This week’s post is in celebration of the marriage of my dear friend Ellie to her kind-hearted Husband Rory. The ceremony took place yesterday, 18th May 2019 in Criccieth, which is a beautiful part of North Wales.

Criccieth, North Wales

For me the day started with a mad dash mammoth drive all the way down to the venue, it was like a scene from a romcom, I literally abandoned my car in the car park and ran across the lawn to where the ceremony was taking place arriving with only minutes to spare.   But I wasn’t going to miss it for anything and was so proud to be a part of her big day.  It was an honour to sing as part of their wedding celebrations and I wish them both many happy years to come.

Rory & Ellie

I’ve known Ellie from childhood when we used to be sparring partners at Karate together. Over the years we entered and won national Karate competitions together and completed both our 1st and 2nd Dan Black Belts before I had to leave to take up my training at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. It took over ten years of hard work, determination, and perseverance to complete all of our gradings (exams) but we had lots of fun along the way.

Ellie and Me

She was my rock, in and outside of the dojo. A friend to turn to at times in need and continues to be! She has time for everyone and always thinks of others before herself as her father said in his heart-warming speech during the celebrations.

To close tonight I would like to ask if you have any words of wisdom or sound advice that the happy couple may like to read here on my blog post?

I am looking forward to my performance at this year’s Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod on Tuesday 2nd of July as a guest of the renowned International Tenor Rolando Villazón. The evening’s gala concert is to be accompanied by the British Sinfonietta Orchestra conducted by James Hendry, also starring is the famous Welsh lyric soprano, Rhian Lois. If you have never been to the International Musical Eisteddfod in Llangollen I can heartily recommend it, whether you intend to compete in one of the many categories or just come to enjoy the beautiful singing, fabulous dancing, or the joyous multicultural atmosphere that permeates around the Pavillion and throughout the Town during the festival.

The event is best described on their website:
Every summer since 1947 Llangollen has staged one of the world’s most inspirational cultural festivals. Each year around 4,000 performers and as many as 50,000 visitors converge on this beautiful small Welsh town and its International Pavilion; to sing and dance in a unique combination of competition, performance, and international peace and friendship.

The International Pavilion, Llangollen

Llangollen’s place in world music is now immutable. Since its inaugural year in 1947 more than 300,000 competitors from over 100 nationalities have performed enthusiastically on the Llangollen stage. In 1955 a young Luciano Pavarotti sang in the choir from his home town of Modena, conducted by his father. The choir won first prize in the Male voice choir competition. Pavarotti returned for a spectacular concert in 1995.”

“Margot Fonteyn, Alicia Markova, Joan Sutherland, Angela Gheorghiu, Kiri Te Kanawa, Jehudi Menuhin, José Carreras, Lesley Garrett, Bryn Terfel, Katherine Jenkins, Dennis O’Neil, James Galway, Nigel Kennedy, Elaine Paige, Michael Ball, and Montserrat Caballé are among the musical stars that have appeared in our concerts. Placido Domingo confesses that his first professional engagement in the United Kingdom was at the 1968 International Eisteddfod.

The River Dee and the Town’s Railway Station

If you want to come along to the Eisteddfod you can buy tickets from the
Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod website.

Just to let you know that if you want to come along to watch Waterperry Opera Festival’s production of Mansfield Park this year that although they have increased the number of performances the tickets are selling fast so don’t leave it too long to book or you may be disappointed.

Finally, I am thinking about changing the header picture on my FaceBook page to the one below, please let me know what you think 🙂

The Magic Flute

May 5, 2019 — 51 Comments

On Saturday night I had the wonderful opportunity to join my singing teacher, Rosa Mannion, to watch my friend Gemma Summerfield debut as Pamina in the Magic Flute at Scottish Opera in Glasgow. It was a spectacular production and she particularly sang with poise and mellifluous tone just exquisite.

Scottish Opera – The Magic Flute – Photos By James Glossop

It was an extra special production for me as it was a revival of the original 2012 Sir Thomas Allen production, which I happened to see during the first year of my studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. It was just as I remembered a magical production, I could vividly remember the steampunk costumes and set design which only improved with time.

