James Laing studied at Uppingham School and was a choral scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge. He furthered his studies at the Royal College of Music with Robin Blaze. He was selected by OPERA NOW as amongst ‘Who’s Hot’ for his performance as Nerone Agrippinaat the London Handel Festival. His broadcast work includes Sports Personality of the Year for BBC TV, In Tune for Radio 3 and Midweek for Radio 4.
His operatic engagements have included performances for the Royal Opera, London; Classical Opera; English National Opera; English Touring Opera; Garsington Opera; Glyndebourne Festival Opera; Grange Park Opera; Opera Holland Park; Opera North; and the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden, his repertoire including Apollo Death in Venice, Oberon A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Giuliano Eliogabalo Nerillo L’Ormindo, The Refugee Flight, Raphael Tobias and the Angel, Orfeo Orfeo ed Euridice, Tolomeo Giulio Cesare, Medoro Orlando, Bertarido Rodelinda, Zephyrus Apollo and Hyacinthus, Ascanio Ascanio in Alba and Zelim La verita in cimento. Created roles include Hamlet The Firework Maker’s Daughter, Coachman / Fox The Adventures of Pinocchi and Cheshire Cat Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Concert engagements have included performances with the Academy of Ancient Music, the Britten Sinfonia, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the Hallé and the Royal Northern Sinfonia. International engagements have included performances with Tafelmusik, Toronto, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Les Agrémens, the Israel Camerata, the Netherlands Bach Society, the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, the Polski Chór Kameralny, the National Orchestra of Spain and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He appeared in Other Shakespearean Dreamers at The Liceu, Barcelona, and also in Jonathan Miller’s production of the St Matthew Passion at the National Theatre.
Conductors with whom he has worked include David Charles Abell, Avner Biron, Roland Böer, Ivor Bolton, John Butt, Stephen Cleobury, Brad Cohen, Laurence Cummings, Christian Curnyn, Ottavio Dantone, Richard Farnes, Paul Goodwin, Nicholas Kraemer, Stephen Layton, Paul McCreesh, Alessandro de Marchi, Ian Page, David Parry, Ari Rasilainen, Timothy Redmond, Daniel Reuss, Robert Spano, Stuart Stratford, Ivars Taurin, Jos van Veldhoven, Alexander Weimann and Ryan Wigglesworth.
Highlights of 2015 / 2016 included Voice of Apollo Death in Venice at the Opéra de Nice, Tirinto Imeneo at the Göttingen Festival, Medoro Orlando for Welsh National Opera, further performances as Cheshire Chat Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for Opera Holland Park, the J. S. Bach Magnificat with the Arion Baroque Orchestra, Montréal, and the Britten Sinfonia, the St Matthew Passion with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Messiah with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
Current engagements include creating Peter in Daniel Bjarnsson’s Brødrefor Den Jyske Opera, a return to English National Opera as Armindo Partenope, Messiah on tour with the Dunedin Consort and Cantatas for the Soul at the 2017 Valletta International Baroque Festival. Looking ahead, he will make his debut with Scottish Opera in the 2017 / 2018 season.
His performance with Opera North in The Adventures of Pinocchio is available on Opus Arte Blu Ray / DVD and his recordings include Tobias and the Angel on Chandos CD (selected as a GRAMOPHONE CD of the Month for September 2010) and J. S. Bach Magnificat, newly released on Atma CD.
Please note that this biography is not to be used for programmes. Current information is available on request.
Cantatas for the Soul / Valletta International Baroque Festival
“Before he started singing, countertenor James Laing created an aura of stillness around himself, out of which blossomed a pure, angelic voice.”
St John Passion / Academy of Ancient Music
“Instead of an alto or contralto, the young countertenor James Laing sang ‘Von den Stricken meiner Sünden” and “Es ist vollbracht!’ The latter became an exquisite dialogue with the viola da gamba of Reiko Ichise and was a highlight of the second half.”
St John Passion / Irish Chamber Orchestra
“In Bach's reflective arias, soprano Sylvia O'Brien is quietly radiant, with counter-tenor James Laing having aesthete tonal beauty like polished white marble.”
