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I hope that you have all had a wonderful week and if you have any exciting tales to share you must let me know. My week has been filled with music making and observing my talented peers, which I ended with a Saturday focused on Opera.

Every day when I walk to College I pass the iconic museums that are an important part of South Kensington and on occasion, I love to visit them to break up my busy timetable. I find wandering the great exhibition halls of the Victoria & Albert Museum ( V&A ) fills me with inspiration and provides context about society during the periods of history that have affected many pieces of music that I study. Across the road from the V&A is the grandeur of the Natural History Museum which I often drop in to see the butterflies.

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However, on Saturday I went with my friends to an exhibition at the V&A dedicated to Opera aptly named Opera: Passion, Power , and Politics which is a collaboration between the V&A and the Royal Opera House. This wonderful exhibition aims to map out the journey of opera from its creation in Italy to the worldwide platform that exists today. For my student priced ticket, I received a high-tech audio guided tour, (with pretty awesome headphones by Bower&Wilkins) that glided seamlessly between selected pieces of operatic music beautifully handpicked to frame the amazing layout of the exhibition. It was extra special for me to hear Sir Antonio Pappano, a fantastic world-renowned conductor who holds the position of Music Director of the Royal Opera House, relate his personal interpretation of Shostakovich’s Opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It felt so personal and exciting that I hung on to his every word. It was an amazing exhibition with so many pieces of beautiful art, videos of performances, librettos and manuscripts, and a working baroque stage. If I am able to, I would like to go again to really soak it all in. Each item was accompanied with a informed explanation that would both interest a new comer to Opera or add to the knowledge of an Opera aficionado. The exhibition ends on February 25th 2018 and if you are in London whilst the exhibition is on I can highly recommend.

Then on Saturday evening, I went to the London Coliseum to watch a performance of Verdi’s Aida. A collaboration between Improbable and the ENO. It was an exciting event for me to attend as my delightful director from Bambino, Phelim McDermott, directed this spellbinding interpretation. The singing was outstanding from the principal cast and the chorus performed with a beautiful blend and incredible dynamic range that kept the intensity of the piece alive. I particularly enjoyed the visually stunning, smokey and dimly lit Sacred Rite scene from Act 1 scene 2, which created a world that was far more intimate. I really believed in the magic of the High Priestess.

In act three the relationship between Aida, Latonia Moore and her father Amonasro King of Ethiopia, Musa Nggungwana, was so raw and honest that it left me guessing as to what would happen in this iconic operatic tale even though I know the story so well. For the production to command your attention in this way was an incredible thing to achieve on stage, as the story develops it draws you in and feels so real that you are there with them for each and every moment.

I want to work on this element in my own singing with the intention to communicate my feelings to the audience as if I myself don’t know how the aria ends, so that I too am in the moment and finding fresh ideas to make each performance unique in its own way.

A truly beautiful interpretation of Aida that is a must see.

Yesterday, Saturday 7th October, I went to the Indonesia Kontemporer 2017 Festival in London. This is an annual festival that celebrates Indonesian arts and cultural traditions by combining performances, stalls showcasing Art and fashion, cooking demonstrations, exhibitions, food stalls and film screenings. The festival took place at Russell Square, part of the SOAS University of London. The weather luckily stayed dry for an Autumn day, which meant that everyone could enjoy the joyful atmosphere of gathering friends and families experiencing and celebrating the wonderful Indonesian culture.

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I went to the event with my wonderful friends [left to right] Stephanie Onggowinoto, Teofilia Onggowinoto, Prajna Indrawati, Prajna Dewi and Amelia Widjaja. I know Stephanie, Prajna, and Amelia from the Royal College of Music and they are all fantastic and gifted pianists. I had the pleasure of meeting their siblings Teofilia and Dewi over the past few weeks and it has been lovely getting to know them. Prajna, Dewi, Stephanie, and Teofilia are from Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia and Amelia is from Padang a city in West Sumatra.

