I have had a great Birthday weekend at home with my family. As a treat my Mum and Dad arranged to take me, Matt, Tom and Alex into Liverpool to watch Judith Howarth, my singing teacher and good friend from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, performing the role of Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus.
I was thrilled to be able to watch her on stage, especially on my Birthday. Judy was so encouraging and supportive to me whilst studying in Glasgow, and also during my time here in London, having the opportunity to support her from the stalls was a real treat.
We arrived in Liverpool and found the theatre quite quickly which was fortunate as it was quite chilly and the wind was picking up. Mum and Dad had booked us into the Ambassador Lounge at the theatre as a birthday treat and for anyone attending a performance here I can thoroughly recommend it. It was lovely and warm inside and the hostess brought us all a welcome drink and you could order nibbles or a snack if you wanted. It was great to be able to leave our bags and coats there and avoid the packed bars before the performance and during the two intervals. The performance was a matinee which started at 4.00 pm which allowed us all to go out for a celebratory meal afterward.
Tom, Dad, Alex, Matt, Me, Mum
Die Fledermaus is an operetta by Johann Strauss II with the original libretto in German. However, for this production, the WNO ( Welsh National Opera ) used an English translation by David Pountney and Leonard Hancock. The story is quite comedic with wonderful music and I can strongly recommend it to anyone and especially for those who want to see an opera for the first time.
WNO : “Rosalinde is looking forward to a few days carefree time with her lover, while her husband is facing time in prison. Her maid asks to be excused in order to care for a sick Aunt. In truth, all four characters are planning to spend the evening at a magnificent masquerade ball given by the Prince. As the characters are brought together in various guises, we set the scene for a hilarious story of mistaken identity full of splendour, posh frocks, and masks.”
Judy was amazing as Rosalinde with crystal clear coloratura and a legato line to die for. She gave a very believable portrayal of the character as she drew in the audience and made us laugh and giggle as the story played out. Both Paul Charles Clarke who played the lover Alfred and Mark Stone who played the husband Gabriel Eisenstein brought power and energy to their roles which complemented Judy’s beautiful vocals and wonderful characterisation. I must also mention Rhian Lois who played the role of Adele, the chambermaid, her comedic timing was excellent and she sang the role beautifully.
The orchestra under the baton of maestro James Southall brought the whole production to life and the ensemble players added a little sparkle to the party scenes in Act II.
The tour moves on to The Bristol Hippodrome on the 17th and 18th November 2017 and then finishes at the New Theatre, Oxford on 1st and 2nd December 2017.
Ahead of some exciting projects that I have coming up over the next couple of months I took the opportunity this week to visit my teacher, Judith Howarth, for an energising lesson to help me in my preparations.
Me With Judith Howarth
We worked on a variety of music, which I will be excited to tell you all about very soon. Whilst I was there we chatted about different operatic roles and it was lovely of her to show me some of the pictures that she has in her home from her fabulous career; so many different roles that she has performed from all around the World. Her mum created photo albums with pictures and newspaper clippings displaying her musical journey, It was so inspiring, so I thought I would take a picture of the two of us and start creating a post degree scrapbook for myself with my Mum and to share my own experiences with you all here on my blog.
This weekend I went back home for a catch up and to relax with my Mum and Dad, we took advantage of the sunny weather today and did a little gardening. It was lovely to spend a few hours in the peacefulness of the garden with my Mum and to practice as we worked, even the birds joined in with my singing 🙂 they especially enjoyed “There’s a worm at the bottom of the garden and his name is Wiggly Woo”
I love the flowers in my Mum’s garden, and always did as a child. Both of my Grandfather’s enjoy growing their own vegetables and tending to their flowers so gardening has always been a family affair for me. I’m sure that is what inspires me to wear such colourful clothes as it always reminds me of my childhood and brings a smile to my face.