Apollo: Death in Venice / Opéra de Nice
"James Laing conveyed perfectly the reason for the interventions of Apollo: an invitation to another world."
"The countertenor James Laing is an Apollo full of presence and aplomb."
"(Apollo) Is sung by the countertenor James Laing, impressively flexible of voice, and whose terrific projection means he has no trouble being heard even though much of the role is offstage."
Oberon: A Midsummer Night’s Dream / Garsington Opera
“The talented young singers all deserve mention. Space allows only one accolade: counter-tenor James Laing (Oberon), who was heart-stopping in "I know a bank".
“As Oberon, the countertenor James Laing was vocally and dramatically in a top league.”
“…beautifully done, with the charisma of a young-romantic hero.”
Oberon: A Midsummer Night’s Dream / Opera North
“The compelling young countertenor James Laing is becoming quite a master of sinister, ethereally pitched roles: he was outstanding as the Fox in Opera North's recent Pinocchio and is no less compelling here as an androgynously alien Oberon, his voice as sharp and scintillating as the diamante sarong and skull cap he is given to wear.”
“Their emotional mutations are engineered by James Laing’s cool countertenor Oberon…”
The Independent on Sunday
“James Laing’s Oberon and Jeni Bern’s scintillating Tytania command the stage and their magical kingdom.”
“One of today’s most exciting young countertenors, James Laing makes a vocally highly imposing Oberon.”
Oberon: A Midsummer Night’s Dream / Opera North 2013 Revival
“…Laing’s imposing Oberon is light-toned vocally but sufficiently eerie-sounding to raise one’s neck hairs.”
The Arts Desk
“There's a tangible erotic charge between James Laing's handsome, androgynous Oberon and Daniel Abelson's feral Puck…Laing and (Jeni) Bern are both outstanding in their roles.”
“James Laing’s Oberon was properly authoritative, with ‘I know a bank’ the highlight of the evening.”
Hamlet: The Firework Maker’s Daughter
“James Laing’s ethereal countertenor seems curiously suited to the plight of a pining white elephant.”
Cupid / Nerillus: L’Ormindo / Royal Opera, London
“James Laing was the most engaging performer as the comic page…”
“…mention must be made of James Laing (countertenor) as the page Nerillus/Cupid for both his elegant even tone and apparent insouciance as he hung suspended in pink and gold tutu from the flies.”
"Counter-tenor James Laing, in addition to appearing as a camp L’Amour in a heart-shaped tutu, was impressive as the page Nerillus."
Seen and Heard International
“Countertenor James Laing as Love sings immaculately, even when suspended above the stage in a tutu.”
Fox: The Adventures of Pinocchio / Opus Arte DVD
“…the seductive villains of James Laing and Mark Wilde…”
“...winningly sung by Victoria Simmonds (Pinocchio), Jonathan Summers (Geppetto), Mary Plazas (The Blue Fairy), Rebecca Bottone (Cricket), Mark Wilde (Cat), James Laing (Fox), Graeme Broadbent (Ringmaster) and Allan Clayton (Lampwick)...”
The Independent on Sunday
Fox: The Adventures of Pinocchio Revival / Opera North
“The purity of Laing's counter tenor giving his role a sinister edge…”
The Refugee: Flight / Opera Holland Park
“Laing gets better with every passing season, but this is a role that suits him especially well, showcasing not only his growing power but also his presence – carrying, almost alone, the opera’s closing twist of the dramatic knife.”
The Arts Desk
“James Laing’s countertenor was phenomenally beautiful to listen to as the Refugee. He projected with great power, but his soft singing – especially his narration towards the opera’s end – had an ethereal beauty.”
“Jennifer France as the Controller, with her stratospheric soprano, and counter-tenor James Laing as the otherworldly Refugee are both excellent.”