Whilst at the festival I tried some amazing cuisine, Chicken Satay, Bakwan, Indomie, Nasi Uduk, and Bakso. I particularly enjoyed ‘Sate Padang’ which is a specialty from Amelia’s home city. The desserts were fabulous and one of my favourites was Spekkoek, Thousand Layer Cake, which I have been told is extremely difficult and time consuming to make.  Pandan Chiffon cake was also delicious. This cake receives this name because the sponge is so light and similar to the material chiffon. I sadly do not have any pictures of the food as we were sharing and it was too tasty to let go cold 🙂

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At the festival, I watched a musical performance from an ensemble playing the Angklung. This instrument from Indonesia is made from Bamboo and has a particular technique to make the instrument sound. Each instrument is pitched to a particular note. The ensemble performed without music and were lead by their conductor who showed the pulse with one hand like a conductor, but with his other hand presented Solfege hand signs and chord numbers to indicate which pitches should be playing. It was very interesting to watch. Here is a short video 🙂

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In the afternoon I attended a story-telling exhibition lead by Felicia Siregar. She told stories from her two Bilingual, Indonesian and English, books for children called Pirok Goes to the City and Komodo wants to play Music. These stories introduce images from Indonesia:  landscapes, metropolitan life, animals and musical instruments. The second story was accompanied by Gamelan music. It was wonderful to see the children excited and enthralled by the stories and the music, I too also really enjoyed the show.

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My friends also took me around the fashion exhibition and explained to me about their national dress, which is very colourful and ornate. Whilst admiring the fabrics I treated myself to a scarf that was hand woven on Komodo island in Indonesia. It is very colourful and has most of the colours of the rainbow woven into it so I am very happy, especially as the colder months are drawing closer.

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Having the opportunity to experience the culture, cuisine, and arts from Indonesia showed me yet again that though the world is a large and wondrous place that in the end what we all have in common far outweigh our differences.  We should celebrate the things we have in common and be open and understanding of our differences.

60 Minute Countdown

October 1, 2017 — 54 Comments

In my last week of September, I experienced some performances of beautiful music.

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On Monday I went to the Royal Opera House to watch a performance of La Boheme by Puccini. It was very special to me as I have never seen the production live before and the music is just stunning. I was lucky enough, in August, to purchase a student ticket for the performance. These special student tickets were greatly subsidised and ranged from £1-25. The seats were generously donated by the Bunting Family and Sir Simon Robey and I’m so grateful to them to be able to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity as watching these fabulous operas is so important to our development as students. The production was vivacious and the singers had great chemistry on stage and sublime voices. The set design by Stewart Lang was divine and I remember sitting with my mouth open during the transition of scenery from act 1 (the annex) to act 2 (boutique streets of Paris), which was visible to the audience.

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Then on Friday evening after a busy week of making music at the RCM, I went to see Sarah Connelly perform at the Wigmore Hall. The concert was very moving and her beautiful velvety tone was consistent from the first song to the last. It was wonderful as a student of Opera to watch and admire her stamina and artistry guiding the music of the evening. Connelly also wore a fantastic sparkly dress which I particularly enjoyed. After all sparkles on Friday is definitely a must especially now the nights are drawing in.

Then today to bring in the new month, I celebrated my parent’s wedding anniversary with them over FaceTime and then I went to an Escape Room with my brother Matt and our friends Alex and Sarah. We arrived at clueQuest just before 13:00 and there we were ‘locked’ (safely) in a room, that expands as you successfully find more clues. Whilst in the Room you have to solve all the puzzles in a 60-minute countdown. I was able to live out my Nancy Drew fantasy of solving a detective crime story. It was a wonderful experience and very mentally stimulating, perhaps not the most restful Sunday activity. All in all, it was terrifically entertaining and I would definitely go again.

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Autumn Term

September 24, 2017 — 44 Comments

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This week has been Induction week at the Royal College of Music, also known as ‘Freshers Week’ by many students. This involves meeting the heads of departments, the helpful and delightful Vocal Faculty, matriculating, group lectures and introductions to the different and many wonderful things the Royal College of Music (RCM) has to offer.

The other side of Induction week involves many social activities organised by the Students’ Union to help introduce and encourage new friendships between students. This year they held events such as a Jazz night; Pub quizzes; a Boat Party and Post-Graduate Speed-dating, (which despite the title is more like speed-friendshiping), you go around and have a short burst of time to meet new people and is a fantastic way to mingle.

