This morning I had the delightful opportunity to turn pages for my Fiancé George Todica as he played alongside Maria Gîlicel (Violin) and Jobine Siekman (Cello) as they performed together as the Chloé Piano Trio. The concert took place at 11:00am this morning in the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall. The aroma of coffee mixed with freshly baked flaky pastry oozing fruit jams filled the hall… ready to whet the appetite of the Sunday Go-Getters!
The Trio’s concert was sold out and 150 people came to hear Beethoven’s Second Piano Trio as well as two pieces by Lili Boulanger. George played on an outrageously vibrant red grand piano, which filled the room with lively energy. The Yamaha piano is a one of a kind and originally played by Sir Elton John.
Later that same day, we visited Lancaster Hall Hotel and attended the Schubert Society’s monthly concert with our friend Catherine. It was a great excuse to catch up and enjoy listening to a concert, which just happened to also feature a piano trio! It’s been quite a string feast today, but interesting to see how different musicians can create their own unique sound worlds yet start with the same ingredients.
This week I have been preparing for my upcoming recital at Alderley Edge Methodist Church where George and I will be performing on the 19th of February at 1 pm. These lunchtime concerts that the Alderley Edge Methodist Church host help to support a variety of charities. The designated charity for this month’s recitals will be Church Action on Poverty.
Often Opera companies and competitions require a selection of unedited video evidence of your singing. A one-take wonder you might say!
Recording a video of this style can be quite challenging. Firstly, you need to become relaxed whilst in the presence of a camera. For example, you need to consider where to look and where your imaginary audience is. This will encourage you not to stare down the lens of the camera, as this can be off-putting to the viewer.
A performer in the recording studio needs to have a great mindset that can focus on aiming to sing with your best possible technique on that day, whilst still telling the story of the text. We are all human and mistakes will occur, therefore you have to learn to forgive yourself quickly. Concentrate on recording a full take of your aria/song. Then at the end of the recording session, you can be critical so that you choose videos that provided the best results.
However, this recording mindset is similar to a Competition
mindset, where you have to try your best and not give up. If you make a
mistake… you can’t just walk offstage or stop the performance and request to
restart. You have to power on, and draw the audience and the panel into your
performance and hope that they enjoy it.
This week I’d like to share with you a video of my
interpretation of “Piangerò la sorte mia”, from Handel’s Opera “Guilio Cesare”.
This video was recorded live during a competition, that I entered last year and
I do hope that you enjoy it too 😊
On the 6th March I will perform alongside Ben Crick and the Skipton Camerata as we collaborate to present a Concert entitled:
Dance of the Furies
Gluck Dance of the Furies (‘Orpheus and Eurydice’) Gluck Aria: Che faro senza Euridice (‘Orpheus and Eurydice’) Mozart Concert aria: ‘Ah, lo previdi’ Haydn Symphony No 59 in A ‘Fire’ JC Bach Symphony in G minor JC Bach Aria: ‘Ebben si vada’ Boccherini Symphony in D minor ‘La casa del diavolo’
As part of the evening’s program, we will perform Mozart’s concert aria ‘Ah lo previdi’, which I have taken great joy in translating and researching this week.
First things first, I’d like to explain what a Concert aria is. Usually, they have been purposely written to be performed in a concert as a standalone scene rather than as part of an opera.
‘Ah lo previdi’ is a concert aria inspired by the
relationship between Andromeda and Perseus from Greek Mythology.
After completing the translation of the text and delving further into the story behind the aria I found it compelling and wanted to share with you a little of what I have discovered.
Andromeda is a beautiful young woman, daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia who rule over Joppa (Jaffa) in Palestine. However, trouble is brought upon their home when Queen Cassiopeia offended the Nereids (Sea Nymphs and companions to Poseidon) after boasting that Andromeda was more beautiful than them. In retaliation to the Queen’s hubris, Poseidon sent a sea monster, which some writers refer to is as the Kraken or Cetus, to rage havoc and destroy the shores of the city. Terrified at the prospect of the destruction of their great City the King and Queen seek guidance from an Oracle on how to appease the gods, the oracle responds by suggesting that they must sacrifice Andromeda to the Monster to satisfy Poseidon. They agree to this (reluctantly I hope) and chain Andromeda to a rock on the shore outside the City. Poor Andromeda!!
Luckily for our damsel in distress, Perseus is flying past the region after successfully completing a task set for him by King Polydectes, the killing of the Gorgon Medusa. Perseus is overcome by Andromeda’s beauty and he slays the beast intent on killing her by using his sword and Medusa’s severed head. The two of them are instantly bound by love and wish to spend their lives together.
We begin our story in the concert aria after Andromeda has been rescued. However, in this interpretation there is an introduction to the character Euristo, who had been promised Andromeda’s hand in marriage. It has been suggested that Euristo tells Andromeda that he has seen Perseus wandering around dementedly with an unsheathed sword. Suggesting that Perseus has committed suicide as a reaction to this marital obligation that separates him from Andromeda.