The Financial Times
“I don’t think I have seen or heard a more compelling performance from James Laing (Refugee)…”
“James Laing has a beautiful creamy, unforced countertenor…”
“James Laing sang with a gorgeously even and creamy tone throughout, and in the opening acts brought a lovely seedy, melancholy down at heel feel to the character. Then in his final recitation he was spellbinding in the way he wove story, text and music into a compelling tragic whole. This was singing of great poise and of real heart…”
“The cast is so unwaveringly brilliant it’s almost unfair to single out Jennifer France’s Controller, who cruises effortlessly at superhuman altitudes, and James Laing’s Refugee, sung with vibrancy and resilience.”
“ I’ve never heard the counter-tenor James Laing do anything better than his touching yet restrained portrayal of the paperless Refugee.”
"Funny and terribly sad, Flight closes as it begins, with our hearts held by the sheer, sweet, vertiginous sounds of (James) Laing and (Jennifer) France in companionable chastity."
“James Laing – astonishing.”
What’s On Stage
Raphael: Tobias and the Angel / Chandos CD
”…James Laing bringing just the right ethereal quality to his singing as Raphael.”
Raphael: Tobias and the Angel / English Touring Opera
“His countertenor had no problems with Dove’s winging lines, and every word of David Lan’s libretto came across.”
Raphael: Tobias and the Angel / The Young Vic
"The singing from the soloists is superb, particularly the soaring countertenor of James Laing…”
The Daily Telegraph
"James Laing's sublime counter-tenor leaves no doubt of Raphael's origins."
"I was captivated by this show and, no less, by the three central performers...above all, the countertenor James Laing who played the angel / stranger with a streetwise, ultra cool inscrutability – a beautiful beggar poised between heaven and homelessness.”
Orfeo: Orfeo ed Euridice / Cannons Scholars
“…an Orfeo sung with great elegant sweetness by James Laing, whose top notes are gorgeous and with no trace of counter-tenor hooting.”
Messiah: Royal Northern Sinfonia
“James Laing’s He Was Despised was performed with great feeling and passion.”
Handel: Messiah / Tafelmusik
“James Laing made a powerful countertenor…”
Globe and Mail
Guido: Flavio / English Touring Opera
“Vocally, it's exceptionally strong. Clint van der Linde struts and preens as the king, and James Laing is a wonderfully nerdy, bookish Guido…”
Nireno: Julius Caesar / English National Opera
“…James Laing sounds sweet and true in the tiny role of Nireno.”
The Independent on Sunday
Tolomeo: Giulio Cesare / Opera North
“Countertenor James Laing’s Tolomeo steals the evening…”
The Arts Desk
“The steely-toned counter-tenor James Laing is perfectly sinister as Cleopatra’s evil sibling Tolomeo…”
“Tall, blonde and handsome, Laing dominated the stage in every scene he was in and depicted a dangerous and predatory villain without any trace of the comedy elements that are so often attributed to this character in other productions. He sang with agility and skill, interpolating high notes in his da capo ornamentation to exciting effect.”
“James Laing offers a keenly etched portrayal of the treacherous, feline Tolomeo…”
“…Cleopatra’s brother Tolomeo, memorably portrayed by James Laing.”
“It’s great to see this gifted countertenor given a chance to shine, not just vocally, but also to show he does a neat line in unhinged too.”
Yorkshire Evening Post
“Yet it is the excellence of James Laing’s countertenor, in the supposedly weak character of Ptolemy, that produces such a vibrant presence…”
Tirinto: Imeneo / Göttingen Handel Festival
“James Laing is a very flexible, well balanced countertenor.”
"Handel obviously sympathised with Tirinto's plight, giving him a luxurious series of numbers which James Laing exploited to the full."
“With his warm countertenor, James Laing scored in his opening aria.”
"Laing is a remarkably assured countertenor with a gloriously direct and pleasing timbre and truly astounding ability to scale the heights (top A), which many falsettists lack the nerve and technique to do with such elegance and delicacy. He is also a very persuasive actor in the role."
Medoro: Orlando / The Early Opera Company
“...Freston’s sweet, shimmering, beautifully mobile, technically faultless soprano and Laing’s serene countertenor stole the show...”
Independent on Sunday
"...James Laing, whose extraordinarily limpid, clear countertenor, needle-sharp in diction and intonation, should take him a long way."