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It is a great week to introduce you to the RCM and to experience living in London. One of my favourite activities of the week was watching some of my colleagues perform in a public masterclass with Malcolm Martineau, a wonderful piano accompanist who has worked all over the world with many distinguished Singers, in the Britten Theatre at the RCM. The session started at 14:00 and lasted until 16:30, there were four singers who took part, each prepared two songs. It’s really wonderful to be able to participate and watch these masterclasses as you can learn so much from observing your peers and how the Guest Artist shapes the musical pieces. You can come away with new tasks to try and implement into your own practise and insight into pronunciation and the craftsmanship of storytelling.

They are also very interesting to anyone who has a love for music and would like some more insight into the technical demands of singing, as it is like watching a lesson and can give you an idea into what we have to work on in order to stand up there and give a live performance. If this interests you the next masterclass at the RCM in London will be with Sir Thomas Allen on the 11th October 2017.

Here is a video of a masterclass he has done before at the RCM in 2014.

It will be lovely to watch him work live again as I saw him a couple of years ago in Glasgow and I’m really looking forward to that.

It has also been so wonderful to catch up with all my friends and hear about their summers and share stories of our experiences.

Next week our lessons commence, along with autumn, and I can’t wait to hit the floor running and make the most of my second year of Masters of performance training here.  The nights are drawing in and daylight hours shorten and you can definitely feel the nip in the air so cardigans out from under the bed!

An Exciting Year Ahead

September 3, 2017 — 89 Comments

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September is upon us and I’m about to return to London to start the second and final year of my Masters of Performance degree at the Royal College of Music. I’m excited to announce that in recognition of my efforts during my first year I have been awarded a scholarship from the RCM towards my studies. This wonderful news has really boosted my enthusiasm and I can’t wait for the new term to start.   I have a busy year ahead as I have to explore what options are available to me when I complete my post-graduate degree.  With new repertoire to master and several engagements already booked for the months ahead, I will need to stay completely focused and immerse myself into my studies.

Update:  My scholarship award is gratefully received from The Worshipful Company of Cutlers and the award is called the Charles Jacob Scholarship.  This is a huge help towards my tutition fees for this year.  I hope to meet the society members at some point to thank them in person.

It is an exciting period for me and I can’t wait to get started.  In October, I return for the final leg of the BambinO tour, teaming up again with Tim, Stuart, Laura, and the team from Scottish Opera for our performances in Glasgow.

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Then on December 2nd I will be performing the Soprano solos in the Blackburn Music Society’s production of Handel’s Messiah at Blackburn Cathedral, Cathedral Close, Blackburn, BB1 5AA.  We will be conducted on the day by Tom Newall and it will be great to catch up with him again.  The performance starts at 7:00 pm and tickets for the event can be obtained through the BMS website.

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The following Saturday, December 9th, 2017 I have been asked to perform with the Thames Philharmonic Choir for their Winter Concert conducted by John Bate.  I will be singing the Soprano solos in Purcell’s ‘O Sing Unto the Lord’, Pergolesi’s ‘Magnificat’ and Handel’s ‘Laudate Pueri’.  The choir will also be performing Richard Rodney Bennett’s Five Carols to complete the program.  The concert will be held at All Saints Church, 14-16 Market Pl, Kingston upon Thames KT1 1JP and it starts at 7:30 pm.

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As the Christmas term draws to a close I will be performing with the Salford Choral Society accompanied by the Northern Baroque Sinfonia. For this concert, I will again be singing the Soprano solos in Handel’s ‘Messiah’ conducted by Tom Newall.  The performance will be at the Royal Northern College of Music, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9RD at 7:30 PM on Saturday, December 16th, 2017. Tickets for the event can be obtained through the RNCM website.

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I have always loved to sing and perform and over the years that I have been studying, both in Glasgow and now here in London, I can honestly say that this love affair with singing has developed into a true passion.  The intensity of emotion that I experience each time I perform brings a joy to me that is hard to explain, I just know that I never want it to end. So, whatever the future has in store for me I hope that singing will be a huge part of it.

 

The Edinburgh Festival

August 6, 2017 — 78 Comments

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Each year in August Edinburgh hosts what has become one of the largest Arts Festivals in the world, bringing together a diverse range of performers, from a huge array of artistic disciplines, converging in this historic and picturesque city.

