Our short stay in Shetland came to an end last Sunday, 23rd September and I wrote this whilst sat in Sumburgh Airport, with a hot cup of tea beside me and lots of sweet memories and photos to pass the time.
This beautiful island is home to many wonderful views and walks. The unspoiled countryside, dotted with herds of sheep and cows, the occasional Shetland pony, (who actually seem to come in pairs – ready for Noah’s ark perhaps) makes for a beautiful drive to the airport from Lerwick. I must admit one of the strangest differences in the landscape is that there were almost no trees, apart from ones grown lovingly on private property.
Fields were divided by walls of layered slate and grey rocks, it reminded me of one of my favourite films, Stardust where a dry-stone wall divided the real realm from the magical.
The air on the island is magnificently fresh, yet at times it can be quite ferocious if you get caught in between two winds on the beach that links to St. Ninian’s aisle. It was worth it though, as the team and I galloped across the sandy beach – with no plastic or human waste in sight! The crystal blue water kissed both sides of the shell-sand tombolo beach, creating a heavenly pathway to the quiet island.
Lerwick was a delightful town, decorated with bunting which reminded me of my childhood when Knutsford was decorated for the May Day parade. The cobbled streets were decorated with the quaint window displays of hairdressers, soap shops, restaurants, and an amazing Shetland Fudge Shop. One of their specialties is a candy called Puffin Poo, a tasty recipe of white Belgian chocolate with toasted rice and mallow, hand rolled in coconut. A local favourite.
As well as exploring the town, I performed in BambinO with Scottish Opera at the Mareel Theatre, who magnificently recreated the poster out of origami clouds that hung from the ceiling and a hand-drawn blackboard sign, which welcomed families in the foyer. The stage sat in a cosy wooden paneled venue and our four shows were welcomed by a friendly and very enthusiastic audience. I enjoy performing this show so much, because each performance is so different which in turns keeps the story-telling alive, and visiting places like this reminds me how important music and the arts are to local communities.
Last week, I invited my blog friends to ask me a question about my involvement in the world of opera that I could expand into an article for my weekly blog. I have set myself the challenge to try and answer these questions in the comments or allow them to inspire me to create a full article. So here it goes!
John W. Howell asked me: “How do I keep my voice in shape for a demanding performance schedule?”
My initial answer to John’s question was: “Years and years of the best vocal training by classically trained teachers, vocal warm-ups and cooldowns, lots of water to drink, honey and lemon and specialist teas. I don’t often drink alcohol, I’ve never smoked and I rest my voice when I need to.”
I would love to take the time today to expand on my answer and provide a more detailed response, so here goes!
As an opera singer, I can’t sing all day long. I seem to have been saying this on repeat recently to potential landlords and letting agents when they ask me about my job. I promise I am not noisy 24/7 and that I am conscious of my neighbours! I have to plan my practice and use of my voice in the rehearsal room, the amount that I can sing in a day does fluctuate but most days I actively sing for 2- 3 hours.
In order to sing operatic music, like an athlete, I need to warm up the muscles that become engaged when I am singing. I usually begin most days with a 20-30 minute warm up. This includes some gentle humming exercises, scales, and arpeggios progressing to coloratura exercises to maintain flexibility in my vocal range. This allows my voice to work at its best. However, sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow for a generous warm-up time, because of available space at the rehearsal venue or the time of the rehearsal/lesson. So, if I know in advance that I will have limited time to warm up my voice before I leave home I will try to do a simple yoga routine or gentle stretches so that my body is better prepared. I personally love using “Yoga with Adrienne” on youtube. She has had a channel for many years now and has built up a great selection of videos for beginners and regulars. In the rehearsal room, there may be occasions when you have to mark your vocal line, this can mean singing quieter, down the octave [the melody but an octave lower – closer to speaking pitch] or even speaking. The important thing is that you don’t lower your energy level or enunciation of the text as this can cause issues for your colleagues.
So what is my experience of a demanding performance schedule?
This summer I experienced a busy period working with professional companies. I performed in three Operas spreading over July, August, and September. Each brought with it its own individual challenges.
