This week is going to be full of mixed emotions. On Wednesday afternoon I will be singing two songs at the memorial service for Gary Waller, a friend and supporter who many of you that regularly read my posts know, I met a couple of years ago through my blog. It will be an emotional event for me and I have chosen to sing two songs that I know were dear to his heart, Gersang (An Sylvia) by Franz Schubert, and Frühlingsmorgen by Gustav Mahler. I wanted my contribution to be a celebration of his life, to remember him as I knew him, as a happy man, an encouraging and supportive friend who had a passion for music. I will be accompanied on piano for the service by the very talented Waka Hasegawa who very kindly agreed to play for me.
In the same evening I have been asked to represent the Gustav Mahler Society here in London at the Combined Music Societies Dinner which is to be held at the Lancaster Hall Hotel, 35 Craven Terrace, London W2 3EL. This is great honour for me, and a privilege to sing alongside accomplished performers for such an appreciative audience. My programme for the evening comprises of four songs by Gustav Mahler, Frühlingsmorgen; Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder; Ich atmet‘ einen Linden Duft; and Liebst du um Schönheit. For the performance, Dr. Leslie Howard has agreed to accompany me on piano and it’s a fantastic opportunity and privilege for me to work with him. The evening will also include works by Schubert, Wagner, Liszt, and Alkan, I’ll tell you all about it next week.
On Friday 19th January 2018 at 17:30 pm I will be performing in my first opera scene of 2018 here at the RCM in the Britten Theatre, performing the role of Blanche de la Force from Poulenc’s Opera ‘Dialogue Des Carmélites’ if you didn’t see my post from last week. Tickets for the events are free and can be booked in advance on the RCM website.
2018 will be a formative year for me after I graduate from the RCM this summer I will be making a huge leap of faith from student to freelance artist, a bit like a Barnacle gosling ( please watch the whole video if you haven’t seen it before ).
That means taking on the daunting task of trying to seek out performance opportunities, finding work with Opera companies, setting schedules, and working privately with coaches. If any conductors, concert organisers, opera producers, or agents are reading this and need an enthusiastic, hardworking and talented soprano or have any ideas, projects or schemes for me to look at please get in touch!! ( email me at firstname.lastname@example.org )
Me with Prajna Idrawati
I will also be looking to expand on my work as part of Lieder duos and if you hear of any venues that put-on concerts for a Lieder duo then please let me know or pass on my contact e-mail details. I currently perform with either of my good friend’s Prajna Idrawati or George Todica who are both looking to establish a career for themselves here in the UK, Europe and eventually Worldwide.
2017 has been an eventful year for me, with so many new things for me to experience and learn, thank you to my wonderful teachers this year for sharing your knowledge and friendship. I started the year performing “La Dolce Speranza”with the RCM classical orchestra, conducted by Ben Palmer. The summer brought with it the opportunity to be involved with the premiere of BambinO at the Manchester International Festival, followed by a tour around the North West of England and then on to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, finishing in the Autumn with performances in Glasgow. This was such an exhilarating show to be involved with and I loved every minute of it. My year ended with two performances of Handel’s Messiah, one with Chamber Orchestra and the other with a Baroque Orchestra. In between the performances, I sang my first cantata, Handel Psalm 112 ‘Laudate Pueri Dominum’ with the Thames Philharmonic and Choir.
Christmas Festivities start tomorrow and I’m going to enjoy a well-earned holiday. To close off the year, I wanted to share with you one of the arias that I have been working on over the last few months which I hope you enjoy. It is Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen, Ännchen’s aria from Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber. I have also included the original lyrics and a translation by Robert Glaubitz. Thank you to George Todica for his wonderful accompaniment on this recording.
Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen,
Blond von Locken oder braun,
Hell von Aug’ und rot von Wangen,
Ei, nach dem kann man wohl schauen
Zwar schlägt man das Aug’ aufs Mieder
Nach verschämter Mädchen Art;
Doch verstohlen hebt man’s wieder,
Wenn’s das Bürschchen nicht gewahrt.
Sollten ja sich Blicke finden,
Nun, was hat das auch für Not?
Man wird drum nicht gleich erblinden,
Wird man auch ein wenig rot.