As You Can See There Were A Lot Of Them
I Cant Believe That Dad Let Me Loose On The Mower
Dead Heading The Pots
Don’t ask me what the names of any of the flowers are but aren’t colours fabulous 🙂 I hope this little bit of an English summer brings a smile to your face as it certainly made me happy.
My third year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is over, it’s gone so fast. This week I had the pleasure of being invited to take part in the ‘Young Classical Artists Summer School’ organised by Fife Youth Arts Hub. This was the first of its kind and I was very excited to be working on this pilot project.
The week was led by professional artists and teachers: Judith Howarth, Gordon Wilson and Frances McCafferty, who were fabulous and very informative to work with. The rehearsals took place in the very friendly Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy. It was here that I received one-to-one coaching sessions with Judith daily and and group stage theatre workshops with Tina West, Acting and Performing Fife college and Tommy Small, BBC radio 2 Artist in Residence.
We also had the opportunity to signup to work with three wonderful repetiteurs Geoffrey Tanti, Beth Jerem and Alan Gibson. I had the pleasure to work with all three and they scrutinized my Italian pronunciation and musicality. Hard work but very fulfilling. Over the course of the five days I worked on a few Mozart arias and two scenes: one from Carmen and the other from La Traviata. For me, I found getting my mouth and tongue around the Italian words in the fast recit to be quite tricky, but the coaches were on hand to help break this challenge into easier bite-size tasks. I’ve learnt from their guidance; most importantly that something that seems quite daunting at first can in fact be approachable and achievable with the right mindset, hard-work, manageable goals and encouragement.
On Wednesday we went to Saint Andrews University and I performed in the masterclass along with fellow young artists from the workshop and three artists from Byre Opera who were performing that evening in a production of Gluck’s “Iphigenie In Taurus”. It was brilliant to observe singers in action as I could see elements of the advice I’d been given during sessions, such as whether I believed the acting and the decisions behind the intentions and whether this aided the progression of the story.
I believe I have learnt a great deal from this course, and I hope it can turn into an annual event in which singers can gain experience of performance and improve their craft.
Just to conclude, as its Father’s Day I would love to send some kisses and cuddles to my Dad, and thank him for his unwavering support and guidance as I go on this journey to explore classical singing. He is my rock and similar to the advice Judith gave me in one of my singing lessons he always told me to be courageous, and to act on something even if you have little element of fear.
Whilst in rehearsals for Jonathan Dove’s Opera ‘A Walk from the Garden’ with Scottish Opera I’m grateful to be receiving professional coaching from Judith Howarth, one of the most sought-after sopranos in Europe. Judith is also a vocal teacher at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
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I asked Judith in one of the Dove rehearsals if I could ask her some questions for a blog interview and for my personal interest and I’m very appreciative that she took the time to answer in fabulous detail to share with us all.
To Buy Tickets for “The Walk From The Garden” Click On The Image
Judith first of all thanks for agreeing to an interview for my blog I’m very grateful for your time and help. My first question is what do you think are the vocal challenges in the role of ‘Eve’?
The role has lots of colours that can be used, vocally. Singing in English is always a challenge and getting the words clear but not spoiling the sound of the voice is tricky, but of course, perfectly possible. You must develop vocal and physical stamina for this role. It sits quite high in the voice and so is vocally demanding. With modern music, it is always a challenge to find “the line” but it is very important, so that the music does not just sound like notes.
Which vocal fach is Eve?
In my opinion, Eve is a light lyric sing.
What vocal fach are you and has this changed over the years? Do you think these definitions are a good idea or pigeon-hole singers?
I am a lyric coloratura. My voice has changed immensely over the years. I have always had the ability to sing coloratura and I have always had very easy access to the top of my voice. I don’t think that I have ever had a light voice and the darker qualities that I use now have always been there but I did not use them for many years. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that I am still performing and that I think that my voice is better than ever.
