Jessica Walker - Singer/Writer

Singer/writer Jessica Walker is a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

2017/18 projects include her play All I Want is One Night at Wilton’s Music Hall, the Hope Mill theatre and Brits off Broadway New York, an accompanying CD of French cabaret songs, All I Want is One Night – death and desire at the French cabaret (Chrome Media), a residency at Snape Maltings for Witches Three (her new music theatre piece currently in development), a new commission to commemorate the end of WW1 for Opera North, a recording of WW1 songs for Enter the Peace Broker (Chrome Radio), and the UK premiere of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Penelope for Psappha.  She will also be an artist-in-residence at the 2018 Lichfield Festival, with further cabaret appearances at Live at Zedel, the Royal Exchange Theatre, the Roman River Festival, Nottingham Theatre Royal and Hargrave Music Festival.

Alongside her busy career as both a cabaret artist and opera singer, Jessica has been devising, performing writing and creating new work, both alone and in collaboration with others, since 2010.  Her first show –  The Girl I Left Behind Me, a solo piece devised by her and director Neil Bartlett – was commissioned by Opera North projects.  Such was the critical acclaim for the piece that Jessica has been in great demand as writer/performer ever since.  The Girl I Left Behind Me has been released as both a recording (in 2014 on the Original Cast Recordings label) and as a play script (Oberon Press), with performances across the UK (including the Purcell Room, Howard Assembly Rooms, Sage Gateshead, Brighton Theatre Royal, Aldeburgh Festival, Coutts Arts Festival, Buxton Festival, Lowry Salford Quays and Norfolk and Norwich Festival, plus a residency at the Barbican Pit), also enjoying a 3-week sell-out run at the 2013 Festival at the 59E59 Theatre in New York.

Her next solo show, Pat Kirkwood is Angry, originally co-produced by Opera North in association with Royal Exchange Theatre, began life at the Manchester Royal Exchange studio and the Howard Assembly Rooms in October 2012, and has toured extensively with performances at the St James Theatre, London, the Grassington Festival, the Richard Burton Theatre, Cardiff and the main stage of the Royal Exchange. In June 2014, it went to the Brits off Broadway Festival for a three-week run, in which it was Charles Isherwood’s critics pick of the week in the New York Times.

Other recent projects include All I Want is One Night for the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester, The Rattler for Mahogany Opera Group,  Mercy and Grand – the Tom Waits project at the Adelaide Festival with Gavin Bryars, Unborn in America, by Luke Styles and Peter Cant at The Vaults Festival, further performances of Pat Kirkwood is Angry at the St James Theatre Studio, and the singer in Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker with RET and MIF, recorded for BBC Radio 3.

Her extensive list of stage roles includes Gwendolen in Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest (NI Opera), Nurse/Harriet  Sunday in the Park with George (Théâtre du Châtelet), Nerone The Coronation of Poppea in a new version translated and directed by Mark Ravenhill (with jazz arrangements by Alex Silverman),  Gloria, A Pig Tale by HK Gruber with The Opera Group, Gloria in Weill’s One Touch of Venus (Opera North), The Little Arab in Martinu’s Julietta (Opera North at the Ravenna Festival), Gigi School for Lovers (Glyndebourne and Finnish National Opera), Peep Bo The Mikado ( Nationale Reis Opera, Holland), Ninfa in Monteverdi’s Orfeo (Opera North), Tamiri in Mozart’s Il Re Pastore (Musiektheater Transparant), Messenger and Proserpina Orfeo (The Opera Group), and Cherubino Le Nozze di Figaro (Stanley Hall).

Her cabaret opera – An Eye for an Eye – written with composer David Knotts – premiered to critical acclaim at both the Bath and St Magnus Festivals in 2013.  Her recent cabaret engagements have included Love is a Drag at Grassington Festival, Peace Cabaret at Lichfield Festival, Songs for Paris and L’Amour et La Mort at Live at Zedel, Forbidden Love at Omnibus theatre, all with Joseph Atkins;  Brel, Brassens and Barbara at the Bath International Music Festival with Alasdair Nicolson, and Recession Songs and Songs from the Left Bank – with Jim Holmes at the Howard Assembly Rooms, Opera North.  Other concert engagements include Ligeti’s Aventures – Nouvelles Aventures and the world premiere of Joanna Lee’s song cycle, Elephant Woman, both with Psappha. She toured Mercy and Grand: the Tom Waits Project with Opera North throughout the UK and in Milan  (a CD of which has been released on the Gavin Bryars label, GB). A CD from Jessica’s previous concert tour  – A Quiet Girl: songs of love and other disasters – is available on the Avid label.