Candide involved a regular rehearsal period over four weeks. The positive outcome for this style of schedule allowed me to create the role of Cunegonde in great detail. I had time to learn and grow with the character, experiment with different reactions to the same series of unfortunate events, and her relationships towards the other characters in the Opera. [slipping in the title of one my favourite childhood book series there written by Lemony Snicket ]. However, my commute to the rehearsal venue was long and often I would return home very late in the evening. In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and my vocal stamina, I would try to unwind on my commute home, listening to music or downloading a TV program on my phone for the journey, this enabled me to relax so that when I got home I could still manage to get straight off to sleep. I would always try to bring a packed lunch and a prepared dinner if I was away from home all day. I would try to eat this at a similar time each day so that my body kept up a digestive routine. I found that this resulted in me feeling less fatigue and my voice was still supple for evening rehearsals, I didn’t feel restless because I knew that I would have access to a balanced diet. I could use my rest time on my dinner break to actually relax, rather than use the limited time desperately trying to find a place to eat, which was close to the rehearsal venue, that wasn’t too expensive, and which offered healthy food.
After the performances of Candide were over I went straight onto working on Mansfield Park production. Thankfully before we traveled to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, I had a week of rest, [with no rehearsals scheduled by Surrey Opera]. Knowing that once we finished the performances I would have only one week before the rehearsals begin for Mansfield Park. I decided to get a head start on learning quite a difficult score by using my week off before the Candide performances to start my preparations for Mansfield Park. I recorded the libretto with two friends, both fantastic Mezzo Sopranos, Brigette and Hannah on an app. The app was recommended to me by my wonderful friend Frances Thorburn, who I worked with on The Little White Town Of Never Weary and who now plays Kim Monroe on River City, a very popular Scottish Soap Opera.
Frances has to learn a huge amount of lines each day for filming, she encouraged me to try this method because you can practise the whole script by yourself. It provides you with options to listen to scenes on repeat, isolate your lines or provide timed gaps so that you can speak your lines in. This style of memorising is very useful to me as an artist as I can learn the text, without having to sing too much. This allows me to use my singing time on specific musical goals and technically tricky areas. What I didn’t expect to learn from this, was that because I broke up the learning and began it earlier, most of what I learned had settled and made the week revising it musically before rehearsals so much more relaxed. It was still stressful, and I needed to work hard to learn the whole score off copy, but I felt positive and that I could achieve it because of the groundwork I put in. This kind of positive mental attitude and a relaxed mindset allows me to stay in top physical condition. If I become too stressed I know that my body is more susceptible to picking up a virus or other illness. I now always try to plan in break times and aim to finish my work for the day no later than 9:00pm, unless a rehearsal schedule goes over this.
Once the performances for Mansfield Park came to a close, I was then able to move onto preparation for BambinO. The benefit of having this opera at the end of a busy run was that I knew the music and the staging inside out, although the new team had changes that I had to adjust to quickly. I had a recording from a previous performance that I would use to run through the staging and I practised my part musically at the piano. During the week I managed to squeeze in a coaching session with Christopher Middleton where we worked on my current aria package, he is so insightful and I appreciate all his help and advice. This meant that I had a little extra breathing space to begin planning my next projects as I also needed to move out of my room at Student Halls and find somewhere new to live in London. I was so grateful that I knew this opera because I found moving lodgings quite stressful. I like to plan ahead of time, but the rental market in London moves very fast and I didn’t sign a contract for a new place until the morning before my flight to Aberdeen! Knowing that I knew the music allowed me to feel calm and in control. I hope that in the future I will be able to bear this in mind when planning work and projects.
I have had a great summer and feel energised for the upcoming months. I have learned how to multi-task projects better and I am thankful that I have been able to maintain my vocal health and stamina. What I didn’t expect to learn from this, was that because I kept up my vocal practise, i.e. singing for 6 days a week that my recovery time after taking a long weekend off was much quicker which allowed me to perform challenging coloratura arias with the fast runs sounding smoother, in fewer practise days, allowing me to work on my personal targets sooner. Whilst touring Scotland I took the advantage of meeting up with Judith Howarth, my singing teacher from my time at the RCS. She helped me with my bel canto phrasing and floating and after my time with her, I left feeling re-energised and motivated for the months ahead.