The Three Ladies and the Queen of the Night’s costume were also inspiring – bejewelled with either hundreds of Swarovski or delicately placed LED lights – they truly looked like stars in the nights sky.

The fantastic detailing in all the props brought added flair to the mystical realm we, the audience, had been transported to. In particular I liked the clockwork birds, which glistened as Papageno unluckily missed them with his net.

Scottish Opera – The Magic Flute – Photos By James Glossop

Sir Thomas Allen, directed the opera full of wit and joviality. The audience all around me were sniggering and laughing in perfect timing with the singing actors due to their wonderful delivery of a particularly humorous English Translation. However, the company were able to balance these moments with seriousness for the suicide arias and lessons learnt during the trials.

Kitty, Gemma, Rosa , and Me

My rehearsals have started well here in Glasgow and I have enjoyed meeting everyone involved in the Pop-Up Opera production.  I hope that in some small way our abridged version will whet the appetite of our audiences and encourage them to go and watch the full production as it is a true delight to the senses.

Pop-Up Opera Tour

April 28, 2019 — 48 Comments

This week as April draws to a close I am really happy to share with you that I will be working with Scottish Opera again on their Pop-Up Opera tour around Scotland in May and June.  This year we will be performing three separate shows aimed at audiences of all ages:

A Little Bit of Iolanthe │Gilbert & Sullivan arr. Derek Clark

“ Iolanthe is banished by the Fairy Queen for marrying a mortal. Now, 25 years later, two worlds again collide when her son announces he’s in love. Unfortunately, his beloved is a popular girl and he has some serious competition… Light-hearted satire at its best, Iolanthe is full of fun.”

A Little Bit of The Magic Flute │Mozart arr. Derek Clark

  “Tamino is in love with Pamina, the daughter of the mysterious Queen of the Night. When she is abducted, he sets off to rescue her but soon realises all is not quite as it seems. A beguiling mix of comedy, fantasy and pantomime, The Magic Flute is also a profound story of the search for love, wisdom and truth.”

Puffy McPuffer and the Crabbit Canals │Music Marion Christie Words Allan Dunn

  “A tale of the five waterways that link Scotland from the North Sea to the Atlantic. Like most families, each one is different: Caledonian – the longest; Crinan – the most beautiful; hard-working Monklands; Union – the fastest; wise old Forth & Clyde. Each one thinks they’re the best. Can an ordinary little puffer boat make them think again?”

The tour will include dates at the Perth Festival of the Arts, Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival, Old Kilpatrick, Barrhead, Giffnock, Borders Book Festival, Dirleton, Callander, Cupar Arts EDEN, Aboyne & Deeside Festival, Haddington Show.  You can see the times and dates for the shows here:

For these productions, I will be performing alongside Jessica Leary ( Soprano ), Aidan Edwards ( Baritone ), Ross Stenhouse ( Storyteller ), Lizy Stirrat ( Accordion ), Sharron Griffiths ( Harp ), and Yorke Sinclair ( Harp ).

Some Of The Places We Will Visit On The Tour

If you have the time I would appreciate it if you could please check out the new Kickstarter page of my friends at Improbable who have been responsible for some really amazing and innovative projects. Watch their video and if you can spare any amount to help them to bring their imaginative plans to life I can assure you that it will be gratefully received as they only have until May the 15th to hit their target.

Taking the time to re-visit my trip to Seoul over the past few blog posts have been really fun. This post is going to focus on sharing a video from my performance in the Recital Hall at the Seoul Arts Centre and the Instagramable Food Treats Inspired by K-pop culture.

One of the verses of Muttertänderlei, is about comparing her gorgeous baby daughter to sweet traditional German baked goods such as Zuckerwechen (Sweet Bun). I think this metaphor describes the deliciousness of cute babies and how you want to gobble them up. Which as a concept can definitely transferred to Korea. Cute cartoons, bold colours and celebrations of K-Pop stars decorated public areas and in turn went on to inspire food!

Rainbow Crepe Cake

The colour palette of magical unicorns, for instance, may have inspired this rainbow cake created by Billy Angel Cake Company in Seoul. This colourful cake is created from 20 individual crepes coloured with different fruit flavours and delicately divided by layers of spread mousse.

