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The rehearsals for the Scottish Opera Connect production of “The Walk from the Garden” are gathering pace.  Glen Cunningham (Adam) and I were there this afternoon.

Scottish Opera through their strong community links have developed a great education programme that sets out to introduce the beauty and artistry of opera to a wider and younger audience. These include visiting schools with touring productions aimed at primary aged children, their “Opera Unwrapped” events providing a sneaky peak into the world behind the scenes of an opera production and finally Scottish Opera’s Connect Company for aspiring 14 to 21 year olds helping through workshops and coaching sessions to improve performing skills and develop a love of this wonderful art form.

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Scottish Opera Head Quaters

Our rehearsals today were in the impressive headquarters for the Scottish Opera in Glasgow which was originally owned by the Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilders and the beautiful stained glass windows around the building have a strong maritime theme.

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The Lusitania Window In The Rankine Hall

 

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The Rehearsal Room

 

I’m enjoying every minute of the preparation and as April approaches and the performance dates get closer my excitement surrounding the production grows.  There are two operas being presented in the same program, “The Walk From The Garden” and “Dr Ferret’s Bad Medicine Roadshow”.  This will be the third full production of Jonathon Dove’s opera “The Walk from the Garden” since it was first commissioned by Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival.

To see the production listed in the Scottish Opera “What’s On” list is quite a thrill.  There are to be three performances, two on Saturday 18th April at 15:30 pm and 19:00 pm and one on Sunday 19th April at 15:30 pm.  Tickets are available through the Scottish Opera website.

I cannot believe that the auditions were back in September 2014 as the time has just flown by and there are ten weeks to go which seems like a long time away but I’m sure it will be here in a flash.

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Robert Schumann (1810-1856) had been regarded as brilliant pianist predicted by his teacher to become one of the finest in Europe. Unfortunately he suffered an injury to his hand which brought his dreams of pursuing a virtuoso career at the piano to an untimely end. He decided to concentrate on his composing and produced a long list of accomplished musical works for us all to enjoy.

Schumann

One such composition is “Widmung” a captivating lied which he composed in 1840 as part of a song cycle “Myrthen” (Opus 25). Schumann wanted to create the perfect gift for his wife-to-be Clara Wieck to present to her on their wedding day.

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The title of the cycle represents the bridal wreaths which were often made out of myrtle, an evergreen shrub entwined with white flowers.

Schuman used a collection of 26 poems to complete his work from poets such as Robert Burns, Lord Byron and Friedrich Ruckert. The songs embodied all the emotions that Schumann associated with love, marriage and companionship.

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“Widmung” (Dedication ) was the first song in the cycle using the lyrics from a poem by Friedrich Ruckert. The lyrics of the song provided the means for Schumann to capture the way that Clara made him feel. He expresses that Clara is his peace, angel, repose, rapture, heart, soul, grave for sorrows, better self and his heaven. A truly beautiful lied and I hope that I do it justice.

Lyrics
Du meine [Seele]1, du mein Herz,
Du meine [Wonn’, o du]2 mein Schmerz,
Du meine Welt, in der ich lebe,
Mein Himmel du, [darin]3 ich schwebe,
O du mein Grab, in das hinab
Ich ewig meinen Kummer gab!
Du bist die Ruh, du bist der Frieden,
Du bist [der]4 Himmel, mir beschieden.
Daß du mich liebst, macht mich mir wert,
Dein Blick hat mich vor mir verklärt,
Du hebst mich liebend über mich,
Mein guter Geist, mein beßres Ich!

Translation
You my soul, you my heart,
You my bliss, o you my pain,
You the world in which I live;
You my heaven, in which I float,
You my grave, into which
I eternally cast my grief.
You are rest, you are peace,
You are bestowed upon me from heaven.
That you love me makes me worthy of you;
Your gaze transfigures me;
You raise me lovingly above myself,
My good spirit, my better self!

You can see why this era was called the romantic era of music. Schumann manages to embody the excitement of being in love through the shape of the melody, it is so full of energy and makes me feel so happy when I sing it.