One of the great things I enjoy about my work is visiting new places, traveling to locations that I may not otherwise have had the opportunity to visit. Last Thursday, 6th September, I traveled North from London to Aberdeen to join the new cast of BambinO, Hazel McBain ( Uccellina ), Samuel Pantcheff ( Pulcino ), Andrew Drummond Huggan ( Cello ) Michael D Clark ( Percussion ).
It was exciting to watch them perform together on Friday before putting my Uccellina costume back on again to take over from Hazel, who leaves to take up her place on a Young Artist Programme in Salzburg.
You can get the details of the rest of the tour here:
Earlier this week I received an email from the Editor of WordPress Discover to let me know that I had been selected to be showcased as an Editor’s Pick on their Discover page and Home Page. It was quite exciting to be chosen and to share my blog with visitors to the WordPress site. They have also asked me to take part in a question and answer session which will hopefully be featured on their site, I will let you know if it gets published.
But it got me thinking, that after five years blogging about my studies that it would be interesting for me to ask you if you have any questions that I could answer for you on my profession or expand on in a future blog post? For example, maybe you would like me to interview a Stage Manager to find out more about the role they play in an opera production. Or interview an instrumentalist to see if there are any parallels between their study path and that of an opera singer. Perhaps you may want to know more about costume design for the stage, or where the costumes are stored after each performance.
Whatever the question I will try my best to answer it and hopefully add some new topics that be suitable for blog posts to share with you all over the coming year.
As the summer draws to a close and the autumn approaches I wanted to put together a short reprise of what I have been up to since graduating from the Royal College of Music Masters course at the beginning of July.
The Minack Theatre reviewer Jenni Barlow wrote that ‘her ears were ringing and singing with sheer ecstasy and my head is still spinning with delight after watching one of the Minack’s most exhilarating musical productions….the voices of its nine principle singers are sublime…, with Charlotte Hoather giving a remarkable performance on the opening night, effortlessly hitting the top, very high notes, as well as achieving perfect comic timing, in partnership with the impeccable Stephen Anthony Brown.’ I was thrilled when this was sent to me.
After traveling back to London for rehearsals, it was on to Waterperry House in Oxfordshire to perform the role of Maria Bertram in Waterperry Opera Festival’s production of Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park. The production received a five-star review in Bachtrack this week by Charlotte Valori, “Waterperry Opera Festival has broken new ground in its first season, opening with an ambitiously broad programme which presented four different works in four different spaces […] The jewel of these four was the chance to see Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park in the period-perfect setting of Waterperry House […] Charlotte Hoather’s precocious, determined Maria Bertram displayed a deep and sensitive understanding of her complex character […] Mansfield Park sparkled with wit and ingenuity from start to finish.”
Now having had such a wonderful summer full of learning, I have to start preparations for next year, starting the audition process all over again. I have a couple of smaller projects underway at present and can’t wait to share them with you as Autumn progresses. But until then I have my return to the role of Uccellina in BambinO for Scottish Opera in their tour this September.
One of the locations that we will be visiting is Lerwick in the Shetland Isles and I was excited to see my blog friend Cindy Knoke’s blog post today on the Town, the most Northerly town in the UK, with some amazing pictures.
We have had a productive week of rehearsals here in London for Waterperry Opera Festival’s production of Mansfield Park. Next week we travel over to Oxford to start the staging at the venue. I can’t wait to see where we will be performing and soak up the atmosphere of the house to see if we can bring a little something extra to our characterisations.
I will try and get some pictures over the course of the week and share them with you once the performances are over or put them on Instagram.
Scottish Opera are putting on a Scottish tour of BambinO this autumn and I have been asked back to perform alongside Samuel Pantcheff who will be taking on the role of Pulcino, with Andrew Drummond Huggan on Cello and Michael D Clark on Percussion, they are currently performing at the Edinburgh Fringe if you are in Edinburgh next week with your baby check it out with Hazel McBain as Uccelina.
This past week I was introduced to and worked alongside some wonderfully gifted people who made my week at the Metropolitan Opera House extra special, I will always remember their generosity, encouragement, and enthusiasm. Their individual commitment was truly inspiring and I will treasure these memories in the years to come.
