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A Stitch in Time!

January 19, 2020 — 56 Comments

This month I have to be the project leader for my own career. It requires a slightly different approach and tempo than when I am working on a role for an opera company as I have to fix my own schedule, set my own goals, and establish deadlines for these tasks. I personally find that I work well under strict deadlines, this is what has enabled me to push myself to complete the memorisation tasks of new musical scores that seem daunting at first. I now need to explore different methods so that I can make the best use of my time whilst preparing for multiple projects with different timelines, which often overlap. To focus on how best to direct my energy to ensure that I can take each piece through the various stages necessary to take a piece from good to great.

I am preparing for auditions, a competition, a recital, and learning new arias and songs to add to my repertoire for the future. I hope to gain some more performance opportunities in the coming months and I want to be planning ahead now on how I will manage the additional workload so that I can deliver my best performance possible for each event

To help in my self-preparation I plan in regular coaching sessions with both my singing teacher Rosa Mannion and my excellent repertoire coach Andrew Robinson. They help me to focus on my deadlines by breaking down each larger task into smaller achievable goals which I can work on in between my sessions.  Always working towards the larger goals over several months.

This month I also had a super opportunity to have a coaching with the delightful British Mezzo Soprano Kitty Whately.

Mezzo Soprano, Kitty Whately

I heard Kitty perform at Wigmore Hall last year and enjoyed many of her recordings, especially her album “Nights not spent alone” where she performs songs by Jonathan Dove, alongside my good friend and coach Simon Lepper. I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing Kitty sing at a celebration held for Jonathan Dove in December 2019. Later I was thrilled that she agreed to work on the interpretation of English Song with me and help me add a little fairy dust to my pieces, as a bonus she advised me on how I could prepare future pieces.

In my first month of my voyage of 2020, I would love to hear from you, my friends and fellow bloggers. I have visited your sights and seen so much talent for the arts, literature, film, food, travel, spirituality and your life passions, (to name but a few). How do you find ways to manage different projects, prioritise goals and bring your own ideas and projects to fruition?  I believe in learning through others and I want this year to be the best one yet!

To inspire you to share, I want to share a beautiful story about my dear friend Hilary Birkin.

I’ve known Hilary since I was 11 when she created my costume for the role of the young Cosette in Les Miserables. It would be my first role at Knutsford High School, where I would later attend for my secondary education. She has worked tirelessly on so many school productions before, during and after my time at Knutsford High School, making sure we all felt beautiful and confident to strut our stuff in our solo song, a dance number or as part of the ensemble chorus. Everyone was made to feel important and I learned so much through her attention to detail and professional approach.

After graduating from Knutsford High School, Hilary and I have kept in touch and she has been supporting me by following and contributing to my blog.

My Drawings For The Twelve Days Of Christmas

Six years ago, in December 2013 I decided to run a 12 Days of Christmas competition on my blog where I drew the Dozen Gifts the songs describe for one of my blog friends to win. Janice Spina was a worthy winner and to my amazement, she had the drawings framed after I posted the originals to her.  I was so pleased that she got as much enjoyment from receiving them as I did when I drew them.

The Images Framed By Janice Spina

However, unbeknownst to me, Hilary had been following the competition and saw these drawings and was struck by an idea. She quickly got in touch with my father (luckily) before the pictures were sent to Janice in America and asked for a scan of the images. With the secret vision of making a Quilt.

Hilary imagined that this quilt would be created out the 12 images replicated using embroidery and cross-stitching. Her Husband, helped her to expand the scanned images from miniature to the desired size and then the work began. She started by copying the designs onto embroidery linen, which had been a gift from an elder relative, adding a little extra sparkle to this handmade gift. Then, using a lightbox she would copy the illustrations and then begin stitching, all whilst paying attention to the detail of color and pencil markings.

Hilary would work on one square at a time. The twelve squares have been popped into her bag, accompanied her on many travels, visited many relatives, and been a creative constant over the past several years.

The final designs she brought together with the help of her daughter and with tips from her quilting group, with whom she meets on retreats occasionally throughout the year. When she invited me to spend some with her during my last visit home you can imagine how thrilled I was that she presented me with this fabulous piece of art.  Such a personal gift from a wonderful friend.

Me and Hilary With Her Fabulous Quilt ( click to enlarge )

I am utterly in awe of her creation. The patience, care, love, and attention to the smallest detail that she has shown throughout the creation of this beautiful piece of embroidery. I feel very lucky to have her as a friend and I am so grateful to have this memory from the start of my blog, which has so deeply influenced my life and work. This beautiful gift will take pride of place in our new home and I will treasure it always.

Thank you, Hilary.