Thank You
I would also like to say a BIG thank you to all of you for being part of my life. I have met so many lovely people here on my blog and learnt so much from you all. Having this opportunity to meet such a wide and varied group of people from diverse backgrounds with enriching experiences has been a real highlight for me. I am humbled that I have been nominated for several blogging awards and appreciate each and every one. The problem I have is that it would be impossible for me to pick my favourite ten or fifteen bloggers, I tend to read and comment on the blogs that I follow whenever I have the time but I cannot get around as often as I would like. If it were up to me I would give every single one of you “Blog Of The Year”. Please, please, please keep writing and sharing your experiences, creativity and enthusiasm as it gives so much pleasure to the people that read what you write

I have been researching “Der Ring des Nibelungen” the cycle of four operas by German composer Richard Wagner and have been enthralled by them.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner

I have always enjoyed studying German song especially Lieder.  I find the interplay between the pianist and the singer captivating as each depends on the other in a way that can be quite unique to this genre of music.

One of my favourite composers of Lieder is Richard Strauss and I find myself getting emotionally drawn in to his songs.  Richard Strauss was born in Munich, Germany on the 11th June 1864.  Having a father that was a principal horn player at the Munich Court Opera ensured a passionate music education which resulted in Strauss completing his first composition at the age of 6.

Richard Strauss Aged 22

Richard Strauss Aged 22

In 1874 at the age of 10 he was introduced to the operas of Wagner and though the works were frowned upon at the time by his father they would go on to have a profound influence on Strauss’s work.

Following a brief period at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich where he studied Philosophy and Art History he left to take up his first conducting position.  He was taken under the wing of the renowned German conductor Hans von Bulow at the Meiningen orchestra.  At the age of just 21 Strauss went on to become the principal conductor of the Meiningen orchestra when Hans von Bulow resigned in 1885.

Pauline de Anna Strauss

Pauline de Anna Strauss

Richard Strauss married Pauline de Anna in September 1894 who was acclaimed to be the inspiration of many of his works.  I think that it is these emotions in his pieces that help me to connect with them.  “Zueignung” meaning  ‘Dedication’ is a beautiful song composed by Strauss for his wife.  It is taken from a poem by Hermann von Gilm zu Rosenegg which Strauss lovingly set to music.

Ja, du weißt es, teure Seele,
Daß ich fern von dir mich quäle,
Liebe macht die Herzen krank,
Habe Dank.

[Hielt ich nicht]1, der Freiheit Zecher,
Hoch den Amethysten-Becher,
Und du segnetest den Trank,
Habe Dank.

Und beschworst darin die Bösen,
Bis ich, was ich nie gewesen,
[Heilig an das Herz]2 dir sank,
Habe Dank.

The translation provided by Lawrence Snyder :

Yes, you know it, dearest soul,
How I suffer far from you,
Love makes the heart sick,
Have thanks.

Once I, drinker of freedom,
Held high the amethyst beaker,
And you blessed the drink,
Have thanks.

And you exorcised the evils in it,
Until I, as I had never been before,
Blessed, blessed sank upon your heart,
Have thanks.

This is a video of my performance of this beautiful song from the “Voice of The Future” competition at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod in the summer of 2014. I also managed to record this to go on my album “Canzoni D’Amore”. The header photo of George Todica and me was taken by my Nana the day before the grand finale in Llangollen.

 

Richard Strauss  Time Magazine 1938

Richard Strauss Time Magazine 1938

 

Strauss was a prolific composer and wrote many works including solo instrument and orchestra, fabulous Lieder and several Operas until his death in September 1949. I cannot wait to explore more of his repertoire in the years to come including some of his most famous opera roles like that of Salome.

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Richard Strauss – Salome Poster – 1910

 

If you are familiar with any of his works I would love to read what you think and if you have any suggestions regarding songs of his that I could explore then I would appreciate to hear from you :).

 

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Judith Howarth ( Photograph By Gordon Wilson )

Whilst in rehearsals for Jonathan Dove’s Opera ‘A Walk from the Garden’ with Scottish Opera I’m grateful to be receiving professional coaching from Judith Howarth, one of the most sought-after sopranos in Europe. Judith is also a vocal teacher at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

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You Can Read More About Scottish Opera By Clicking On The Image

 

I asked Judith in one of the Dove rehearsals if I could ask her some questions for a blog interview and for my personal interest and I’m very appreciative that she took the time to answer in fabulous detail to share with us all.