Blickchen hin und Blick herüber,
Bis der Mund sich auch was traut!
Er seufzt: Schönste!
Sie spricht: Lieber!
Bald heißt’s Bräutigam und Braut.
Immer näher, liebe Leuchten!
Wollt ihr mich im Kranze sehn?
Gelt, das ist ein nettes Bräutchen,
And the youth isn’t any less beautiful?
When a slim youth walks by,
Blond of hair or brown,
Bright of eye and red of cheeks,
Indeed, you can definitely look at him.
Of course, you lay your eyes on your bosom
After the manner of a modest maiden;
But by stealth you raise them again
If the boy doesn’t notice.
If you should catch his glance,
Then, what’s that matter?
You will not be blinded,
You become just a little red.
A little glance here and a glance over there,
Until the mouth is also as bold!
He sighs : beautiful one!
She says : beloved!
Soon, they will be Bride and Bridegroom.
Always nearer, beloved glow!
Do you want to see me in a (bridal) wreath?
Don’t you think, she is a nice bride,
And the youth isn’t any less beautiful?
Wherever you are I hope that you have a wonderful time over the Christmas Holidays and that as 2017 draws to a close that you have a fabulous New Year in 2018.
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.
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.
[ This is a new promotional video from Scottish Opera for BambinO ]
With August, almost upon us and preparations for the ‘BambinO’ performances at the Edinburgh Festival about to start, I am busy working on my rehearsal schedules for the coming months. One of the most important things that I have found whilst studying music is the need for good forward planning. If you don’t sit down and spend quality time working out rehearsal schedules you can find yourself feeling overwhelmed quite quickly. I try not to put things off, it is better to know what needs to be accomplished and set time aside to achieve the goals that you have set to complete.
I try and work through my diary and schedule my time as accurately as possible. I set myself tasks for each day and then again for each week. This allows me to be realistic about what I can achieve in the time available to me. Knowing what concert and College commitments I have over the horizon is so important as these need to be introduced into my schedule with enough lead time to complete them.
Back in December 2016 I received an e-mail quite out of the blue from Gary Waller, the chairman of the Gustav Mahler Society. Having read my blog and listened to my recording of Strauss’s ‘Zueignung’ he invited me to perform at a recital as part of their 2017 programme of events. I was quite taken aback at the time and was thrilled to have been asked, the fact that the enquiry had come after reading my blog was just ‘the cherry on the top’.
Following the initial enquiry, we exchanged several e-mails, met on a number of occasions, and a date and location for the concert were agreed. Over the months Gary has been wonderful, supporting my recitals, enthusiastic with his encouragement, and understanding of my work and college commitments. I am hoping to perform a mixed programme with a little something for everyone. With pieces by Mahler, Strauss, Schubert, Wolf, Liszt, Grieg, Quilter, and Dvorak. The date is Tuesday 10 October 2017 at St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate Church Hall, Bishopsgate, EC2M 3TL Tickets are available from The Gustav Mahler Society.
To prepare a rehearsal schedule for an event such as this, there are several areas that I need to factor in and work on. For each new song, I have to translate the lyrics, both literally and poetically, trying to visualise in my mind what I think the composer or poet wanted to achieve with the song. I then learn the music and how this interacts with the accompaniment. I then bring the lyrics and the music together working on the alignment and clarity of vowels and then concentrate on how to articulate each consonant so that the text can be understood, whilst making sure the legato line is not disturbed. Finally, it all comes together so that I have my interpretation of the song which I hope reflects a little of my own personality too.
To close tonight I just want to thank everyone who downloaded a copy of ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’ and I hope that you enjoyed it and that it made you smile.
Update: Monday 31st July 2017, I’ve just received the very sad and quite shocking news that my friend Gary Waller died suddenly and unexpectedly last weekend. We had only spoken recently when Gary asked me to learn Schubert’s ‘An Sylvia’ for the concert as it was one of his favourites and I’ve been singing it today. I will remember him every time I sing it. Even though I’d only met Gary this past year in London, I feel we knew each other really well as he read my blog religiously and always sent me a supportive message to encourage me. Our concert has been postponed whilst the Mahler Society come to terms with his immense loss. We shall miss him, I send my sincere condolences to his family and friends.
