Archives For Classical Music

The Role Of Observer

April 30, 2017 — 22 Comments

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

Exterminating Angel ROH April 2017

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.

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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.

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Katie Oswell and Me

After several weeks of rehearsals and performances, it was nice to have a little time this week to recharge and become inspired by new repertoire and watch other performers on stage including supporting my friends watching their scenes.

Also last week I had the pleasure of going to watch “Adriana Lecouvreur” at the Royal Opera House. Whilst I’m living in London, I’m trying to see and hear as much as I can and make the most of the student deals that are available. The production was breathtaking and I was able to see one of my singing inspirations, Angela Gheorghiu, who gave an exciting and thrilling performance, but I must say the whole cast was phenomenal. Everybody had such beautiful voices with incredible projection.

roh-friday-17-02-17As a student of Opera, I was interested in how much the set design of this production shaped and aided the story. On stage, there was a working baroque theatre, which allowed for multiple scenes to be portrayed such as a backstage area with dressing rooms, the wings of the theatre, a palace, the actual performing stage and many others. As the story unfolded on stage, our imaginations were entranced by these transformations as the characters glided from one setting to another seamlessly and very naturally.

There was a particularly beautiful moment when there was a ballet depicting a performance of ‘The Judgment of Paris’ within the opera during the palace scene. It created so many dimensions, and it was interesting as the dancers had comedic moments when they made mistakes due to the ‘onstage audience’ diverting their attention as the love rivalry between the Princess and Adriana created a frosty atmosphere. As a performer, I couldn’t help but want to watch the ballerinas while at the same time trying desperately to take it all in. It was such detailed direction I wish I could afford to go and see it all over again.

I have tried to write a brief synopsis of the story which I hope gives you an idea of what was happening on stage:

This tragic story centers around an actress, Adriana Lecouvreur and the men who fall in love with her. Michonnet, the stage manager of the company that she performs for, is one of her admirers. He tells Adriana of his feelings for her, but she tells him that her heart belongs to a soldier, Maurizio, who is in the service of the Count of Saxony. But like all good operas Maurizio is no soldier; instead, we find out that he is actually the Count of Saxony.

Maurizio has another, more important admirer, the Princess of Bouillon. During a party thrown by the Prince de Bouillon, the plot thickens as the Princess tells Maurizio that her heart belongs to him, but he tells her that he does not feel the same way. She guesses that he has taken a lover and though he will not reveal her name the Princess is desperate to find out who her rival is. As the Prince arrives at the party, the Princess is left having to escape so as not to be found out. In the darkness, she is helped to escape by Adriana, and the Princess grows ever more suspicious of her.

The Princess is even more determined to find out the truth, and her suspicions deepen as the story continues to unfold. Adriana is told by the Princess that Maurizio has been injured in a duel and Adriana gives away her true feelings for him when he later joins the group uninjured. The Princess concludes that Adriana is her love rival and decides to have her revenge.

As the story comes to its tragic end, Adriana receives what she believes is an unwanted gift returned by her lover, Maurizio. She kisses the flowers, hurt by the thought that Maurizio no longer loves her and throws them away. But Maurizio finds her and tells her that she is the one for him and asks her to marry him. As the couple embrace, Maurizio fears for her as she trembles in his arms. The flowers had been poisoned by the Princess who gets her revenge as Adriana dies in the arms of her lover.

Here are some of the pictures from the Royal Opera House Flickr website.

Angela Gheorghiu and Brian Jagde in Adriana Lecouvreur, The Royal Opera © ROH 2017. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Gerald Finley and Angela Gheorghiu in Adriana Lecouvreur, The Royal Opera © ROH 2017. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Gerald Finley, Angela Gheorghiu and Bálint Szabó in Adriana Lecouvreur, The Royal Opera © ROH 2017. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Production Photo of Adriana Lecouvreur, The Royal Opera © ROH 2017. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Angela Gheorghiu in Adriana Lecouvreur, The Royal Opera © ROH 2017. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Ksenia Dudnikova, Angela Gheorghiu and Brian Jagde in Adriana Lecouvreur, The Royal Opera © ROH 2017. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Angela Gheorghiu in Adriana Lecouvreur, The Royal Opera © ROH 2017. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Angela Gheorghiu in Adriana Lecouvreur, The Royal Opera © ROH 2017. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Angela Gheorghiu and Brian Jagde in Adriana Lecouvreur, The Royal Opera © ROH 2017. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Opera Mom

January 9, 2017 — 86 Comments

Over the Christmas break at home, I watched with my Mum a TV programme called “Dance Moms”. My Mum is a fan of this program with its many controversies, in the UK it is on 5 Star every weekday with a double bill on a Tuesday. The show comes in for a lot of criticism because it is speculated the fights between Moms are staged to boost the ratings and that some of the competitions are fake. The dance teacher Abby Lee Miller also divides opinion because of her personal teaching style.