The concert aria explores several emotions from rage to
resignation. She is furious that the same sword which he used to save her life
has also taken Perseus’s. Andromeda later pleads with the shadow (spirit) of
Perseus to wait for her in the Underworld before he crosses the River Lethe.
This river is said to cause one to experience complete forgetfulness and
oblivion. Andromeda asks him to wait on the bank so their memories can be
united before their story is forgotten.
From my research, I discovered that rather than this being the end for our lovers it was the start of a long, eventful, and happy marriage… or so mythology tells us.
Having translated the aria and read several accounts of the story behind it I decided to journey out to the Tate Britain museum, with the aim to see if there was any art inspired by this myth to help embellish the picture that I had painted within my own imagination. I was thrilled to see an evocative statue cast in bronze by Henry C Fehr. It brought together the main elements of the rescue of Andromeda and it was interesting to see how another artist had pictured the scene. I hope to invoke this imagery in my development of the piece and bring this aria and it’s story to life on the 6th March and I do hope that if you are in the area that evening you can come along and join us.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 Jacksonhis 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.
I’m back in London now after A truly magical Christmas at home with my family and loved ones. I took some time off from technology and I enjoyed playing board games with my brothers whilst the fire was crackling. I’ve been reading a great book, “Eve of Man”, which my friend Elspeth lent to me. Of course, I ate far too much food and I’m ready to get back into the dance studio to shimmy off a few pounds. But mostly it reminded me of how much I have to be grateful for and how lucky I am.
Firstly I’d like to say thank you for supporting me on my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram this year. My blog allows me to record my crazy life and remind myself weekly of the many joys of being an Opera Singer. Thank you for letting me share them with you. My blog friends, you’ve given me so much support which has allowed me to continue and has given me the energy for the new and exciting year which is just on the horizon.
Please let me know if there’s anything that you’d like me to expand on in the coming New Year. I’m keen to hear your thoughts and always love your questions.
I’m a very tough self-critic and moving from one project to the next I haven’t had the time to fully appreciate and savour all the exciting things that I’ve done this year. So I want to take this time as one year ends and a new one begins to look back and cherish all of my memories, give thanks for my good health which has enabled me to complete all these wonderful shows, and thank all my friends and family who helped me learn the countless words and melodies!
Christmas cheer has certainly been in the air of our rehearsal room this week. With Singing Trees, Elves, and Angels. Northern Opera Group organised our rehearsals to take place at the Yorkshire College of Music and Drama. This venue is a great space for rehearsals as it has been converted into different sized practice rooms. We rehearse in a large studio that hosts a lovely grand piano and plenty of space for staging the drama.
‘Christmas Elf’ involves both spoken dialogue and music and I have had a lot of fun working with my colleagues to tell the story.
To finish off our first week of rehearsals, today we are blocking the finale with the wonderful Community Chorus who completes our company.
During a little bit of downtime yesterday, I visited Harewood house’s Christmas attraction: ‘A Night at the Mansion’. It was extremely magical and full of Festive cheer, tinsel, and finely decorated Christmas trees.
I don’t want to give away too much about the experience, but I will explain that the concept was inspired by the Hit-Movie franchise ‘Night at the Museum’ starring Ben Stiller and Robin Williams. It is after hours, the doors are shut, and no humans in sight, so the statues, paintings, and household objects come alive! (using a little bit of Christmas magic).
There are even little characters similar in size to the ‘Borrowers’ which took me straight to my childhood, searching for them in cupboards. It also made me reminisce about the times I went looking for dragons and fairies in the forests and mountain valleys of North Wales with my Mum, Dad, and brothers.
Here is their trailer to give you a sneak peek!
I thoroughly recommend a visit to the attraction if you are in the Leeds area over the Christmas period. Next Saturday (21st December) If you fancy a real Christmas treat perhaps you can visit Harewood House during the day and then come along to our performance of The Christmas Elf in the evening. What a way to start your Christmas off, I am sure that you will go home with a huge smile on your face full of Christmas cheer and delight!
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.
Today marks the first day of December and soon I will begin rehearsals for the Christmas Elf with Northern Opera Group in Leeds. With this in mind I thought I would share with you how I prepare and learn a new role.
After receiving the music I try to read the libretto (sung text) to get an idea of the overall story. This helps me to understand my character’s arc, their basic relationships with others, how people discuss and describe them and their key moments in the production.
If I am working on a piece that is in a different language to my own. I will take time to translate the libretto. This can be quite a time-consuming task. I aim to source/create a word-for-word translation. I often consult Nico Castel’s libretti Series, which can be found in music libraries such as at the Royal College of Music. This series contains a word-for-word translation, a phonetic translation and a poetic translation.