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To Buy Tickets for “The Walk From The Garden” Click On The Image

 

Judith first of all thanks for agreeing to an interview for my blog I’m very grateful for your time and help. My first question is what do you think are the vocal challenges in the role of ‘Eve’?

The role has lots of colours that can be used, vocally. Singing in English is always a challenge and getting the words clear but not spoiling the sound of the voice is tricky, but of course, perfectly possible.   You must develop vocal and physical stamina for this role. It sits quite high in the voice and so is vocally demanding.  With modern music, it is always a challenge to find “the line” but it is very important, so that the music does not just sound like notes.

Which vocal fach is Eve?

In my opinion, Eve is a light lyric sing.

What vocal fach are you and has this changed over the years?  Do you think these definitions are a good idea or pigeon-hole singers?

I am a lyric coloratura. My voice has changed immensely over the years. I have always had the ability to sing coloratura and I have always had very easy access to the top of my voice. I don’t think that I have ever had a light voice and the darker qualities that I use now have always been there but I did not use them for many years. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that I am still performing and that I think that my voice is better than ever.

I do think that there is too much emphasis placed on what voice types young singers are! First of all, it doesn’t matter and secondly, no one knows how a voice will develop and how long it will take. Emphasis should be on letting the voice develop naturally. That means stretching it a little occasionally but always sing the correct repertoire. It really annoys me when pupils ask me what voice type they are and what do I think that they will become, it’s stupid. ( Memo to myself “never ask Judith what voice type she thinks I am!” :)  )

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Judith Howarth As Madam Butterfly

 

I’ve heard you talk of stamina before, what sort of exercises do you do to improve your stamina before a big performance?

Stamina is built up over years and also I build the stamina for each performance during my private learning and the production rehearsals. It takes time. We all need to find our limits and I am afraid that it comes from occasionally over singing. I did this a lot as a student because I am greedy to sing all the time, especially when I am having a “good ” day. I actually don’t like exercises. I usually sing the slow part of a bel canto aria and get the voice nice and “high”. I also sometimes just sing along to a recording of Rutter, Karl Jenkins or anything that I like and is gentle.  I never practice the top. I know that it will work because I have done the practice. All singing techniques are in the songs or arias, so I prefer to sing songs rather exercise. I am afraid that they bore me. I also keep physically fit and the demands on the body when singing a large role are immense.

Having good breath control is so important, what is your biggest advice for young singers on improving this?

Yes, breathing is paramount. Total relaxation is the key.  One can practice breathing at any time. Totally relax and the take a slow intake of air. If you do this 3 or 4 times correctly, you will get high because of the amount of oxygen that you are taking in.  Breath control is also paramount as you sing on the flow of air. It must be controlled so that there are no “bumps” in the “line”.  Singers must also totally relax between phrases. You must release the diaphragm otherwise you will hyperventilate. Breathing is the first thing to be affected when a person is nervous, so try to control the flow of air.

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Judith Howard In Faust – Photograph By Minnesota Opera

 

I read about you being called up to fill in for a sick singer and flown in on a private jet which sounds terribly exciting.  What do you do if you have a cold, do you sing on through colds?  Do you know any quick remedies for a blocked nose on audition days for example?

The first thing is that if you are unwell, then don’t sing if you can avoid it. We all get colds and there have been times when you have to perform. The more well known a singer becomes, the more intolerant the public are if the singers performance is not perfect. They expect the best every time.

There are no remedies for colds I am afraid. I do drink lots of water and hot drinks, avoid talking and get lots of rest.  One can sing on a cold. It all depends what type of cold. If the chords are coated with mucous that is because the body is protecting them. If you have to sing like this, you could do damage so try to avoid it. You have to be patient as a singer. Things take time, years sometimes. There are no quick fixes to becoming a fine singer. Practice, advice, and above all listen to your body. A decongestant will help to unblock a nose. I would always advise that if you are doing an audition, you have to decide whether you think that you can do yourself justice.  If you can’t, then you should try to reschedule, because people always remember a bad audition.