My third and final album from my time studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is now available to download at Amazon and iTunes, or to listen to on all the streaming sites. It’s my attempt to fund my living costs for my second year of Masters of Music Performance in London (my 6th year of study). You may remember George Todica and I dressing as Alice and the Mad Hatter from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to get into character for the cover of our English Speaking and Song concept album. Pascal Barnier used those photographs to imaginatively create the artwork that now hangs on my Mum’s office wall and is used on my ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ album cover.
All of the songs are classical English Art Songs and the spoken sections are prose and a monologue from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. It’s quite bonkers and a bit ‘off the wall’ but I didn’t want to lose it, so we recorded it live last year. ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll is the epitome of nonsense literature and fills our heads with imagination.
The album is my reimagining of adventurous Alice exploring ‘down the rabbit hole’. Using the vast depth of English song repertoire full of wonderfully illustrative poetry and Lewis Carroll’s prose to rework the tale of one glorious golden afternoon’s adventure, where everything is imagined as the only weapon in the war against reality –with a philosophy of life to finish my program when a girl goes through that awkward stage of transition, imagined by her sister at the end of the book, and how she hoped Alice would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood. If you want to know more about what happened in Wonderland you will need to read the wonderful book. I tried to tailor the songs to express my ideas and emotions about the start and end of Alice’s Adventure and in the words of the King of Heart’s ‘Begin at the beginning…and go on till you come to the end: then stop’.
1. Sweet Chance That Led My Steps Abroad
‘Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and having nothing to do: when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her’. I selected Michael Head’s ‘Sweet Chance That Led My Steps Abroad’, using the poetry ‘A Great Time’ by W.H. Davies to create the scene.
Punting In Cambridge
2. A Piper
‘Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge’. I imagined the White Rabbit was rather like the Pied Piper leading Alice astray so follows ‘A Piper’ also by Michael Head from O’Sullivan poetry. It’s one of my favourite English songs.
3. Do Not Go My Love
“Why, how impolite of him. I asked him a civil question, and he pretended not to hear me. That’s not at all nice. I say, Mr. White Rabbit, where are you going? Hmmm. He won’t answer me and I do so want to know what he is late for, I wonder if I might follow him. Why not? There’s no rule that I mayn’t go where I please. I– I will follow him. Wait for me, Mr White Rabbit. I’m coming, too.”
‘Do Not Go My Love’ without asking my leave by Hageman with text by Tagore. This is an English song I’ve sung for a couple of years and was included to represent the dreamlike fall into the unknown.
‘I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time? I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth… I wonder if I will fall right through the earth! How funny that would be. Oh, I think I see the bottom. Yes, I’m sure I see the bottom. I shall hit the bottom, hit it very hard and oh how it will hurt!’
5. Let the Florid Music Praise
“At this moment, Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out “The Queen! The Queen!”, and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked round, eager to see the Queen…… “And who are these?” said the Queen, pointing to the three gardeners who were lying round the rose-tree; … How should I know? Said Alice, surprised at her own courage. It’s no business of mine.” The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, screamed “Off with her head! Off___”
Only one song could fit this moment of chaos at the end of the day ‘Let the Florid Music Praise’ by Benjamin Britten with the words of WH Auden. I chose this dark humourous song because it’s so full of energy and excitement I think it fits that moment of panic, with a bold opening flutes and trumpets, imperial standards flying, hot sun raising temperatures. The unloved Queen of Hearts with too much power.
The three final songs were chosen from works by Roger Quilter (1877-1953).
6. Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
“Wake up, Alice Dear! said her sister…why, what a long and lovely sleep you’ve had’. ‘Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal’ now the white. The beautiful sonnet poetry of this song is by Lord Tennyson. Tennyson discloses in this poem the stillness of the twilight, beautiful rest and stillness of sleep. That time in sleep opens your heart and mind to new adventures with an emphasis on what you can see.
7. Dream Valley
“Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!”said Alice. And she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange adventures’. Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been. Memory, hither come, begins Dream Valley’ with words by Blake . Lewis Carroll’s adventures included: happy and sad tales with lots of morals.