As a performer/deviser, Jessica recently completed a major collaboration – OPENCOV – between Opera North, Leeds University, Bregenz Festival and the Shanghai Theatre Academy, exploring links and differences between Chinese and Western operatic traditions, and culminating in workshop performances in Shanghai, Bregenz and Leeds.

Jessica has recently been awarded her PhD with commendation from Leeds University, with the support of a bursary from the School of PCI. Her practice-led research explored ‘The Singer-actor as Creator and Collaborator: a performer-led model for new music theatre works.’  See the Dr Jessica Walker page on her personal website for more details:


for Penelope – Psappha, Hallé St Peter’s

Lead vocalist Jessica Walker wonderfully tells the tale of the woman’s journey into her partner’s past’ Mancunian Matters 2017

 for All I Want is One Night Royal Exchange Theatre, Wilton’s Music Hall, Hope Mill Theatre

‘Walker certainly looks the part, her luminous androgynous appeal contrasting with the faded final years when the former sophisticate, dressed as an admiral, still wore frightful Harlot’s Rouge lipstick and possessed enough lesbian libido to grope the maid. And Walker’s vibrant mezzo-soprano is as commanding as it was in Pat Kirkwood is Angry at the Royal Exchange in 2012 and the cross-dressing tribute, The Girl I Left Behind Me, only here she brings a lively sensuous sparkle to Solidar’s songs, performed in English for the first time, while recreating a gender-fluid performance milieu laced with fruity double-entendres’  The Stage 2016

‘Jessica Walker is one to watch, in my opinion. A technically-accomplished and intelligent performer, she has written a play with snappy dialogue and good jokes, and has translated Solidor’s songs from French to English herself. The songs are pretty filthy, very funny, and at times very moving – mezzo-soprano Walker succeeds in pulling the heart and tenderness out when needed in order to tell the story’  Everything Theatre 2017

for Unborn in America The Vaults Festival

‘Mezzo-soprano Jessica Walker, an equally talented singer and actress, is indefatigable as the foetus, bringing charisma to the role and wringing the libretto for every scrap of humour’ Financial Times 2015

for Mercy and Grand (Tom Waits project) – Adelaide Festival  with Gavin Bryars

‘Opening dramatically with dynamic tango A Little Drop of Poison, Jess Walker, ahead of the Bryars-led ensemble chiming in on chorus, owned the stage. With maximum sass she performed a cracking selection of Waits/Brennan; these fabulous lyrical tales well told, and consummately performed’ Limelight magazine

‘Jess Walker slipped effortlessly between the roles of Mezzo Soprano and Hooker from Minneapolis. It was utterly brilliant’ BWW 

for Pat Kirkwood is Angry – Brits off Broadway

‘A spell-binding cabaret show at the 59E59 Theaters written by and starring the gifted singer Jessica Walker…Ms Walker’s resplendent mezzo-soprano brings a bright lustre to the dozen or so songs in the show…Should Kirkwood be looking down from the showbiz heavens, she would be anything but riled by Ms Walker’s warm, evocative consideration of her career: a loving tribute from one singular talent to another’ Charles Isherwood, New York Times

‘Jessica Walker’s lovely musical memoir of the star’s life and career…But enough about Miss Kirkwood, – let us turn to the immense talent of Miss Walker as she deftly guides us on this intriguing journey. Not only is her original script a carefully crafted and fascinating exploration of this little-known saga, but also, thanks to her beautiful singing voice, the show comprises a virtual smorgasbord of wonderful songs associated with Kirkwood, and skilfully inserted in this production to gently guide the advancing plot’ The People’s Critic

‘Walker has a stunning voice that she knows exactly how to use… Walker delivers the goods musically speaking… Guess Who I Saw Today by Murray Grand and Elisse Boyd- a song that is over performed and often bludgeoned – is delivered with such simplicity that your heart cracks into a bazillion little pieces on the spot. And her Begin The Beguine is steeped in pathos so deep you can feel it all the way down to your toes. Walker weaves serious magic when she sings’ Front Row Centre

for Pat Kirkwood is Angry – UK

‘Kirkwood is MASTERFULLY portrayed by the fantastic mezzo-soprano Jessica Walker… what an INCREDIBLE voice – from huge ballads such as MY KIND OF MAN, to the hilarious HOLD IT JOE, Walker’s voice SOARS. Her connection with the audience is undeniable. She really is a HUGE TALENT’  * * * * The Good Review