I thought it would make an interesting blog post to ask my Mum what it was like being an Opera Mum.

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Mum and Me On My Graduation Day In July 2016

How would compare yourself with the Dance Moms in the TV programme?

Unlike the Dance Mom’s in the series, I’ve always been a hands-off dance/singer Mum and other than dropping you off and picking you up from different classes I shied away from putting any pressure on you or getting involved with teachers unless I felt it was absolutely essential and then only once in 20 years.

One of the things I do not agree with in the programme though is when the Mums pass on their worries and concerns to their children even though at the outset the children don’t have a problem with what is happening in the dance lesson and are only interested in giving their best performance.

But I do like the Mums passion, support and belief in their children and the lengths that they have to go to in order to help them out.

What encourage you to get me involved with the Arts?

I always wanted to be a dancer but my family could not afford the lessons when I was at school. I wanted you to have good deportment, excellent balance, high energy levels, fitness and access to other like minded girls having two brothers yourself.

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 

What did you know about the world of the Performing Arts before you signed me up to lessons?

Absolutely nothing, that’s why I love the “Dance Moms” programme so much, it gives me a peek into the training room that I never saw with your training as your sessions were after school and parents weren’t allowed to watch, in fact when it came to ballet class it was your Dad that took you on exam day and learnt how to put up your hair buns, he has nerves of steel! It was always nice to watch your end of term performances in dance and later your drama productions.

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Playing Mrs Banks In Mary Poppins 


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Love 2 Dance

When do you remember, me putting the majority of my focus into classical singing?

Right up until the start of High School we thought you would train to be a dancer or an actress, then a letter home from school to offer piano lessons for 30 minutes and one shortly afterward to offer one-to-one singing lessons for 30 minutes changed everything. After being told for years you sing too loud for school choirs and your voice cuts like a blade through a group you found a niche that embodied everything you loved; singing, dance, drama, a challenge and the ability to sing as loud as you liked without a microphone and whoosh suddenly you wanted to be an opera singer!

This was frankly a bolt out of the blue and something completely outside of our knowledge, we didn’t listen to classical music, we’d never been to an opera or knew anybody that had, although your Grandpa loved classical music and that was the entire family’s awareness. We put our faith in your singing tutor Jayne Wilson to guide you and we just provided lots of encouragement.

How did you find out more about the world of opera and classical singing?

We were encouraged to enter you for singing competitions in local festivals, your first one in Blackpool was nerve-racking for me, in fact, it was always me that had the butterflies and nerves while you swanned in and really enjoyed it all. This was my perfect introduction to the world of classical music, we listened to lots of singers of all ages and levels of experience, varied repertoire, and critique for all entrants at the end of each set of performances. We also saw how the children coped with the pressure of the events and learned a lot from these annual institutions. The realisation of how long it would take for you to achieve your goals and find a career started to dawn on us, this was not a career path for the faint-hearted. But your natural perseverance and willingness to stick with activities that you undertook encouraged us to believe that you could do it, and that it was not just a passing fad. It had to be your dream Charlotte and not just what we wanted you to do.

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Success In The Festivals

After eleven years of training do you still feel the same way?

After working full time in an office from leaving school both your Dad and I just wanted all of you to do what you loved to do and I’m really happy we can still continue to help you to do this, and to thank you for introducing us to this beautiful art form. But I must admit I would try and discourage you if you were not so committed and willing to put so much of yourself into your singing. It is a long and arduous process with no promise of work or success at the end.

But Charlotte we believe in you 100% and will support you every step of the way.

Ave Maria

December 18, 2016 — 95 Comments

It was such a treat to travel home yesterday with my brother Matt for the Christmas break, Tom my younger brother was also driving home at the same time from Glasgow. This year the timings were perfect as we were all able to make it home in time to celebrate my Dad’s birthday yesterday.