Bedazzled Ice-cream

Bistopping ice-cream cafe was a favourite find of mine. Imagination exploded here, in the form of embellished cones (with hundreds and thousands, painted icing, colourful sugar loops), chocolate phrases and crazy cookies which could be added to your ice-cream to produce your own unique design.

Ginormous Gateau

We found a little cafe called Conversation Cake from posts of Instagram. These cakes were  gorgeously decorated with macerated fruit and indulgent layers of sponge. Our most expensive cakes of the day, and sadly on our visit a little dry, but with a glass of refreshing iced coffee they became well-balanced.

Flower Pot Mystery

Bananatree cafe was unbelievably cute from its hand-drawn menus to its quirky presentational style of its delicious food. We tried Candifloss covered coffee, Eggyffogatto and a Flower Paap. The flower pot cake was an outstandingly yummy experience. From the chocolate soil and truffle stones which deceptively hid the delectable strawberry gateau beneath – found by trusty miniature shovel shaped spoons.

Fizzing Refreshments

We delved inside the wonderful world of Line Friends at their flagship store and Cafe and tried a selection of jazzy and vibrantly colourful drinks inspired by the characters. From marshmallow white hot chocolate to a mysterious blue soda float and a popping candy strawberry slushy. Our tastebuds tingled from the experience.

Changdeokgung Palace

April 7, 2019 — 47 Comments

Following my visit to Seonjeongneung – The Royal Tombs I waited to visit the Changdeokgung Palace Complex with my brother Matt and his husband Alex as they were flying out to join me for a short holiday in Seoul. 

The palace complex of Changdeokgung is situated north of where we were staying in Gangnam and across the Han river. We decided to include a visit to the Gwangjang Market in the morning on our way to the palace to make the most of the day!

The journey took around 40 minutes on the tube, which was so easy to use with the T-Money cards that you can use all over Seoul, on different modes of transport, (bus, tube, coach and taxi). What made the travel cards even better is they come with all sorts of colourful designs, using cartoons from popular culture. If travelling in Seoul, I recommend two apps Naver Map and my preferred choice City Mapper, both apps provide visuals of your route and the ability to track your location. The reason I prefer City Mapper is that I could type in English characters and save the journeys to my phone using the Wi-Fi at the hotel. This meant that when I was exploring, I could use the GPS location and map guides on airplane mode – saving some extra pennies!!

The Market is the oldest in the City and was an easy stroll from Euljiro 4(sa)-ga station, there was a huge collection of items available on sale from fabrics and clothes to dried fish and culinary delicacies. The atmosphere was already buzzing at 10:00am, which I was surprised at because my Guide book wrote that it is well known for providing an authentic night market experience.

When we arrived at the Changdeokgung Palace the first impression was the splendour and size of the complex.  I tried to imagine how it must have appeared to those who visited back in the 15th Century when it was built.  The site was considered the secondary palace to one at Gyeongbokgung and was differentiated by the size of the grounds.  It was such a treat to walk around the well-cared for public areas and take it all in. Each Hall was beautifully ornate with painted, sculpted wooden Roofs and rich vibrant interiors. One room had mother of pearl decorated furniture which glowed in the sunlight of modern day.

We wanted to visit the Secret Garden and so we waited for the English tour as you could not walk around unescorted.  The best part was that whilst we were waiting, I found out that if you hire traditional dress, (Hanbok) you are able to enter the complex for free, so off I went to hire a costume. 

I visited Hanbok Rental, a shop just across the main road opposite the Grand Main Entrance and Ticket Office. The staff were so efficient and friendly, guiding me through the many colours and layers to the traditional gown. I really recommend this shop, as they had lockers on site for your larger belongings, and little handbags, hair ornaments, and parasols were included in the rental price. I am so glad that I rented the Hanbok as I felt transformed to another time and enabled me to pretend that I was attending a royal palace event.


Yurie Takano
and Me

As my stay here in Seoul draws to an end, I must thank everyone involved with the Seoul International Music Competition for making me feel so welcome. This has been an amazing experience which has allowed me to briefly sample the culture, both historic and current, of this wonderful Country.