I hope that you all had an enjoyable New Year and feel recharged as we start both a new year and a new decade.  This week I managed to find a lovely balance between work and relaxation to start my new year. I wanted to break back into my practice regime but also prolong a little bit of the holiday cheer whilst my family and I had had some free time.

Me with Esme

On Monday, I managed to catch up with my dear friend Esme, who I met during my Masters at the RCM. After graduation, Esme moved back to the USA so it was a joy to see her in London instead of through the phone or on WhatsApp. However, I am very grateful for this technology as it does help to bring us closer together when we are apart!

Esme and Me in the Albert Hall Foyer after our graduation in 2018

George and I welcomed in the New Year at my brother’s NYE party. It was so much fun and it was great to see some fireworks from the balcony!

Me with my Brother Matt

This week I went to a board game cafe with my brother and brother-in-law. It’s called Draughts and is basically a cross between a library (of board games/bar/cafe). You rent your table for 4 hours and play until your heart’s content. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon with friends and I had a blast. We played Reef, Junk Art, and Bunny Kingdom. Even the titles bring a smile to my face.

And to start the new year with a healthy nudge, I went to a brilliant Pilates class with Alex and then enjoyed a lovely cup of tea post sweat-a-thon. 

Me with Alex, my Brother in Law

I’m currently working on preparing for auditions and competitions so my workload can at times appear a little fragmented but full of variety! I recently got some great advice from my friend and fellow artist Eric Christopher Jackson his photography captures the raw emotions of weather and the smaller details of life. He said that he wasn’t sure what the future holds but it will be great as long as he works hard and doesn’t give up. I like the power in this statement and self-belief. It’s thoughts like this that make you keep pushing forward and I can’t think of a better motivator at the start of a new year. Believe in yourself and give yourself the opportunity to be who you want to be.

With this in mind, I would love to hear what your New Years’ resolutions are. I try to make periodic goals throughout the year. But my main one for my blog this year is to experiment with Video. I’m a little nervous about this content as I’m not sure what to talk about and how regular I should try to be. I would love to hear your thoughts and also your reviews when I try it out during this year!

I am also excited for the year 2020 as I am thrilled to announce that George and I are getting married in June. I have taken my time before sharing this exciting news with you all, as we wanted to save up some money for the big day and also so we could make a home of our own together for the first time. Luckily everything has gone smoothly so far and we can’t wait to share our lives together.

George and I are so happy to announce our wedding this June

I am on my way to Leeds today to start rehearsals for The Christmas Elf.  It should be about a four-hour drive but often it can take an extra hour getting through London to the M1 Motorway. So I thought I would pre-empt the traffic and write my blog post this morning ready to launch when I arrive this evening.

This week I had the good fortune to be invited to two fantastic events. On Wednesday I went with friends to the Barbican to watch The Taming of the Shrew. . It was a Royal Shakespeare Company production which presented the audience with a really thought-provoking interpretation of this problematic Comedy. Director Justin Audibert switched the roles so that the play is gender-flipped by regendering all the pronouns. For example, the story’s protagonist Petruchio, (who is a fortune seeker who intends to marry the troublesome eldest daughter Katherine), becomes Petruchia. Claire Price presents a powerful interpretation of this role, hiding her venomous qualities behind charm and swagger.

Whilst the play unfolds, I suddenly realised how few lines the “female” roles of Bianco (Bianca) and Katherine have, despite me thinking that the play was about containing their wild spirits. It is only now that I realise that the center of the play focuses not on the prey but on the hunter. It became quickly uncomfortable, because even though the roles are now reversed to give the comedy a hint of female empowerment the general advocacy of dominance through psychological and physical manipulation is still present. Perhaps this is the message that the director was trying to put forward.

However there were many laughs had by all. A highlight for me was from Sophie Stanton’s giggle-inducing interpretation of a lovestruck Gremia who glides like a nymph in a Christmas ballet across the stage to swoon and salivate over a hair-flicking Bianco whose temperament was similar to a high school prom queen. It is interesting how through comedy we can shine a light on bitter truths and issues and how through laughter we can safely start an honest conversation.

On Friday I celebrated my friend’s birthday by attending a concert with him at the Wigmore Hall. There were three outstanding musicians Andrei Ioniţă cello; Stephen Hough piano and Michael Collins clarinet. The concert was part of the ‘Brahms series’ held at the Wigmore Hall to celebrate this composers prodigious amount of compositions specifically crafted for chamber music, song, and piano. I particularly enjoyed the 5 Stücke im Volkston Op. 102 by Schumann played masterfully by Ioniţă and Hough. It was also interesting to be exposed to a new composer, Carl Frühling and his exciting Clarinet Trio Op. 40. The music was very rich in melody, which was shared across the instruments. The harmony was very lush and late romantic in style but at times very non-intuitive which made it exciting for the listener. I have recently noticed a pattern of this whilst studying the Christmas Elf, which so happens to be composed by Pfitzner, who is a contemporary of Frühling. I found it really rewarding to hear this trio as it gave me inspiration and a better understanding of the German late Romantics, which I can use as I begin rehearsals tomorrow.