David Sneddon, Me, and Marsha Drummond
David Sneddon, Margo Maier-Moul, and Me
The Education team: Marsha, Dan, and Angela were super hosts to the BambinO team and I enjoyed chatting with them and sharing some amazing times. They made us all feel like part of their family, providing us with tickets to the opera, pre-show parties, introduced us to some great Mexican food, and gave recommendations for things to enjoy in the city. One of their key duties as a department is creating the Education Guides for Schools that accompany each of the seasons’ performances put on at the Met. I was thrilled to find out that these guides are available for free online. If you want to learn a little more about a particular opera or use them in the classroom check them out here:
There is also an option to check the archives and see opera education packs from previous seasons. They are well worth a read!
During the week we reached our 100th Performance of BambinO and it was great to have everyone there to celebrate it. It was quite a milestone made extra special by the performance being at the Met !!
After Our 100th Performance !!
During my time in New York, I explored the city mostly by foot with the occasional trip on the subway. I was invited to go and observe a panel discussion on music and early childhood development, between the creators of Bambino and faculty members from the Rita Gold Early Childhood Centre, Columbia University Teachers College. It was both interesting and exciting that professors were exploring the effect of the work that we were doing. The panel discussion was held in the super swish Norwood Club, a private members club for Artists and Creatives in the heart of New York City. We were lucky enough to meet the owner Alan Linn who warmly welcomed us and encouraged us to enjoy the artwork and the themes to each floor of the building. As we climbed the flights of the stairs on our way to venue space on the top floor, it felt like I was walking through the looking glass in Alice and Wonderland.
The Norwood Club – New York
One of the greatest perks of working for the Metropolitan Opera House were the invitations to attend the opera performances as their guest. This made for a wonderful week as I was able to watch three Operas: Roméo & Juliette, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Cendrillon all with supreme casts, telling stories with scintillating singing, in wonderful costumes, portrayed on amazing sets.
Roméo & Juliette
Lucia di Lammermoor
My favourite was Cendrillon. I loved the outlandish costumes! In particular the red costumes for the female chorus in the ball. This was because each character was given a different style of dress, that was crazily elaborate. One had a bustle like a rooster, another had enormous horns like a maniacal princess and many, many more. James, the head of costume at the Met, told me that the performers were given the stage direction to focus on the fact that they thought they were beautiful – fit for a prince – and that these dresses were the best they had available. Rather than play up to the hilarity of their character’s image. This worked really well from an audience’s point of view. Other elements were punctuated with farce and comedy and the outstanding singing contributed to a wonderful evening. The set design for Cendrillon was particularly thrilling, and it’s magical appearance brought this iconic fairy-tale to life. Although the performances throughout were stunning I thought that Joyce DiDonato’s interpretation of Cinderella was simply fabulous, her singing was sublime and her stage presence was charming and witty and she had me enticed throughout.
Back Row : Lliam Paterson, Laura Sergeant, and Stuart Semple Front Row: Me, Joyce DiDonato, and Timothy Connor
So, can you imagine my reaction when I discovered that Joyce DiDonato had come to watch a performance of BambinO with her family on Friday afternoon, to see her in the audience was quite surreal.
I’ve tried to stay awake as much as possible today in London after a night flight to try to readjust to British Time and I’d just like to thank my very best friends for coming to my help and entertaining me all day.
After weeks of anticipation, Saturday finally arrived and team BambinO set off to New York for a week of performances at the Metropolitan Opera House. If you would have told me twelve months ago that working with this amazing team of creatives would lead me here I would never have believed it.
I was up bright and early, packed, and excited for the day ahead, eight hours after leaving Edinburgh we landed in Newark, collected our luggage, and met the drivers who were to take us to our hotel. The drive in from Newark Airport was a great way to see some of the City and I couldn’t wait to check in and explore the area around the hotel.
The Metropolitan Opera House
With a five-hour time difference, I was keen to stay awake as long as possible and not let the jet lag take hold. After a quick freshen up I arranged to meet up with Lliam Paterson, and together we set off walking to explore the area around where we were staying. It wasn’t long before we found the Lincoln Centre Plaza and I found it hard to contain my excitement as we approached the Metropolitan Opera House. It was only just sinking in that we would be here on Monday for the first of our performances.