8. Love’s Philosophy
Lastly, her sister sat still just as she left her… till she too began dreaming after a fashion:
‘As Alice remembered her dream, her sister, …. pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman… ‘. ‘Loves Philosophy’ with poetry by Shelley that describes how different parts of nature interact and depend upon one another and is a classic story of unrequited love using natural imagery.
I was very fortunate to have George Todica as my accompanist, he has now completed his Master’s degree in Piano at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and is undertaking several large competitions this year to launch his career; he also has an engagement next year ( 2018 ) at The Wigmore Hall, London.
Timothy Connor, Laura Sergeant, Me, Martin Wooley, David Sneddon, Stuart Semple
It is hard to believe that our time here in Manchester has come to an end. We have performed in Manchester, Wigan, Hyde, Heywood, Oldham, finishing today in Salford. The staff and Volunteers from the Manchester International Festival have been fantastic and made us feel so welcome at each venue.
Me with Gwyneth, One Of The MIF Volunteers
Today we all said goodbye as we went our separate ways for a couple of weeks before we get back together again in Glasgow to prepare for the Edinburgh Festival. We start our first performances there on the 8th August and run through to 20th August 2017.
Sam Phillips, Laura Sergeant, Timothy Connor, Me, Stuart Semple, Sophie Skellern, David Sneddon
This is one of the duets from the opera that I sing with Timothy Connor
Here are some links to press reviews of the production:
‘The payoff for an initiative like this is incalculable…rarely has innocent pleasure felt more vital.’ Please read this review as it is an insightful article which delves into the accessibility of opera and pretty much sums up how I feel about it.
One of the best things about getting involved with Scottish Opera on projects like ‘BambinO’ is that you get to work with a great team of amazing people. Everyone has an important part to play taking the project from concept to final production, the Director, the Composer, the production team, the creative departments like costume and set building to the Designers themselves. So much goes on behind the scenes to give us, the performers everything we need to bring the production to life.
To give you a flavour of the diverse range of skills used in an opera production one of the designers, Emma Belli kindly agreed to take part in an interview with me so that I could share a little insight into her world. Emma works closely with her husband Giuseppe and they have been involved in many fabulous projects together. Those of you who follow my blog may have seen some of their work before as they designed the sets and costumes for ‘La Rondine’and ‘Sir John In Love’ whilst I was at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Designer Emma Belli
Emma – What are the best things about your current job?
When I was about to start University, I saw a show at West Yorkshire Playhouse called ‘Shock Headed Peter’. It was one of the most enjoyable and stunningly visual things I’d ever seen at the theatre…. full of invention, music and dark comedy. It was Phelim’s show. So eventually getting to devise a project with him is a gorgeous thing. I feel so lucky that I get to work with lovely talented people and that I get to share this with my husband. The tremendous support of the Creative departments at Scottish Opera actually make the job rather easy. They can achieve anything you think up… and what a lovely project. It’s quite a gift to us as designers.
Is this work what you wanted to do whilst at school?
I come from a family of artists. My grandad advised me not to be one or marry one! …. because it is hard. You have to be very self-motivated and determined. So I thought I’d choose a job in the Arts that would allow me to use my wider creative skills…. But where I could get a job. I also liked history and English and was a frustrated musician. So, I started to think that theatre might be good. Then I went to a Pet Shop Boys concert. It was really theatrical and over the top. It was designed by a theatre designer David Fielding…. and I thought, ‘gosh, this is his job! I want a little bit of this’. So, at about 12 years old I started to tell people that that’s what I was going to be. When I was training, the landscape of theatre design altered and it was no longer possible to get a residency at a theatre. So actually, it’s been as hard as being an artist after all…. and I married one too! (I later worked with David Fielding on an opera production for Bregenz). I’ve never regretted pursuing it as a career.
What were your favourite subjects at school?
Art. Design Technology. English Lit. Drama and History. But I loved sport too…. and find it has lots of parallels with theatre.
Did you go on to further study, where, and what path did you take?