The Magic Flute

May 5, 2019 — 53 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.

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 )

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This weekend the weather has been unseasonably warm with clear blue skies over London and I decided to take a break from my practice schedule to spend some time with my parents who were down in London for the weekend.

When working alone you have to find ways to focus and keep motivated and one of my coaches suggested reading some poetry for inspiration, it was suggested that I take a look at Thomas Hardy as one such writer.  I read through some of his pieces and this one, in particular, struck a chord with me.

Regret Not Me

By Thomas Hardy

Regret not me;
Beneath the sunny tree
I lie uncaring, slumbering peacefully.

Swift as the light
I flew my faery flight;
Ecstatically I moved and feared no night.

I did not know
That heydays fade and go,
But deemed that what was would be always so.

I skipped at morn
Between the yellowing corn,
Thinking it good and glorious to be born.

I ran at eves
Among the piled-up sheaves,
Dreaming, ‘I grieve not, therefore nothing’s grieves.’

Now soon will come
The apple, pear, and plum,
And hinds will sing, and autumn insects hum.

Again you will fare
To cider-makings rare,
And junketings; but I shall not be there.

Yet gaily sing
Until the pewter ring
Those songs we sang when we went gipsying.

And lightly dance
Some triple-timed romance
In coupled figures, and forget mischance;

And mourn not me
Beneath the yellowing tree;
For I shall mind not, slumbering peacefully.

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So today, along with my parents, we set off to find The Hardy Tree, this is living, evolving memorial, created by Thomas Hardy following the building of St Pancras station in the 1860s. Hardy at the time was employed by the firm of architects charged with exhuming the bodies on the site and moving them to another place of rest so that the station could be completed.

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Having finished this task Hardy had hundreds of headstones that were now disconnected from their owners and he decided to create a memorial to commemorate them. He arranged the headstones in a circular pattern around the base of an ash tree in the grounds surrounding St Pancras Old Church which was to be left undisturbed by the construction work. The memorial stands to this day and has become an ever-changing memorial as the living tree and its roots have grown and become entwined with the headstones. It was quite moving to see this memorial amongst the hustle and bustle of this busy area of London.

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Whilst visiting the site we were quite taken by the church and Dad decided to go inside and ask about its history. Apparently, it is believed to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in London dating back to around 313 to 314 AD.  The location on a small hill is thought to have once been used by the Romans during their occupation as an encampment following which the location became a place of worship.  It is amazing to think that over the centuries this site will have been the center of hope for so many people who came here to give praise and find peace. I do enjoy finding these little gems scattered so randomly amongst the modern architecture that has become synonymous with a busy metropolis such as London.

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St Pancras Old Church, London, 1721.

I was also amazed to see the redevelopment in the area where they have made flats out of old gas storage towers, we had a gas storage tower in Winsford in Cheshire, the town I grew up in but it was dismantled and a college now stands in the space. I’d have never have thought an ugly structure could be turned into reinvigorated living space. With shops built on the old cold dumps and the canals cleaned up with walkways that we enjoyed exploring the area seems to be getting its heart and soul back.

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On the train back to our London home via Paddington this evening after performing my first concert of 2019 with George Todica. What a thrilling way to start our musical performances for the year.

We performed as part of the Stonevale Recital series, near Swindon an intimate venue where we were warmly welcomed by the concert organiser Lynette and later by the generous and kind-hearted audience of the local village. The audience was made up of all ages and it was lovely to see everyone engage with our performance as we traveled throughout Europe with our musical program.

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At the venue, we had the luxury of picking between two pianos for the concert, and George was in a little torment as both pianos were exquisite to the touch and being mindful of the repertoire we were performing he decided to play the Steinway because of its crisp colours and position within the room. Although the Yamaha was a very strong contender with its vibrancy of sound.

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It was lovely to travel outside of London bringing our practice to performance level and having fun in the joy of creating live music. We performed a few new pieces and took lots of risks and shaped the stories told by our music based on the reactions of our audience. I also sang a great number of arias which put my stamina to the test! We were really happy and can’t wait to perform more concerts and recitals in this new year!

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Earlier in the week, we took inspiration from Diana Damrau and Helmut Deutsch’s Lieder concert at the Barbican this week. The duo looked like they had so much fun on stage seamlessly crafting the music and the poetry. We both thoroughly enjoyed their interpretation along with the rest of the audience who encouraged Damrau and Deutsch’s to perform three encores! Which in turn left George and me with two sets of very red yet enthusiastic hands!