Lliam Paterson, the Composer of BambinO and Me
This morning after a great nights sleep I met up with David Sneddon and Laura Sergeant and we set off to enjoy our free day in the City. Amongst some of the things we managed to do today were walking across Brooklyn Bridge, catching The Staten Island Ferry, and we walked through Times Square. I wanted to finish off tonight’s post by sharing some of the pictures we took.
I Can’t Believe That I Am Here On Brooklyn Bridge, New York.
Laura Sergeant, David Sneddon, and Me On The Brooklyn Bridge
Laura Sergeant and Me On The Brooklyn Bridge With The New York Skyline Behind Us
Statue Of Liberty
New York County Court House
New York City Fire Station
Madison Square Park Looking Down 5th Avenue Towards The Empire State Building
Check out the trailer for BambinO on the Metropolitan Opera’s YouTube Channel:
During my free time whilst working in Paris I have enjoyed reading your comments so thank you for taking the time writing them, I have also enjoyed eating delicious food, practicing my French, visiting galleries and walking my socks off. I thought this week I’d share some of my highlights and places to visit in case you may be planning a trip to Paris, or just wondering what it’s like.
The team and I stayed super central, near Les Halles, in the Citadine Hotel. Our rooms came with a little kitchenette which proved very budget friendly during a long stay. We were very close to bustling cafes and bars that populate Paris. I slept extremely well but that may be because I was running after crawling babies all day.
Louis, Me, and Matthew at Café Vigouroux
We quickly made Café Vigouroux on 10 rue des Halles our local. The staff there were friendly but strict with our French lessons that were to come. I will remember fondly, trying to ask Louis (one of the owners alongside Matthew) for the internet ´passwort’ in a wonderful mash-up of German and French. I quickly realised saying a word in a French accent with some conjugated verbs was not going to cut it. Louis then taught me to say ‘Qu’est-ce que les mots de pass pour le wifi?’ Which on my travels was very useful. Another great phrase for those trying to save some pennies ‘Je voudrai une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît.’ Which enables you to ask for tap water – l’eau du robinet. This was particularly handy during the beautiful sunny weather we experienced during our stay. If you are in this area of Paris I would definitely recommend you to stop by Café Vigourou.
The food in Paris was très délicieux! I visited a few restaurants for my evening meal. Amongst my favourites were:
Café Plume on 164 Rue Saint-Honoré, this restaurant and thriving evening bar served the most exquisite dauphinoise potatoes, that when Stuart (our percussionist) and I tasted them, we decided we simply had to bring the rest of company there to visit. This recommendation was very well received and confirmed with six empty plates.
Au Terminus du Châtelet on 5 Rue des Lavandières Saint-Opportune, is a beautiful traditional French restaurant, which I believe is in its 4th generation of family management. The Bambino team shared our first meal here and the food was outstanding. The menu is changed daily, responding to the chef’s inspirations based on the produce for the current season. A real delight for the palate!
Le 6 Paul Bert on 6, rue Paul Bert 😉(catchy and helpful name), a un tres goûteux menu (had a very tasty menu). The restaurant grows their own vegetables and take great pride in the produce used in their dishes. With great lighting and attentive service, this is certainly worth the walk.
In between eating and more eating, I was able to burn off some calories by exploring Paris on foot (hence the trainers). During my adventures, I visited many of Paris’ beautiful museums and art galleries. I didn’t realise, before Laura (our cellist) advised me, that I could visit most of these museums for free because I am under 26. (Make the most of this deal if you can, all you need is proof of age!) So as a true bargain hunter I tried to visit as many as I could. My all-time favourite was Musée d’Orsay, it was here that I was able to see Renoir, Monet, Rousseau (who I remember studying in High School ´Tiger in a tropical storm’ springs to mind) and more, my favourite piece of art in the gallery was Galatée by Morceau. I am now in search of a print of this image. The internet pictures do not give justice to the brilliance and sparkle that he has been able to achieve in the original to capture the mythical and magical subject it’s inspired by.
Exhibition at CentQuatre
Exhibition at CentQuatre
My favourite places to read, relax and study my music in the sun were the ‘Jardin du Luxembourg’, I will remember fondly the beautiful arrangements of tulips, the outstanding palace which now holds the Sénat, the beautiful water fountains, and the Grand Bassin, an octagonal pond where children can play with toy sailboats that can be rented. I lost many hours here and will miss this spot greatly. My other little spot was the little garden that surrounded Saint-Jacques tower. A peaceful place to people watch and listen to some great French jazz.
