Christopher Morley meets a man who moved away from his family building trade in Wolverhampton to pursue a career in international opera.
Drottningholm Court Theatre in Sweden is one of the most historic opera houses in the world. The charming old building stands in beautiful parkland surrounding the Royal Palace, just outside Stockholm, and has an enviable reputation for the presentation of baroque and classical operas using original stage machinery dating from the middle of the 18th century.
And its recently-appointed new artistic director comes from a long line of Wolverhampton builders' merchants.
Mark Tatlow took over at the opera house earlier this year, and over a glass of water in his private office backstage (we were in the middle of a Stockholm heatwave) he explained to me his family history.
"People in the area will have heard of the company names Mark Tatlow and WB Tatlow, going back to my great-great-great-grandfather," he says. "We're none of us left there now, actually, after several generations, but we're all still good Wulfrunians!"
No one in Mark's immediate family still lives in the region these days but he still loves to return to his home. "Whenever I go back to the Midlands, particularly to Warwickshire, and Shropshire of course, I always get a pang of homesickness," he explains.
Those two counties have a special place in Mark's heart, as he was educated at Rugby School after prep school in Wellington, near Shrewsbury. "Again part of the family tradition," he adds.
Family tradition didn't really extend to preparing him for a career in opera.
"For all I know there aren't many people who end up in opera from Wolverhampton," he says, "and I can't say that that kind of place had anything to contribute to my interest in opera."
I remind him of Dame Maggie Teyte, the Wolverhampton-born soprano who changed her surname from "Tate" in order to make things easier for her French audiences, and he counters with the great bass Michael Langdon, also born in the city, who sang in the premiere of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd at Covent Garden in 1951.
"Funnily enough, he was principal of the National Opera Studio in London when I was a student there, and we were almost a little Wolverhampton colony," Mark remembers.
Spending the first 17 years of his life in the Midlands, Mark attended concerts in Birmingham Town Hall and Coventry Cathedral. It was in the latter building that he heard Daniel Barenboim conduct Schumann's Symphony no 4, "one of those formative experiences".
"Then at Rugby Music Club we had a whole range of magnificent concerts. Some of my first experiences of singers were there," he says.
"One in particular was David Johnston, the tenor. He came and sang Britten's Saint Nicolas. It was a joint schools' production, and I played one of the piano duet parts.
"I shall never forget the impact - it almost brings shivers down my spine to think of it - when David Johnston first revealed the tenor voice at the beginning of the piece in "God be glorified", after the treble voices. It was just one of the greatest moments of my life.
"Funnily enough, I got to know him later, because I was working with Kent Opera, and he sang the greatest Florestan (in Beethoven's Fidelio) I've ever heard. I made it my business to go to every single performance, just to hear David Johnston sing it."
Drottningholm is best approached by boat, the hour and a quarter of this idyllic trip through the myriad islands of the Stockholm archipelago allowing time for a splendid pre-opera dinner, immaculately and efficiently served.
Mark's career path has brought him here via a much more circuitous route.
"It's all bound up with Kent Opera," he settles down to tell me. "One of the productions on which I was the assistant conductor with Kent Opera in the early 80s was a Barber of Seville conducted by Arnold Ostman, who came in as a guest conductor with the company.
"He asked if I'd like to come out to Drottningholm, as he needed a repetiteur. So I came out here, shortly after I'd been working at the Opera House in Nice as assistant conductor.
"For domestic reasons, it became a bit difficult to commute between Nice and Stockholm, as we had a young family and so on.
"So I felt, 'you've got to stop, you've got to settle down somewhere for the next few years'.
"A job at the Opera School here in Stockholm as a coach opened up, and that meant that there was a reason to be able to stay here during the winter months (the opera-house only functions in the summer).
"So from 1989 to 1996 I was based here in Sweden, and worked a lot as Ostman's assistant. Then he actually left Drottningholm and I stayed on for a year or two. Then I also left for family reasons in 1996, because we wanted our children to have the experience of living in England, otherwise they wouldn't know why they're English.
"My wife is English (a musicologist called Ruth Tatlow who writes books on Bach). We moved back to England in 1996, when I was appointed director of music at St Paul's School in London.
"It's a school noted for the arts, and it was a great privilege to work at that very high level."
That high level became even higher during Mark's time there, when he presided over the construction of the much-acclaimed Wathen Hall, the school's own concert hall.
"As I'd grown up on building sites. I was able to discuss materials and techniques with the men," he smiles.
"Inaugural concerts were given by the pianists Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu, the violinist Maxim Vengerov and the cellist Stephen Isserlis. Benjamin Zander, the conductor, performed the actual opening ceremony."
But Stockholm beckoned again, "and in 2003 I rather surprisingly moved back to Sweden, which was one of the exciting points of my life."
In 2002, Mark had been invited to take up the post of Professor of Musical Studies at the University College of Opera, Stockholm, and it made sense, again, for the family's sake, to consolidate their home in one place.
Ruth teaches at the university, and the Tatlow children are now back studying music in England.
Several of Mark's vocal students have strong links with Birmingham, coming here for undergraduate or post-graduate studies at the Conservatoire.
Indeed, one recent bass alumnus had been invited by him to sing in the production of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, which I saw while I was at Drottningholm, but had already been snaf-fled for the summer - by Glyndebourne.
Mark also acts as artistic advisor to Scandinavia's only specialist music school, Lilla Akademien - the Junior Academy in Stockholm, and throughout our conversation is peppered with his conviction that music students in Sweden have to raise their standards of musical literacy.
"And music criticism in Scandinavia is very under-developed, too," he declares. "Critics seem to think it's the process through which the composer produces his work which is important, not what it actually contains as content."
Whatever the case, critics have been unanimous in their praise of Mark's work at Drottningholm.
Not only is he an inspiring and enthusiastic conductor, he is also a galvanising continuo player, bringing scholarly keyboard parts to life as they underpin vocal narration on this enthralling timewarp of a stage.
Stockholm is obviously offering a very happy home to this Wolverhampton wanderer.