When we are all together it reminds me how lucky I am and gives me time to reflect on what has happened over the year and to plan and set my goals for the year to come. It is also a time to think about my friends, many of whom have started out on new paths of their journey through life. Some starting new careers, some studying towards their own personal goals and some starting families of their own. I wish each and every one of them a magical new year filled with happiness and contentment.

To all my friends here I want to thank you for your boundless enthusiasm, thoughtful advice, and sincere encouragement. You have helped make the last four years so enjoyable and personally rewarding and I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings.

Sadly 2016 also was the year that I lost my Mema (Grandma) who passed away in April. My Pepa (Grandpa) asked me to record a song to play at the funeral to help celebrate her life as the family gathered to say their farewells. It was a difficult song for me to perform and one of the last that I recorded quickly at the Royal College of Scotland. Because of the emotions that the song evoked, I found it difficult at first to listen back to the recording but now as I sit here with my family, having reflected on the blessings that we have all received throughout 2016 I felt it was a good time to share the recording with you.

Ave Maria – Schubert

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Outside Wigmore Hall

I have had a really fantastic day today which included watching an afternoon performance at the Wigmore Hall, London. It all started yesterday when I saw a tweet bringing to my attention two concerts that were being hosted today at Wigmore Hall for the grand sum of £5.00 each. Now, I did not need to win a ticket, or queue up for ages, or hope that someone would return their own ticket on the day of the performance to get in for this discounted price. I just had to shy away from being a lady and tell them my age 🙂  All because I was under 35, Wigmore Hall have this fantastic program that offers anyone under 35 access to these amazing concerts for only £5.00 so as a Northerner I just had to take advantage of the bargain. For those wonderful people who do not fit into this bracket, I would still urge you to go as the music making in such a beautiful venue was just divine! I am a very lucky lady indeed.

Now, enough about the “good deal,” the concert itself was mesmerising. Toby Spence, tenor (high male voice), and Christopher Glynn, piano, superbly performed the London premiere of ‘The Fair Maid of the Mill.’; a beautiful English translation by Jeremy Sams of the the German cycle ‘Die schöne Müllerin’ by Franz Schubert. This concert was part of the ‘Schubert in English’ Concerts being held at Wigmore Hall. This is an interesting concept for me personally after doing so much research in the last year of my undergraduate study on whether translation works as well in Song as it does in Opera.

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Toby Spence

The program included an interesting note from the translator in keeping with some of my own research: ‘Opera translation is permissible because Opera is what a story sounds like, whereas the Lied is what poetry sounds like.‘ (2016, Jeremy Sams). However, he continues to discuss ‘that perhaps it is more ubiquitous, because a scene in an opera is actually a story, and similarly so is a song, and it occurred to me that the ingredients of poetry – time , landscape, developing thoughts – are maybe a story also.’ (2016, JeremynSams).  So I sat at the beginning of the recital prepared to possibly be persuaded that it could take me to the magical world Schubert had intended for his audience.

And indeed it did! The flow between each piece was seamless, encouraging you to follow the life of the character and how the love that affected his life, grew, then blossomed and (spoiler alert) sadly wilted. The sung English translation helped me to realise some significant symbols, such as the colour green, the water of the mill stream and the obstacle of the hunter. I realised how important these ideas were to the crux of the story and how each affects the Miller, this was backed up by the sweetly interpreted piano playing of Christopher Glynn which highlighted the changes that Schubert created to always keep you on the edge of your seat.  Toby Spence, also added to the mood by deciding to wear a slightly informal characterised outfit, of what I imagined to be a slightly fleeced blue jacket with a shirt, and pale beige trousers. It set the mood and housed the character’s soul that he created so wonderfully. It was truly a performance to learn from whilst I am crafting my own interpretation of  Song.

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Christopher Glynn

I particularly enjoyed how he performed the Interlude, relaxed away from the piano leaning against the wall of the intimate stage area, with his glass of water in his hands to replenish himself between singing verses. It worked wonderfully as it allowed the audience to relax and briefly visit another world before returning back to the Miller’s story.

As I reflect on this performance, I think that the subject of translation will be one that I will be researching, agreeing and disagreeing with my whole life, which in itself excites me, as I realise it is so individual, and I hope that I will be able to try it out in my own performances. Maybe one day I will have the opportunity to perform in a concert series dedicated to the art of translating poetry.