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We both wanted to take this joy and energy and try to share it with those who came this afternoon and we hope that in some small way we were able to achieve this.

On My Way Out

After the first week of 2019, I feel energised, happy, and hungry to step closer towards my personal goals. After throwing myself at all my targets head on, I did feel a little tired today. But after eating a tasty homemade chicken, sausage, and vegetable casserole, to fight against any last germs and lingering colds that seem to be in the air. I still say, “Bring it On!”

This week I have updated my calendar and diary with work deadlines, events and fun outings with friends. I have treated myself to a weekly planner, that allows me to plot year goals and monthly goals that I can track the progress weekly and create focused to-do lists. So far it’s helped me to be prepared for my immediate goals whilst maintaining my focus on tasks for future projects. I really like it, it feels like an adult star chart that helps to keep me motivated and positive. How do you assess and manage your goals and productivity? Do you have any tips or suggestions that have helped you to achieve a personal goal?

Today I arranged to meet up with my friend Beth Taylor who I studied with at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  Beth is a fabulous mezzo-soprano and as we live at opposite ends of the country this was a great opportunity for us to catch up and just chill out together.

Beth and Charlotte

One challenge I’m tackling head on this year is learning how to run. Of course, I know how to run, but previously I found no enjoyment in it. I would occasionally sprint for a bus but would be greeted with breathlessness and possibly catching it in time. Luckily for me, I love dancing and trying out new hobbies but I have been very resistant to running even though it can be a cheap hobby to participate in. I read an article about Lisette Oropesa, a soprano working in the industry who explained that she began running to help her lose weight so that she could be more appealing for casting. But as I read the article, I realised the overall benefits of being able to run were important to an opera singer. Often opera stages are very large and directors may want you to run on from the wings before a big aria. I would hate to work so hard and get an opportunity to perform in a big opera house and then begin an aria out of breath because of poor running technique. So I download the NHS/BBC app ‘Couch to 5K’. It’s is aimed at beginners and builds up to being able to run a 5K slowly.  I chose the comedian Sarah Millican to narrate my run routines and so far I have enjoyed listening to her encouraging voice. The routine starts you off with baby steps,  including both running and walking to help build up towards the 5K goal.  I do still run like Phoebe Buffay with the occasional disco arm moves if inspired by my playlist. I’ll keep you posted with my progress. I don’t think I’ll ever be like Mo Farah but I’m glad I didn’t put it off.

Ready To Run

I can now run for 8 minutes and I am getting my pose ready for the Olympics ( Ha Ha )

One other task that I have set myself this year is to attempt to re-write my biography to include some of my achievements from 2018.  I find this difficult as it is a real skill to write a comprehensive yet concise biog, which can then be condensed even further for auditions and production companies who request biogs of 200, 150, or 100 words maximum. If any of you can offer any guidance or make suggestions on how best to achieve this I would be really grateful.  Here is an example of a short one I wrote recently what do you think? How could I improve it to be interesting in a program?

Soprano Charlotte Hoather completed her Master’s in Performance (Voice) at the Royal College of Music in June 2018, under the tutelage of Rosa Mannion and Simon Lepper, previously gaining a First-Class Honours Degree in Music from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland studying under Judith Howarth.

Following five-star reviews in 2017 for her performance of ‘Uccelina’ in Scottish Opera’s production of BambinO in Manchester, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, Charlotte continued in the role for a tour of Paris for the Théâtre du Châtelet before the production moved to the Metropolitan Opera House, New York for a series of sell-out shows in 2018. In July 2018 Charlotte won first prize in the Pendine International Voice of the Future at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod.

Charlotte’s professional performances include the role of ‘Zerlina’ in Don Giovanni with Opera Britain, the role of ‘Maria Bertram’ in Waterperry Opera Festival’s production of Mansfield Park, and the role of ‘Cunegonde’ in Surrey Opera’s production of Candide. In 2019 Charlotte will be performing the role of ‘Pandora’ in Radius Opera’s production of Tim Benjamin’s new opera The Fire of Olympus which will be touring the North Of England in Autumn 2019.

Happy New Year

December 31, 2018 — 44 Comments

Happy New Year 2019. Winter Celebration

Wishing you all Health, Friendship, and Happiness in 2019.

I hope that it is a great year for you.

Take a Chance

December 9, 2018 — 65 Comments

This week I flew to New York City to participate in the live auditions for a Young Artist Program. I was elated to receive the invitation, during the application season I have to send out applications to Opera companies all over Europe and North America. This is a lengthy process requiring references, audition repertoire to […]

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