I did A levels at Bradford Grammar where David Hockney had given some money for a theatre. They gave me a key as I was so keen! I then went to Leeds College of Art and did a foundation year. Followed by Theatre Design BA Hons at Betton Hall which was part of Leeds University. I started an MA there too but in the same year won a design competition to design King Lear at Cambridge Arts Theatre and another competition where I won a training position with the BBC in costume. I didn’t complete the MA but moved to London to work in TV Costume… it felt like I just needed to go and get on with it.
The set for ‘La Rondine’ at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
How did you meet your partner/husband? Do you always work together? How long?
I met Giuseppe at Bretton Hall. He was the Resident Designer on my degree. After university, he was working on a low budget feature film and needed a costume designer. He called me as I had just finished some training with the BBC. We were working closely together but neither of us wanted to mess up our friendship. It took a year of meetings for tea and cake, art galleries, theatre trips and London parks before we got together. We just wanted to make sure it was going to be right and have longevity. At first, I was working long hours in TV and Giuseppe was doing mainly film special effects. We started not wanting to be apart so much and finding filming was totally exhausting and pressurised. We began to seek a way to work together. It’s been about 18 years working together now.
Do you work all around the world?
I haven’t traveled that much for work. Some designers do…. our work has traveled more widely than we have! Once a show is designed, you don’t really need to go with it when it tours. I would find it very difficult to travel outside the country at the moment as I need to be around to be a mum too.
Where do you get inspiration for your designs?
Inspiration is part research, part experience and part gut instinct.
What’s your favourite part of the design process?
I like making models and getting them to look as perfect as possible…. and the anticipation of sharing the design for the first time with the Creative team and cast. Then I like opening night when the work is finished and the pressure is off!
How difficult is it to manufacture what you visualise?
We carefully design to fit budgets and the support teams available. However, it’s surprising how often we do need to step in to finesse things. Between us, Giuseppe and I can do most things. We are very practical. We always pull it together even if we are let down. We are perfectionists and our own critics, and we keep our standards high. If we find a talented collaborator, we hold on to them for good! Over the years you find companies you trust and makers with a true talent in interpretation and realisation. Working at Scottish Opera is a joy because the skills and experience in the whole building shine.
Has there ever been anything that you visualised that couldn’t be made? Did you make adjustments?
Part of the designer’s job is to consider practicalities and technical solutions, rigging, construction etc. It involves objects but also the space around objects, the way things move and work. If something wasn’t completely thought through, it wouldn’t leave the studio. This avoids costly mistakes and time wasting later.
What’s the work that you’re most proud of?
We made West Side Story in Wandsworth Prison with Pimlico Opera. Great piece, challenging environment, an enormous impact on all of us. Theatre as rehabilitation is an extraordinary thing. We were very proud of this production.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future?
I just want to remain interested in my work, earn enough doing it and share the best bits with my husband. I hope I can pass on my love of theatre to my children as I feel it’s made my life very rich.
Do you have any hidden talents? E.g play an instrument, sing, yoga teacher, mathematician?
I’m brilliant at soldering?! (which I use model making)
I’m a great swimmer, played netball and hockey for my county. Represented Leeds at rounders and long jump! Hmmm…. very competitive!
We have a great and full kitchen garden…. which I love to do with Giuseppe. It’s bursting with produce right now.
I’m a parish councillor.
I make special birthday cakes for my children….. using all my model making skills!
I’m an expert on Angry birds, Minecraft, Dr Who, Lego, and Playmobil.
Thank you, Emma, for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope that you all enjoy reading her fascinating insight
You can check out more of Emma and Giuseppe’s work on theirwebsite.
Here is a link to Scottish Opera’s Facebook page with some pictures of the costumes designed by Emma for ‘BambinO’
As my Recital Exam approaches this week I had the pleasure to perform alongside my dear friend Prajna Indrawati in her exam on Friday. Prajna is wonderful to work with and I was so happy for her when earlier this year she won the accompanist prize in the Brooks-van der Pump competition.
Our mutual friend Manu Brazo, a saxophonist, also performed a beautiful sonata by Fernande Decruck as part of the recital. Manu is an accomplished saxophonist with several notable achievements so far, this year. They include winning the Saxophone competition at the Royal College of Music, the Jellinek Award in the 2017 “Guildford Symphony Orchestra Competition for Young Soloists” and he has been selected to take part in the 2017 London Sinfonietta Academy.