To get an amazing panorama view of Paris for free, visit the rooftop of the Galleries Lafayette! I was recommended the Pompidou Centre too, however, I thought the windows of the viewing deck needed a good scrub clean, but if you walk down to level 4 or 5 the view is very lovely there too.
If you love flowers don’t miss Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II. One of the marketers told me flowers have been sold there since 1808 and are the oldest market of any kind in Paris. I sadly missed this, but my friend told me that on Sundays it turns into an eccentric bird market, where one can purchase a fine creature of flight! Next time I visit I’ll try to go on a Sunday!
On that note, I will bring my recommendations to a close, if you are interested in anymore please do get in touch! These are just the tip of the iceberg, but my main piece of advice is talk to the locals take their recommendations and walk, walk, walk and soak up the amazing atmosphere that is Paris!
Next stop New York, I can’t believe I’m actually saying that 🙂
Me, David, and Alison on an open top bus tour of Paris
Laura Sergeant, Tim Connor, Ruth MacKenzie ( Théâtre du Châtelet ), Me, and Stuart Semple
The venue for our final week’s performances of BambinO is the CentQuatre, it is a huge exhibition and performance space owned and financed by the City of Paris. We are using one of the many smaller performances areas within this amazing building, which in total covers over 25,000 square metres and can accommodate over 5000 visitors per day.
Outside one of the great halls at the CentQuatre
I discovered that the building has over 200 artists in residence and provides a varied and intriguing mix of both live performances and static Art exhibitions. It is hard to visualise that this building originally housed the city undertakers for Paris, for over 120 years it employed over 1000 people who arranged over 150 funeral processions each day. In 1993 the municipal monopoly on the provision of funerals came to end and the building finally closed in 1998. Luckily the building was registered as a historical monument and with the backing of the people of Paris, the Mayor went about finding out the best way to both safeguard and reuse the space. In 2008 I think that they achieved both when it reopened in its current configuration, and I hope that it continues to provide Parisians with a place to socialise, a grand exhibition space, and somewhere to enjoy a wide variety of live performances.
Our run here at CentQuatre finishes on the Friday 20th April, which will also mark the end of our short tour here in Paris for the Théâtre du Châtelet. It has been a wonderful time with some amazing venues and I will be sad to say goodbye when we have to leave next Saturday, so instead, I’ll just say au revoir.
After One Of Our Performances Last Week at Bibliothèque Jacqueline de Romilly
I arrived in Paris with the rest of Team BambinO and we were immediately welcomed by everyone at the Théâtre du Châtelet. The French audiences have been amazing and with the first few shows successfully completed I can’t wait to continue the run. It is crazy to look out across the city skyline from each of the venues and see so many iconic landmarks.
I have managed to practice speaking French and more importantly understanding replies and been happy to walk around Paris in the Spring sunshine. Here are a few photographs that I have taken for my scrapbook that I wanted to share with you all.
Tim Connor, Alison Reid, David Sneddon, Stuart Semple, Lissa Lorenzo, Me, and Laura Sergeant on the balcony of our changing room at the British Consul, Paris.
The set laid out ready for our performance at the Conservatoire Municipal, Les Halles, Paris
The three pictures above are from the Flower Market on the Île de la Cité, Paris.
Stravinsky Fountain, 2 Rue Brisemiche, near the Pompidou Centre, Paris.
This stunning iron-work sculpture is on the wall of the building next to the Le théâtre de la Tour Eiffel, Paris.
The view of the Eifel Tower across from the British Consul, Paris
Basilique Sainte-Clotilde, 23B Rue las Cases, Paris
At the bottom of the Rue des Dechargeurs as the Paris marathon passes on the Rue de Rivoli
The Metro at Place Colette, close to the Musée du Louvre, Paris
In the Jardin Nelson Mandela near to the Chatelet Les Halles, Paris
Inside the In the Chatelet Les Halles, Paris
Inside Galeries Lafayette,Paris.
The view from the roof of the Galeries Lafayette Paris