I do think that there is too much emphasis placed on what voice types young singers are! First of all, it doesn’t matter and secondly, no one knows how a voice will develop and how long it will take. Emphasis should be on letting the voice develop naturally. That means stretching it a little occasionally but always sing the correct repertoire. It really annoys me when pupils ask me what voice type they are and what do I think that they will become, it’s stupid. ( Memo to myself “never ask Judith what voice type she thinks I am!”🙂 )
Judith Howarth As Madam Butterfly
I’ve heard you talk of stamina before, what sort of exercises do you do to improve your stamina before a big performance?
Stamina is built up over years and also I build the stamina for each performance during my private learning and the production rehearsals. It takes time. We all need to find our limits and I am afraid that it comes from occasionally over singing. I did this a lot as a student because I am greedy to sing all the time, especially when I am having a “good ” day. I actually don’t like exercises. I usually sing the slow part of a bel canto aria and get the voice nice and “high”. I also sometimes just sing along to a recording of Rutter, Karl Jenkins or anything that I like and is gentle. I never practice the top. I know that it will work because I have done the practice. All singing techniques are in the songs or arias, so I prefer to sing songs rather exercise. I am afraid that they bore me. I also keep physically fit and the demands on the body when singing a large role are immense.
Having good breath control is so important, what is your biggest advice for young singers on improving this?
Yes, breathing is paramount. Total relaxation is the key. One can practice breathing at any time. Totally relax and the take a slow intake of air. If you do this 3 or 4 times correctly, you will get high because of the amount of oxygen that you are taking in. Breath control is also paramount as you sing on the flow of air. It must be controlled so that there are no “bumps” in the “line”. Singers must also totally relax between phrases. You must release the diaphragm otherwise you will hyperventilate. Breathing is the first thing to be affected when a person is nervous, so try to control the flow of air.
Judith Howard In Faust – Photograph By Minnesota Opera
I read about you being called up to fill in for a sick singer and flown in on a private jet which sounds terribly exciting. What do you do if you have a cold, do you sing on through colds? Do you know any quick remedies for a blocked nose on audition days for example?
The first thing is that if you are unwell, then don’t sing if you can avoid it. We all get colds and there have been times when you have to perform. The more well known a singer becomes, the more intolerant the public are if the singers performance is not perfect. They expect the best every time.
There are no remedies for colds I am afraid. I do drink lots of water and hot drinks, avoid talking and get lots of rest. One can sing on a cold. It all depends what type of cold. If the chords are coated with mucous that is because the body is protecting them. If you have to sing like this, you could do damage so try to avoid it. You have to be patient as a singer. Things take time, years sometimes. There are no quick fixes to becoming a fine singer. Practice, advice, and above all listen to your body. A decongestant will help to unblock a nose. I would always advise that if you are doing an audition, you have to decide whether you think that you can do yourself justice. If you can’t, then you should try to reschedule, because people always remember a bad audition.
Judith I read that at my age you were working as a Principal at The Royal Opera House, what impact did moving from Scotland to London have on you at such an age?
When I moved to London from Glasgow, I took everything in my stride. I was keen to see the world and be the best singer that I can be. The only reservation I had was that my husband was still in Scotland. We took it in turns to travel to each other at the weekends. It was the best thing that happened in my career. It taught me so much and for that I am eternally grateful.
Judith Howarth as Maria Stuarda ( Photograph By Robert Workman )
What has been your favourite role to-date?
I don’t think that I have a favourite role. There are possibly three that I adore. They are Madam Butterfly, Mrs Mao, and Maria Stuarda. I also used to love singing Violetta which I have sung at least 45 times all over the world. I have been very blessed and very spoilt.
I am passionate about passing on my knowledge and experience and am now asked to teach worldwide which I am delighted about. Everyone deserves a good technique and an opportunity to be a part of this wonderful world of opera!
Judith Howarth As Mrs Mao
What role is left that you’d like to fulfil?
There are a few roles that I am booked to sing and a few that I want to perform. They are Tosca, Amelia in Ballo, Norma, and Aida . There are more but these are the ones that come to mind at the moment. I have sung so many that I forget.