The festivals first began in 1947, the brain child of an Austrian impresario, Rudolf Bing. From its early years, the Edinburgh International Festival brought artistic icons to the city each summer for the enjoyment of enthusiastic audiences, keen to be a part of this post war cultural revival.

As the popularity of the festival grew companies of performers unable to get on the main programme hired venues themselves and put on their shows outside of the area of the main festival.  Each year the number of these acts grew bringing both variety and vitality to the city.  The Scottish journalist, Robert Kemp referred to them as being “Round the fringe of the official festival” and the term seemed to stick.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has grown dramatically alongside the main Edinburgh International Festival and is now seen as an integral part of the festival experience.  In 2016 the Edinburgh Fringe Festival hosted 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows in 294 separate venues around the city. In all 2,475,143 tickets were issued during the three weeks not counting those who attended the 643 free shows included in last year’s programme.

During the Festival, the main show grounds of Edinburgh Castle host what has become a firm favourite for many who visit the city, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  This large-scale production brings together the different regiments of the UK armed forces who provide the audiences fortunate enough to get tickets with a unique festival experience.

It was great to catch up with the cast and crew of ‘BambinO’ as we ran through the production in Glasgow ahead of our run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It is quite exciting to think that we are to be a part of the 2017 festival which is expected to be even bigger than last year.  Our first performance is on the 8th August running through to 20th August, with two shows a day at 10:00 am and 11:30 am.  The performances will be held at the Edinburgh Academy, 42 Henderson Row, Edinburgh, EH3 5BL.

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This has been a very eventful week, rehearsals have been blossoming with energy and imagination as we experiment with how to block ‘Bambino’. Our wonderful director Phelim McDermott uses a fantastic method which allows us to combine the qualities of improvisation and movement, to act instinctively and tell the story. It has been wonderful to work in this way as it is full of freedom.

I had my second costume fitting, which is beautiful and I am very excited and I can’t wait to see it when it is finished!  I’m not sure how much I can reveal just yet, but there are feathers! I can’t wait to get to wear it next week. We also had the pleasure to invite some babies along to our rehearsal on Thursday, for this, we focused on the music and performed it in a concert format. In rehearsals leading up to an opera there is a session where the cast and the orchestra finally come together to play through the score, this is known as a ‘Sitzprobe’ It was great fun to think that Bambino’s ‘Sitzprobe’ included babies who would be able to openly react to our music making and decide whether it was enjoyable.  Luckily, we had no crying! but we did have the occasional singing along which was adorable.  Next week we have our dress rehearsal and preview performances. I can’t wait. It’s getting very exciting.

 

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The Cast Of ‘BambinO’ : Stuart Semple, Timothy Connor, Laura Sergeant and Me

 

 

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Picture From The Rehearsals ( MIF Twitter )

 

As the week progressed it did get me thinking though on how important these education programmes are to the future of Opera.  Finding interesting and innovative ways to connect with a new audience is so important for any Opera House and there are many now which are fully involved taking opera out into their local community.  Scottish Opera, for example, take opera out and about using a converted articulated trailer.  This version of a pop-up opera allows small taster shows to be hosted in a much wider area and introduce the artistry and storytelling of opera to those that want to give it a try.

Through the Connect Company, with whom I performed in “The Walk From The Garden”, Scottish Opera provide a programme of classes for teenagers throughout the year culminating in a fully staged production.  The connect company allows both instrumentalists and singers the chance to work with some amazing coaches and learn about what makes opera such a vibrant and absorbing art form.  This also introduces the families of the students to the intricacies of a live performance and encourages them to maybe go along and watch one of Scottish Opera’s main stage productions.

There is also a programme ‘Opera for Schools’ which provides primary school teachers with educational activities along with a full day of immersive participation which ends with a performance for friends and family.  I would have loved to have been a part of one of these days when I was at primary school.

These are just some of the ways that Scottish Opera are trying to broaden the appeal of opera within the wider Scottish Community and I am excited to be a small part of it.  It is the responsibility of all of us who wish work in this wonderful industry to help where we can to explain why we love it so much and with our passion and enthusiasm encourage as many people as possible to give it try.