It was a wonderful opportunity for me to perform some of my repertoire under exam conditions ahead of my own recital on Wednesday. The exam is open to the public, and there will be an examining panel of three judges who will sit centre stage at the back of the venue with copies of the music at hand. As this will be an open performance we are expected to create programmes and perform under the rigors of strict time restrictions to prepare us for professional engagements in the future. The exam criteria are very strict which demands high technical singing and an entertaining dramatic portrayal.
Singing as with any art form is very subjective, the level of critique following an exam is very thorough and can pick up on the tiniest of details. I find comfort for this high level of critique by watching a program on BBC2 called ‘Creme de la Crème’ in which teams of patisserie chefs battle to win the grand prize. The judges are so particular, expecting high standards from the competitors, they often award very tough marks for what to the untrained eye is a beautifully presented batch of pastries. Just like singing at this level expectations and standards are so high and we do everything that we can to be at our best on the day. I can’t wait for my performance and I know that I will enjoy the opportunity to showcase what I have learnt during my first year here at the Royal College of Music.
As a surprise treat and quite unexpectedly I was given tickets to watch an evening performance at the Royal Albert Hall. It was amazing to celebrate with Prajna and Manu as it was our first time visiting this magnificent venue and it was lovely to share the memory together.
To close my post tonight I want to say how saddened I was last night after another terrorist attack here in London, it left seven dead and many more injured, with several still in a critical condition. My heart goes out to the families of those who lost a loved one and to everyone who was so tragically touched by the attack last night. I also want to express my thanks to the first responders and police for their fast response. I know that we are supposed to be strong and carry on as normal but I must admit to being a little scared and apprehensive when leaving home this morning. For me, like so many others here in London and in Manchester tomorrow will be another day and we must get on with our lives and remain as positive as possible, hoping that the end to these atrocities will not to be far away. My prayers are with you all, stay safe wherever you are in the world.
This week I had the pleasure to attend two musical events both of which allowed me to watch some outstanding singers.
On Wednesday I attended the semi-final for the 62nd competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards. It was held at the Wigmore Hall in London and the atmosphere felt full of energy and bursting with life thanks to the wonderful supportive audience. I attended the event with my dear friend Harvey, in which we were serenaded by 11 performances from young professional singers. They each had to prepare a varied program lasting up to 20 minutes, which included works from different periods of music. These 11 singers had been selected by audition following the preliminary round. From the 11 singers, the judges had to shortlist 6 for the final that was to take place on Friday 28th April. It was interesting to be able to observe these fine singers as I could relax and enjoy as they created beautiful music. I was thankful for the opportunity to show my support for these amazing young professionals as I know first-hand how important it is for the performers to have an enthusiastic audience in a competition such as this.
The singers selected for the final were: Eduard Mas Bacardit, tenor accompanied by Dylan Perez, piano Julien Van Mellaerts, baritone accompanied by Gamal Khamis, piano Patrick Terry, counter-tenor accompanied by Somi Kim, piano Francesca Chiejina, soprano accompanied by Dylan Perez, piano James Way, tenor accompanied by Natalie Burch, piano Daniel Shelvey, baritone accompanied by Dylan Perez, piano
Following the final on Friday the winners were announced as:
First Prize – Julien Van Mellaerts, baritone
Second Prize – James Way, tenor
Song Prize – Patrick Terry, counter-tenor
Accompanist’s Prize – Gamal Khamis, piano
Congratulations to them on their achievements and special thank you to all of this year’s performers
Then on Thursday, I was able to get a student ticket for the performance of “The Exterminating Angel” at the Royal Opera House. This performance was part of the UK premiere of the opera written by Thomas Adès. It was especially electrifying, as Adès conducted the music himself. The piece was written and sung in English which allowed me to understand the chilling story more easily. The house was very full of excited observers and before a note was played I was bewildered and amazed to see *SPOILER ALERT* real live sheep on the stage! I have no idea why this excited me so, especially after my recent trip home to the English countryside. I was intrigued to see if they would be used whilst the live music was blaring full thrust but just before the conductor took to the podium they were guided off stage.