Judith I read that at my age you were working as a Principal at The Royal Opera House, what impact did moving from Scotland to London have on you at such an age?

When I moved to London from Glasgow, I took everything in my stride. I was keen to see the world and be the best singer that I can be. The only reservation I had was that my husband was still in Scotland.  We took it in turns to travel to each other at the weekends. It was the best thing that happened in my career.  It taught me so much and for that I am eternally grateful.

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Judith Howarth as Maria Stuarda ( Photograph By Robert Workman )

 

What has been your favourite role to-date?

I don’t think that I have a favourite role. There are possibly three that I adore. They are Madam Butterfly, Mrs Mao, and Maria Stuarda. I also used to love singing Violetta which I have sung at least 45 times all over the world. I have been very blessed and very spoilt.

I am passionate about passing on my knowledge and experience and am now asked to teach worldwide which I am delighted about. Everyone deserves a good technique and an opportunity to be a part of this wonderful world of opera!

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Judith Howarth As Mrs Mao

 

What role is left that you’d like to fulfil?

There are a few roles that I am booked to sing and a few that I want to perform.  They are Tosca, Amelia in Ballo, Norma, and Aida . There are more but these are the ones that come to mind at the moment. I have sung so many that I forget.

 

Aaron-Copeland-Blog

This month we have been recording four short accompanied folk songs of our own choice for examination.  Folk music is generally music that has been passed down through generations.  When taking ABRSM exams (the exam board of the Royal Schools of Music) for singing they always test unaccompanied tradition songs (folk songs).  It is seen as an important part of each singing exam.  They may seem like an easy choice, however, they are one of the most difficult songs to perform to an optimum standard.  ABRSM themselves says the testing allows examiners to “assess the elements of unaccompanied singing through a more natural, musical and ‘singerly’ genre.  Singers have to pitch and produce the notes from within, and accommodate the extra elements of language and meaning with nowhere to hide”.

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The choice of folk song can be vital some of them can have a very wide range required.  I’ve always sung British folk songs but I saw a concert at City Halls in Glasgow with work of the composer Aaron Copland and decided at that moment to research more of his work to consider performing a program of his.  People consider his music to evoke the vast American landscape and pioneering spirit.

Aaron-Copeland

Aaron Copland 1900 – 1990 was one of America’s best modern music composers born in Brooklyn, New York.  He wrote for voice, piano, orchestra; for plays, movies and dance he was also a conductor, pianist, teacher and author.  He studied in Paris, France for four years in his early twenties and decided that the French had a very ‘French’ way of writing and that the Americans had nothing like that so he decided to compose music that was truly American.  He used ideas from jazz music, cowboy songs, American folk songs and popular songs during the time of the American civil war, he even wrote a ballet about Billy the Kid the famous gun-slinger.

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Scene From Appalachian Spring

 

He was a highly decorated man.  In 1945 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his music for a ballet called ‘Appalachian Spring’, the last part of the ballet is based on ‘A Gift to be Simple’ a traditional song.  In 1950 he won an Academy Award for his compositions for the film ‘The Heiress’ following nominations for his scores for ‘Of Mice and Men’, ‘Our Town’ and ‘The North Star’.

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Olivia de Havilland And Montgomery Clift In The Heiress ( 1949 )

 

In 1964 President Johnson presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom America’s highest award to civilians. In 1987 he was awarded a special Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress.

His work in the late 1940’s and 1950’s include the use of the Schonberg twelve-tone system but found it ran contrary to his desire to reach a wide audience.

The four songs I chose to sing were:

The Boatman’s Dance

Long Time Ago

The Little Horses

Ching-A-Ring Chaw

I have previously written about one of my favourite songs: Rusalka’s “Mesicku na nebi hlubokem,” (Song to the Moon) from the Opera by Antonín Dvořák showing images of the stage sets and Renee Fleming’s beautiful version.  The song is sung by a plaintive girl longing for love calling on the moon to tell her Prince of her love.

Pascal Barnier sent me a lovely image below and I decided to do a little bit more research into the folklore behind the character.