Alessandro: Tolomeo / The Early Opera Company
“Counter tenor James Laing gave a compelling portrait of Alessandro, the brother tasked with assassinating Tolomeo, but relenting to human, filial compassion. Laing's light, supple tone was particularly warm and appealing.”
“Laing sang so beautifully and musically that he made Alessandro a rather more positive character than might be supposed.”
Music & Vision
“Countertenor James Laing (Alessandro) was convincing from every aspect.”
“The other countertenor in the cast was James Laing who sang Alessandro with a sweet, pure and evenly-produced tone.”
Handelfest / English Touring Opera / Opera
“There are, of course, other strong performances across the five nights: James Laing, particularly compelling as Alessandro in Tolomeo…”
Nero: The Coronation of Poppea / Opera North
“…blond, virile and athletic, prancing around the stage with limitless energy. The voice is terrific, coping brilliantly with Monteverdi’s cruel demands…”
The Arts Desk
"(James) Laing’s compelling, beautifully-toned voice makes sure that he dominates his scenes…”
"...the casting of the charismatic counter-tenor James Laing as Nero creates a compelling disconnect between the purity of his voice and the impurity of what he is voicing.”
“James Laing is outstanding as Nerone, with a voice much purer than his deeds. He does not neglect to show what it is to be a spoilt despot as well as a lover.”
“Countertenor James Laing as Nerone exudes an air of danger and for very good reasons. Laing presents an athletic and volatile figure as the Emperor who will stop at absolutely nothing – including murder – to maintain his grip on power. Laing’s icy cold timbre and Piques Eddy’s sensuous dark chocolate tones are well matched in their duets “Signor, deh, non partire!” and the final blissfully sung “Pur ti miro”.”
"James Laing as Nerone stands out for the expressive colouring of his singing and his soaring upper register"
What’s On Stage
Mozart in Italy / Classical Opera Company
“…countertenor James Laing, made a considerable impression. In his Mitridate item he revealed a very smooth counter tenor without any hootiness. The brisk excerpt from Ascanio in Alba which followed exhibited his fluency in coloratura, remarkable in such a young singer, together with an awareness of the musical structure of the piece.”
Cheshire Cat: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Opera Holland Park
“No self-respecting new opera comes without a counter-tenor these days, but James Laing justifies it this time with his fantastical Cat.”
The Daily Telegraph
Zelim: La verita in cimento / Garsington Opera at Wormsley
“…the sweet toned James Laing…”
“The timbre is rich, the singing agile and elegant with, in particular, the trills perfectly executed (this has become sufficiently rare to be noted).
“Laing’s singing was in many ways the most alluring of the evening. He made a thing of beauty of Act 1’s gentle lamento “Tu m’offendi”, the first time a character in the opera looks decisively inwards, with creamily rounded tone and consistently centred tuning.”
“James Laing produces a beautiful countertenor tone…”
Wall Street Journal
Other Shakespearean Dreams / The Liceu, Barcelona
“And the elegant countertenor James Laing sang songs by English composers from the Tudor period with a voice of ineffable beauty and effectiveness.”
J. S. Bach: B Minor Mass / Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
"The vocal soloists themselves all did good work, but among them the highlight of the evening was countertenor (James) Laing, whose bright and British-trained rendering of the alto solos stole the show, and the ovations reflected that."
J. S. Bach Magnificat BWV 243
Johanna Winkel, Johanette Zomer, Zachary Wilder, Matthew Brook
Arion Orchestre Baroque c. Alexander Weimann
Atma Classics CD ACD 22727
Dove Tobias and the Angel (role of Raphael)
Maureen Brathwaite, Karina Lucas, Hyacinth Nicholls, Darren Abrahams,
Rodney Clarke, Omar Ebrahim
The Young Vic Ensemble / David Charles Abell
Chandos CD CHAN 10606
Dove The Adventures of Pinocchio (roles of The Fox / The Coachman)
Victoria Simmonds, Jonathan Summers, Mary Plazas, Rebecca Bottone, Graeme Broadbent, Allan Clayton, Mark Wilde, Carole Wilson
Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North / David Parry
Opus Arte DVD OA 1005D