The opera took place in a mansion in which sophisticated guests are expected for dinner. The large star-studded cast performed the dramatic music and remained on stage for the majority of the performance. Which was wonderful for a student of opera as I could watch the singers acting and analyse their performance throughout. This helped me to see all aspects of the on-stage skills of the performers, from how to draw focus in a busy scene, prepare an audience for a solo, to providing support and ambiance to another character. It was skilfully played throughout and very enjoyable. As the run is still taking place I will not discuss the plot too thoroughly in detail just in case any of you get to see it, but I just want to say that the technical singing of the performers was outstanding. The composer had written huge dynamic and pitch variety which was demanding even for these experienced professional singers. For example, one soprano was singing all of her lines at the extreme of her range – very very high! It was such a feat and I can’t wait to work technically in the practice room so that I may one day be flexible enough to performance pieces like this in the future.
All in all, it has been a fabulous week 😊
I read that Kasper Holten the Danish Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House, who left Covent Garden, London last month, claimed that the British are prejudiced against opera, perceiving it as elitist and not for them. The new Director Oliver Mears agrees that the perception exists. So how does my generation change and challenge this?
Lots of people I went to school and college with would never think to go to an opera, the State schools that my family attended never arranged trips to see an opera although there were trips to watch drama, dance performances, and musical theatre. It’s as though the State schools are keeping this perception going and not trying to make high art accessible to a wider audience if only to make a once in five year visit to the dress rehearsal of an opera performance so that each child has the opportunity to attend once in Primary school and once in Secondary education.
Although I’ve never been invited back to my High School to discuss training in a conservatoire, perform or undertake a demonstration with the music students I would be happy to, the classical singing teacher that taught me at the school is no longer available to the students. Jayne led to several people in her short time teaching extra-curricular singing at the school to undertake classical training, and several of her students are now either working in the crossover industry or undertaking training at prestigious Conservatoires. If she gave just ten of us this transformative experience that opened our minds and expanded our knowledge, then that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Together we are all introducing new families to classical music, people whom prior to our involvement may have had no knowledge of this beautiful music other than the occasional advertisement on the TV, or when they are used in a film score they like.
Everyone talks about wanting social mobility for all, the chance to progress on merit and talent yet so many doors are kept firmly closed that I feel need to be opened. Last summer in Scotland, Scottish Opera put on ‘The Little White Town of Never Weary’ for primary school children on a tour of Scotland, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see the children’s excitement and the smiles on their faces as they interacted with the performers. The Scottish Opera Education team also regularly put on Tours throughout Scotland, bringing pop-up operas to even the most remote areas, they are getting this right. I’m excited to be part of a creative team on a new project with them again this summer.
In England, we read that music lessons are being cut out of the school curriculum in too many State schools thanks to the new requirements and testing to the EBacc formula that the schools are judged against, there was a controversial piece that I read, written by Charlotte C Gill in the Guardian “Music education is now only for the white and the wealthy”
I saw this at my own High School, they had too few students wanting to take A level Music at the start of my sixth form preferring to take the easier BTEC Music which wouldn’t have given me the skills I required for my next step of training and would have ended my progression were it not for the Head of Music and Music teacher agreeing to allow me to undertake it by self-study within the BTEC class with some extra support from Mr. Leigh. However, I found the breadth of the course really challenging to do on my own and I was so lucky to come into contact with a music teacher outside of school, Suzanne Harvey, a graduate of the Birmingham Conservatoire, who lived close to me and helped me so much. With her help, I improved my understanding and appreciation of music plus the theory which gave me the foundation I needed to move on to a conservatoire. So, I don’t agree with the premise that the teaching of music should be dumbed down and made easier in every instance.
I would be interested to hear how the teaching of music is organised in different countries and if it encourages children to explore classical music and have a more open mind towards the beauty of opera and classical music.
It was great to catch up with one of my friends today, Katie Oswell, from my time at the RCS, Glasgow. We had a lovely afternoon together and I enjoyed finding out about what she has been up to since I finished at the RCS last summer.