This series often helps speed up the process but I try to cross-reference with a dictionary to make sure I really understand what is being said and how it progresses the action of the story.
For each role, I often have a different time scale as I have to juggle all the projects that I have on the go along with other personal tasks so I try to work out a schedule for my learning. I try to break up the role, so as opposed to one big task I have several smaller goals. I use post-it notes to show different Acts, Scenes, and dialogue. If I am working on an opera by Mozart or Handel I will use different colours to differentiate between Recitatives, Arias, Duets , small ensembles, and Finales. These sections then make the overall task more approachable and easier to schedule.
I will then highlight my text and the music. Whilst I am doing this I create a list of the pieces that I am in, I acknowledge if there are any moments of tricky coloratura and harmonies as I personally make them a priority when scheduling in time for memorising. I always like to learn the first entry at the start and then move on towards the more difficult areas as I like to have a small victory to keep my motivation simmering.
After some careful planning, I will work out when to
schedule singing lessons and coachings, so that I can work on the role with my
teachers who know my long term goals or coaches who have expertise in a particular
language or period of music.
I will then sit down with my score at the piano and note-bash, and learn the melody methodically. Sometimes I create learning tracks that I can use whilst travelling on the tube, or in between singing practise.
Then with my schedule set, I make sure that I keep to it and with my fingers crossed and hope that nothing unforeseen turns up. Once I have the music underway I then have to start work on learning the words. But I will save how I do that for another time 🙂
This week I have had some time to reflect on my near year and a half since I left six years of conservatoire education. I also set some goals for the future and caught up with some household chores! It reminded me that I was recently asked, by my friend Ruth Hallows, to participate in a graduate interview for her blog. Ruth is a cellist, who also studied at the Royal College of Music. We met at a Freshers event which I recall as being a Wine and Cheese night, we both lived in the student halls and quickly became great friends.
The main focus of the interview was to give insight to newly graduating students on how I have navigated through my first year after achieving my master’s degree. I wanted to be honest, but I didn’t want to discourage people. It has been a challenging year but I try to look for the positives and for solutions to problems. In my profession, one encounters a considerable amount of rejection and like all musicians, I am constantly working on my craft and identifying areas for improvement. It takes a lot of personal strength and the support of family and close friends. A quote that motivates me and which is attributed to Winston Churchill:
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
I think this would be my main advice to anybody transitioning to a new phase in life, or in fact just working hard on your chosen path. As Dory said in the Disney Film Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.” Stay focused on your goal and work hard. Acknowledge your weaknesses and practice with scrutiny to better them.
I have included below what I sent to Ruth in response to her questions. I hope that you find it helpful or interesting to read. If it sparks any questions please don’t hesitate to comment and ask.
My first year after graduating with a Master of Performance (Voice) from the Royal College of Music in July 2018 has been a bit of a whirlwind. I have sung in nine operatic productions, performed recitals alongside my duo partner George Todica and entered competitions within the UK, Ireland and South Korea.
The first week after graduating I was thrilled when I won the ‘Pendine International Voice of the Future’ at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod. This prize gave me some breathing space for a couple of months and the opportunity to travel to competitions. Following this achievement as part of my prize I was asked to sing alongside Rolando Villazon and Rhian Lois in Llangollen International Eisteddfod’s Opera Gala in July 2019.
What did you find particularly challenging?
After finishing studies, I found a few things challenging. Whilst studying I lived in the Halls of Residence and I missed the daily close and regular contact with other musicians that this provided and the availability of soundproofed practice spaces with pianos. Living with non-musicians in a shared home (so that I could afford to stay in London) doesn’t work when you have a 09:00 audition on a Saturday morning and you need to warm-up. My coaching and singing lessons became less frequent than I like and the opportunities to create video recordings when you need them disappear.
Was there anything you found you were particularly strong at?
Picking myself up and remaining positive. I try to blog weekly which helps me to remember that even the smallest achievement or recalling how I have relaxed with friends and family in my downtime is worth celebrating. I have a great support network; who I know I can turn to when I need advice and encouragement, including my very generous blog friends. For this, I will be continually grateful. I just haven’t had enough time to read blogs that I like as the professional work takes up such a lot of time to prepare to be ready for short rehearsals, so I hope that you forgive me if I’ve not been able to visit you all as often as I like.
“There is more honour
in defeat than in unused potential.”
What is your top tip for people in their first year out who may be hitting a wall?
There are lots of occasions where your confidence will be knocked and lots of rejections. You may question your dreams and whether you are talented enough to achieve your hopes. The best advice I received was not to measure my current success on my ambitions but on smaller goals that I could control. Such as learning a particular aria or role. I found this far more motivating and it kept me positive during quieter months. Also, don’t feel like you are failing if you have to take on other work to cover your bills. A forward diary of empty spaces is simply opportunities that have not yet been fulfilled.