‘…A tour de force, enthralling throughout…Jessica Walker brings the woman behind the songs to life’

‘Walker’s concise storytelling is FUNNY, ENGAGING and WITTY.’ * * * *  The Public Reviews

for The Girl I Left Behind Me – Brits off Broadway

‘A pure, bright mezzo-soprano of such melting beauty I think I could listen to it forever’ Charles Isherwood New York Times

‘Walker, a gifted chanteuse’ The New Yorker

 ‘It would be tragedy for me not to acknowledge a beautiful encore.  Ms. Walker and Mr. Atkins did a fantastic job on Take Me Home – a little heard Tom Waits number from the little seen movie, One From The Heart.  It was performed in a manner that left me a little breathless. Bravo’ Reviews off Broadway

for The Importance of Being Earnest – NI Opera 2013

‘McDonald drew similarly sharp, observant performances from the other singers, among whom the mezzo Jessica Walker’s shock-headed, punky Gwendolyn Fairfax made a particularly sparky impression’ Opera Magazine

‘Jessica Walker’s robust fashion-conscious Gwendolyn was also extremely memorable’ Opera Now

for An Eye for an Eye (by David Knotts and Jessica Walker) – 2013 Bath Festival

‘A brilliant little cabaret opera…mirthfully macabre music theatre…it was a joy’ The Daily Telegraph

for The Girl I Left Behind Me – UK

‘In a trim tuxedo, with hair slicked back, Walker looks strikingly like Marc Almond, bringing her own layer of gender ambiguity to proceedings. She can be ribald, not least in her inspired collation of songs tracing the career of a roué called Johnny, and she sparkles every time she narrates a tale of real-life lesbian love. But she also movingly conveys the pathos of these women’s lives: their desperate disavowal of “mannish” women, their confusion at receiving love letters from other women. Fans then were as inscrutable as the performers – although, watching Walker, you appreciate what fun they had’ The Guardian ****

‘Informed by the lovely pure voice and wittily knowing personality of the mezzo-soprano opera singer and cross-over artist Jessica Walker, this 80-minute piece is a drolly celebratory yet also piercingly poignant one-woman guide to a neglected chapter in showbiz and lesbian history.
A glamorous, boyish figure with her slickly cropped hair and her white tie and tails, Walker conjures up, through “sixteen-and-a-half songs”, such now-forgotten spirits of music-hall “trouser-dom” as Vesta Tilley (1864-1952), Ella Shields (1879-1952) and the American male impersonator Ella Wesner (1841-1917), who learned the tricks of the trade while acting as dresser to Annie Hindle (born 1847). James Holmes pounds the ivories with panache as Walker resurrects songs from the melodious repertoires of these women…This show is not to be missed’ The Independent ****

‘Walker’s rich mezzo soprano was equally suited to snippets of Mozart and Strauss as it was to risqué music hall numbers as she evoked cross-dressers from opera to vaudeville. Her singing talent was complemented by the storytelling skills of a true soubrette. She was particularly spiffing as a squiffy toff’ The Yorkshire Post

for Mercy and Grand CD

‘Superbly sung by the pure-voiced English Mezzo Jess Walker’ Richard Morrison, The Times

for Mercy and Grand – Spitalfields Music Winter Festival

‘The vocalist is mezzo Jessica Walker, a slinky, flame-haired androgyne in tux and boots, looking as if she might have strayed from some Weimar Republic dive. Walker makes no attempt to replicate Waits’s own famously gravelly delivery. She sings, however, with terrific passion, gliding with ease from the sardonic Little Drop of Poison to the knowing bitterness of Weill’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency, and doing heartbreaking things with Whistle down the Wind and Georgia Lee’  Tim Ashley, The Guardian ****

 ‘Walker may be primarily an opera singer, but her cabaret instinct is wonderfully sure: she took command of the proceedings from the moment she sauntered up the aisle, and held us riveted from the outset with ‘Little Drop of Poison.’ Her warm clean sound may be a million miles from Waits’s growl, but she evoked wintry pathos with ‘Alice’ and ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ just as effectively; Weill’s ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ never sounded more bleak’  Michael Church, The Independent ****

for The Coronation Of Poppea – OperaUpClose

‘Jessica Walker’s Nero gleams and suggests a searching mind gone wrong. [Her] final duet is wondrous” Kieron Quirke, Evening Standard *****

‘…Jessica Walker, a Nero of swaggering charisma” Hannah Nepil, Financial Times