On one of my trips out around the Gangnam district I set out to visit the historic site of Seonjeongneung with Yurie Takano, a Japanese Soprano and fellow competitor.  The site houses the Royal Tombs Seolleung ( The Royal Tomb of King Seongjong – 1495 and Queen Jeonnhyeon 1530 ) and Jeongneung ( The Royal Tomb of King Jungjong – moved to this site in 1562 ).  The site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009, enhancing its status and preserving the location for future generations.

The cost to enter the site is only ₩ 1,000.00 which is very reasonable when you consider a cup of tea or coffee can cost ₩ 4,500.00. Walking around the site I found the place very serene and tranquil which was quite unexpected in such a large bustling city.  To me the Tombs were quite phantasmagorical, an beautiful and picturesque resting place guarded by huge statues resembling humble servants and protectors in the shape of man and beast.

This mystical place made me think of the way the homes of the Hobbits were described in the Lord Of The Rings, a story that my Dad read to me as a child, and in my imagination I was immediately transported to another place in time.

I was fascinated that the grounds in the park leading to the tombs at the top of the hill were split into two different paths. One for visitors and the second a spirit road leading to decorative steps of the spiritual shrine.

The Tomb Guardians were on hand to make sure that visitors respected these special stone paved pathways as they weren’t for the living and that we used the right path to explore this peaceful location.

I hope that you will enjoy sharing a little more of my trip to Seoul over the next couple of weeks.

To close tonight I wanted to let you know that I will be performing in Waterperry Opera Festival’s Fundraising Gala on the 11th April.  The event will aim to raise funds for its charitable activities and to celebrate the launch of their 2019 programme. I believe that it will be a fun evening with some fabulous performances and if you can make it I am sure you will enjoy the evening.

Singing In Seoul

March 27, 2019 — 49 Comments

It has been such an honour to be selected for this year’s Seoul International Music competition and I’m having a magical time here in Seoul, such a beautiful place and the people are so friendly and welcoming.  I have met so many fabulous singers and had the opportunity to spend time with them and build new friendships; Yurie Takano from Japan, Yemonja Stanley from the USA, Maarri Ernits from Estonia, and the super Menna Cazel from the UK. 

This year the standard has been exceptionally high, and I have not envied the job of the judges who have to try and mark our performances and pick the finalists.  I have learned so much from the experience and though I did not progress through to the final round the feedback from the judges has been very constructive and it was a privilege to meet them to seek their advice.

Exploring the city of Seoul has been a real treat as the public transport system is easy to use and very comprehensive once you get to grips with the map 😊 So far I have visited the Olympic village which was about an hour on the train, it was quite inspiring to walk around and try and imagine what it must have been like full of competitors and cheering crowds. 

We have walked all over the Gangnam area which is where we have been staying and sampled the Korean cuisine in several of the local restaurants.

The staff at tourist centre have been so helpful and suggested several places to visit whilst we are here. It was fun to walk along the K-Star road and check out the iconic Gangnam Dolls.

I also visited the Starfield Library in Gangnam which had some amazing larger than life illustrations constructed with books, quite an achievement 😊

The Arts centre where we performed was amazing, it houses the Opera House, Music Hall, the Hangaram Art Museum, the Hangaram Design Museum and the Seoul Calligraphy Museum.  The campus was huge and reminded me of Lincoln Centre in New York and so convenient to have such fabulous performance spaces all in the one place. My brother Matt and his husband Alex flew out yesterday to come and support me and to take a short holiday.  It will be a treat to spend some time here with them and share some quality time exploring the culture and heritage of this amazing City and the surrounding areas

Gopunguisang

March 17, 2019 — 72 Comments

I have some exciting news that I would like to share with you, I will be flying out to Seoul, South Korea this week to take part in the 15th Seoul International Music Competition 2019.  The competition is held annually and alternatively covers three musical disciplines, piano, violin, and voice; meaning that the competition for voice only comes around every third year. There were 235 applicants, from 17 countries considered during the preliminary video submission round and from the applicants 69 singers were selected to progress to the live rounds.  I am so honoured and thrilled to be one of the competitors chosen which also includes singers from Iran, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Germany, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Serbia, USA, and the United Kingdom.  This is a wonderful opportunity for me to visit a new country, experience their culture, meet new friends, and sample South Korean cuisine. I hope to make the most of my time there and if I am chosen to progress through the competition, I will be given the opportunity to sing a Korean Art song.