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What A Concert !!

I have just come out of my second concert of the day at Wigmore Hall and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton beautifully accompanied by James Baillieu. I wish I had more time to tell you about it but I have to get home 🙂 Her performance transported me to a place of dreams especially as she concluded with “Never Never Land”

After a very busy first week of lessons at the Royal College of Music, London, I excitedly hopped on a plane on Friday to Barcelona for a weekend of music, great food, fantastic company, and joyfulness.

Upon my arrival at Barcelona, I was greeted at the airport by the Néstor Bayona, a conductor, and pianist that I met in Berlin, who kindly took me to his family home, which was about a two-hour drive away in Lleida where he introduced me to his parents and the rest of the ensemble. His wonderful parents Albert and Marina made me very welcome and soon made me feel like part of the family. It was a joy to stay with them. However before I could hit the hay, I had a rehearsal in the evening with Néstor on the Haugtussa cycle by Grieg, which he had invited me to Catalonia to perform. It was wonderful to keep the music alive and develop new ideas to continue the creative spontaneity of telling the stories of the pieces. We then concluded the evening in true Spanish style with snacks and nibbles outside in the beautiful Mediterranean evening.

 

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Nestor’s Family Home, Lleida

 

On Saturday we had another rehearsal at Néstor’s home around lunchtime, and I was able to hear Frans van Schoonhoven, violin and Malena Pflock, cello rehearse their Shostakovich Piano Trio number 2 in E minor, op. 67, which was very emotionally demanding and very challenging. Once we were all happy with our pieces, we had a fantastic three-course Spanish meal at a fabulous restaurant, with enough paella to make one’s stomach explode! It was very delicious, and I enjoyed every bite.

 

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Auditori Municipal Enric Grandos, Lleida

 

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Rehearsing For The Mozart Quartet

 

After lunch we continued our day by travelling to the venue, Auditori Municipal Enric Granados, it was a beautiful concert hall in the heart of Lleida, and it was every exciting to perform here, mainly due to the capacity of the venue and the fantastic resonance of the hall. The programme was very varied and included a surprise appearance by an actor, Marc Cartanyà presenting monologues to link the pieces and to set the mood. I began the cycle offstage and then walked on during my first piece to create an eerie atmosphere and to suggest the sound of the mystical voice from the mountains. It was thrilling to try the performance in a different staging which enabled me to use skills that I had learnt in Berlin to control and shape the atmosphere to tell the story. I enjoyed it immensely and would love to go back. My performance concluded the first half which meant I was able to enjoy the second half as a spectator and support my friends. The second half was brought to a close with a beautiful rendition of Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, KV.478. In which Nestor, Frans and Malena were joined by Jordi Roure on Viola.

 

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Me With Nestor Boyana Before The Concert

 

 

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Frans van Schoonhoven , Marc Cartanyà, Me, Jordi Roure, Malena Pflock and Nestor Boyana

 

Once the show finished, the night was not yet over! That evening in Lleida, there was a celebration and the community gathered to watch a concert and to dance the night away. We stayed for a while, and I loved the happy atmosphere. Especially when they began to sing Disney songs in Spanish! Just how I like to party!  🙂

 

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Then after a very pleasant sleep, I woke up early this morning to travel to Barcelona to perform the same program there. We left quite early as it was a lunchtime performance and we passed the time on the road trip with great music and lots of jokes. We found the venue, Musitekton, and arrived an hour before the concert; this meant we had to be very efficient with or time management to ensure that all the players were able to warm up and to test the acoustics.

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The venue was very intimate, and the walls were lined with string instruments as the owner also builds and repairs string instruments, so it was a unique and individual place to perform. Music was most certainly in the air! The concert went very well, and we all enjoyed ourselves connecting with the very attentive audience.

 

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Jordi Roure, Me, Frans van Schoonhoven , Malena Pflock and Nestor Boyana

 

I concluded my trip with yet another huge Spanish meal with my colleagues and new friends where I tried black rice (black from squid ink) and many different styles of seafood.  While I was there, I also tried the local delicacy snails Catalan style and they were surprisingly delicious. However, I don’t think I would be brave enough to cook them at home.

I had the most fantastic time, and it was great to spend two days immersed in the Spanish culture and to experience my first professional international recital in Spain. I would love to go back and perhaps next time sing in Spanish!