoven, with whom he gave the first performance of what was to be later named his Kreutzer Sonata, which Beethoven initially dedicated to him. Acclaimed throughout Britain and Europe, Bridgetower gave over fifty concerts between 1789 and 1799 and was for fourteen years the star of the Prince Regent’s Royal Pavilion Orchestra.

He died in obscurity in 1860.

Julian Joseph’s score weaves a highly textured tapestry out of the threads of jazz, gospel, blues and 18th century classical music. It’s performed by a ten piece jazz band including trumpeter Russell Bennett, violinist Christian Garrick, saxophonist Steve Williamson and drummer Mark Mondesir along with LSO St Luke’s Community Choir.

Cleveland’s own performance has received acclaim by critics saying:

“stage artistry of Cleveland Watkiss, the adult Bridgetower whose every phrase oozes instinctive musicianship” The Stage

“Cleveland Watkiss was simply made for the lead of Bridgetower..it could be a career high to date”…. Jazzwise

“Cleveland Watkiss’s jazz vocals as the adult Bridgetower are irresistible: every word tells”…. The Times

“For me the best vocal talent came from Hackney based Cleveland Watkiss”… jazzreloaded