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In the opera Rusalka’s father is a water goblin called Vodnik and there is a witch called Jezibaba who transforms Rusalka into a human at the cost of her voice.  Rusalka’s lover the Prince, betrays her, dooming them both.  I’d love to see an Opera about the younger Rusalka before she fell for the Prince with the last Act a contracted version of the original opera to show just how much she gives up for her love.

Here is my performance of the aria from this year’s “Voice Of The Future” competition at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod if you haven’t had the chance to see it.

Rusalka is a water nymph a female spirit whose origins can be traced to the Slavic folklore (Eastern Europe). The name comes from the eastern Slavic русалка ( meaning red haired girl ) and has taken on the meaning mermaid in Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine. In western Slavic folklore there are stories based on spirits called víla in Czech or Slovak and wiła in Polish.

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Folklore tells us that generally, the rusalka couldn’t completely stand out of water, half woman half fish, some stories say that she could climb trees or sit on a dock with her feet/flippers in the water combing her hair, sometimes the rusalka is depicted as wood nymph usually during the summer the rusalka would join in circle dances in groups.

Vila

Some dark tales tell of rusalki who like to play games, despising other women and only showing themselves to attack or take away their men.  Her purpose was to lure young men, seduced by her looks or voice, into the depths of the water to destroy him.

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These stories are found all over the world, in Brazilian mythology Iara or Yara are sirens or mermaids.  Depicted as beautiful females who lead men to their deaths singing to them whilst combing her hair.  Once under Iara’s spell the victim would leave anything to live with her underwater forever, she is immortal but he grows old.

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These same myths are represented in stories of mermaids going back thousands of years.  Greek sirens were first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey they were sea-nymphs who had the power to charm by song, unhappy mariners were irresistibly drawn to the depths of the sea to their doom.  Many medieval sailors claimed to have seen them.  The mermaids described by Columbus were said to be the marine creatures called manatees.In British folklore they can be bringers of bad luck causing bad storms and drowning men.  In some tales they marry and live with humans such as the Merrow from Scotland.

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Do you know of any other similar folk tales about these water nymphs?

 

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This beautiful and haunting song was composed by Richard Hageman who was born and raised in the Netherlands but who later took on American citizenship.  He was considered to be a child prodigy and was thought equal to a concert pianist at the age of 6.  In his early years whilst studying in Amsterdam he began to accompany many of the singers at the Amsterdam Royal Opera Company where he eventually was appointed to the position of conductor in 1899 at the age of 18.

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Richard Hageman

After moving to America he held positions at the Metropolitan Opera and Chicago Civic Opera and also became the conductor of the Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles symphony orchestras.

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John Wayne From The 1939 Film “Stagecoach”

Along with his many Art song compositions he wrote several film scores including the one for  “Stagecoach” directed by John Ford,  the 1939 movie which Hageman shared an Academy Award for.

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Rabindranath Tagore Was The First Non European To Win The Nobel Prize For Literature In 1913.

The song’s lyrics were taken from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore a Bengali poet and philosopher who Hageman used for the inspiration for this piece and two more of his songs “May Night” and “At The Well”

Do not go, my love, without asking my leave.
I have watched all night, and now my eyes are heavy with sleep;
I fear lest I lose you when I am sleeping.
Do not go, my love, without asking my leave.
I start up and stretch my hands to touch you.
I ask myself, “Is it a dream?”
Could I but entangle your feet with my heart,
And hold them fast to my breast!
Do not go, my love, without asking my leave.

Classically structured songs such as this one are considered Art songs and were usually composed for a single voice and accompanied by piano. They’re used extensively in recitals and for concert repertoire all over the world. These songs were not part of a staged work such as an opera but could sometimes be composed to be performed in a song cycle.

When I decided on the songs to record last summer for my album Canzoni D’Amore , accompanied by George Todica.  I wanted to use a mixture of both art songs and operatic arias so that I could share with you my love for a broad range of classical music.

Though my heart is set on the opera stage I will always search out and perform those art songs that inspire or touch me in some way.

I do hope that you enjoy it.

P.S. I could not make up my mind if I should have used the black and white picture or the colour one in my post so in the end I chose the black and white one as it seemed to be in keeping with the other images.  I used the colour one in the header so let me know what you think?,