IMG_1913.jpg

Danbi Heo and MinJee Kim

I have really enjoyed preparing the piece called Gopunguisang and have been helped here in London by two of my Korean friends Danbi Heo, who is a concert pianist, and MinJee Kim who is a soprano.  They have helped me with the pronunciation of the lyrics and also talked about Seoul and invited me to join them for some Korean food so that I would know what to order during my stay.  The food was really enjoyable, a little like the Chinese food I have eaten here in the UK but with far more vegetables😊

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The song I chose to learn was Gopunguisang by Isang Yun:

한국어 노랫말 / Korean Lyrics

하늘로 날을 듯이 길게 뽑은 부연 끝 풍경이 운다
처마 끝 곱게 느리운 주렴에 반월이 숨어
아른아른 봄밤이 두견이 소리처럼 깊어 가는 밤
곱아라 고와라 진정 아름다운지고
호장 저고리 하얀 동정이 화안히 밝도소이다
열두 폭 긴 치마가 사르르르 물결을 친다
그대는 어느 나라의 고전을 말하는 한 마리 호접
호접인 양 사뿌시 춤추라 아미를 숙이고
나는 이 밤에 옛날에 살아
눈 감고 거문곳줄 골라 보리니
가는 버들인 양 가락에 맞춰
흰 손을 흔들어지다

영문의역/ English Translation

The wind-bell chimes from the tip of a skyward eave.
The half moon hides itself behind a bead screen hung elegantly from the eave-tip.
Glimmering Spring evening, evening deepening like the cuckoo’s call
Fine, elegant, true beauty supreme,
The white collar of a colorfully striped jeogori shines bright.
A twelve pok long skirt glides in waves.
You dance lightly as if a butterfly, a butterfly reciting an ancient tale of some country.
You lower your arched eyebrows
I close my eyes to live as we did long ago.
I’ll pluck the geomungo so
You may wave your white hand to tune,
As if a slender willow.

A jeorgori is a traditional Korean dress.  The geomungo is a traditional stringed musical instrument of the zither family with both bridges and frets. I researched the composer whose life story was most interesting and will tell you more about him soon.

On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) collaborative event with Royal College of Music (RCM) entitled ‘In Tune with Feminist Time’ held in The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, at Burlington Gardens. It was a wonderful use of this space as the musicians transformed what is normally an intellectual venue into a room full of colour, texture and emotive sounds. Behind the performers were projected self-portraits from renown RA academicians, one that struck me in particular was the artist Angelica Kauffman.  She was a prominent English Artist of the 18th century, one of only two founding female members of the Royal Academy of Arts and the last woman to be admitted until 1922.

In her self-portrait ‘Hesitating Between The Arts of Music and Painting’ it revealed that she was a talented opera singer, struggling between devoting herself to a career in music or art. I found this fascinating and thought it was a wonderful link to International Women’s Day as women are capable of possessing many talents and with the right opportunities can achieve success and explore their abilities to the fullest.

All the performers in this event were fantastic and revealed new music, tales of history and interesting poetry inspired from the female hand. The composers that were represented were: Barbara Strozzi, Judith Weir, Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger, Maria Rodrigo, and a premiere by living composer Hayat Selim.

Maria Gîlicel (violin), George Todica (piano), Jobine Siekman (cello)

I particularly enjoyed the event as it continued the theme created by the inaugural event last year that I performed in: ‘In Touch with Feminist Futures’ which was created as a platform for myself and my fellow colleagues to present our research and performances from our Women in Music module led by the charismatic and formidable duo Diana Roberts and Natasha Loges.

Maria Gîlicel (violin), George Todica (piano), Jobine Siekman (cello), Hayat Selim (composer/singer), Ana Beard Fernandez (soprano), Diana Roberts, Ana Fernandez Guerra (soprano), Judith Le Breuilly (mezzo soprano), and Lucy Colquhoun ( accompanist )