On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) collaborative event with Royal College of Music (RCM) entitled ‘In Tune with Feminist Time’ held in The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, at Burlington Gardens. It was a wonderful use of this space as the musicians transformed what is normally an intellectual venue into a room full of colour, texture and emotive sounds. Behind the performers were projected self-portraits from renown RA academicians, one that struck me in particular was the artist Angelica Kauffman. She was a prominent English Artist of the 18th century, one of only two founding female members of the Royal Academy of Arts and the last woman to be admitted until 1922.
In her self-portrait ‘Hesitating Between The Arts of Music
and Painting’ it revealed that she was a talented opera singer, struggling
between devoting herself to a career in music or art. I found this fascinating
and thought it was a wonderful link to International Women’s Day as women
are capable of possessing many talents and with the right opportunities can
achieve success and explore their abilities to the fullest.
All the performers in this event were fantastic and revealed
new music, tales of history and interesting poetry inspired from the female
hand. The composers that were represented were: Barbara Strozzi, Judith Weir,
Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger, Maria Rodrigo, and a premiere by living
composer Hayat Selim.
I particularly enjoyed the event as it continued the theme
created by the inaugural event last year that I performed in: ‘In Touch with
Feminist Futures’ which was created as a platform for myself and my fellow
colleagues to present our research and performances from our Women in Music
module led by the charismatic and formidable duo Diana Roberts and Natasha
On Tuesday, 22nd May I participated in my last opera scene at the Royal College of Music. It was so much fun and I learned so much from the process and from watching my talented peers.
Me and Marcella di Garbo
I sang the role of Governess alongside Marcella di Garbo as the ghostly Miss Jessel.
Henry James who wrote The Turn of the Screw in 1897 lived at that time in Sussex in a big Country house. He was interested in ‘spiritual phenomena’. Telling ghost stories at the time was a tradition during the Christmas holiday festivities. James had been told an anecdote by the archbishop of Canterbury of a couple of young children haunted by ghosts of a pair of servants who wish them ill. In the story the evil spirits of Miss Jessel the previous governess and Peter Quint formerly the valet try to lure the children to their deaths to get their souls.
The ghosts in the story are only visible to the Governess. Are the ghosts a figment of her neurotic imagination or is she the plucky saviour of her charges from damnation? This decision is usually left to the audience member to decide.
A new challenge that we both had to face together was singing in corsets for the first time. This is because our Director Stuart Barker placed our scene from Turn of the Screw in the middle of the nineteenth century, (fitting the original plot). It was fashionable at this time to wear a corset underneath your blouse/dress. Corsets during this period were shaped like an hourglass but were made longer to cover the hips. Luckily for singers, modern corset designs became more flexible, with less boning. This allows for a little more movement when breathing, but still, we have to adapt to the obvious restrictions still maintained by the design.
Marcell di Garbo and Me ( Photo Taken By Stuart Barker )
To make this work for me I had to be sure that I didn’t breathe out during my fitting, although I must admit that is was very tempting at the time. Luckily my singing teacher Rosa had warned me to take in a big breath during the fitting so that the corset allows for the expansion of the rib cage which is so important when singing.
When wearing a corset some movements become more restrictive such as bending over, (I was very careful not to drop any props!) and when changing levels from standing to sitting. This was very interesting and luckily our wonderful costume mistress Alice Lessing allowed us to take the corsets to our stage rehearsals to practice. In keeping with this theme, Alice recommended to us to put our shoes and tights on before being fitted into the corset, as bending down to do them afterward is quite a task. This proved a very handy tip!
( Photo Taken By Stuart Barker )
I personally found singing in a corset quite helpful, it encouraged me to sit and stand upright helping me to maintain good poise and posture. It also gave my character a sense of control and seniority, which was useful as I wanted to depict my character as a strong and determined Governess who could be trusted to look after the children of the house. The corset also gave me something to feel, as I could sense my muscles expanding and contracting during my vocal line helping me to focus on supporting my breath evenly, which in turn helps to create a sustained legato line. All in all, it was a very valuable lesson and one that has given even more to think about when performing in costume.
But don’t get me wrong, I was quite happy to take it off during my breaks from the performance and I’m glad that they are no longer a staple of modern fashion.
In the scene the ghost of Miss Jessel actually appears in my school room from outside along the passages and the stairwell. ‘The room is mine, the children are mine, be gone you horrible, terrible woman!’ I then take up my pen to write of my concerns to the guardian of the children telling him I have something I must tell him about even though he has warned me not to disturb him.
Me, Claire Swale, and Barbara Job backstage
Me with the amazing piano accompanist Lucy Colquhoun
On Friday, I participated in an evening of opera scenes along with my fellow students at the Royal College of Music. I had a lot of fun taking on the character of the ‘Controller’ in Flight and it was very exciting – but nerve-wracking as I had to sing a top F in a public performance for the first time. It was a great challenge, but one that I enjoyed immensely.
Zachary Neal, Me, and Jessica Cale
Ready For My Scene
It was lovely to see so many friends, colleagues, and family in the audience. I was especially happy to see my dear friends Hilary, Edwin, and Norman and it was lovely to be able to see them after the performance and share this experience with them.
These productions would not be the same without all the help that we get from Costume, Wigs, Hair, Makeup, and all the technical staff, and of course not forgetting the fabulous musicians who play for each of the scenes.
Hannah Crerar and Me In The Changing Room ( Photo Julieth Lozano )
Julieth Lozano and Me
The Whole Cast ( Photo Julieth Lozano )
Our next set of scenes are on this coming Tuesday at 5:30 pm in the Britten Theatre at the RCM.
On Monday 4th June at 11:10, I will perform my final recital of my Masters of Performance. The recital will take place in the Recital Hall at Royal College of Music. It would be lovely to see as many friendly faces in the audience as possible, so if you are in the area please come along. Entrance to the performance will be free, but because it is an exam please arrive early. George Todica will be accompanying me and we will be performing pieces by Massenet, Gustav Mahler, Lliam Paterson, Grieg, and Bernstein.
On Friday 18th May 2018 at 17:30 pm I will be the Controller in a scene from ‘Flight’ at the Royal College of Music, the scene will be directed by William Relton and conducted by Peter Selwyn. Flight is an English opera with music by Jonathan Dove, who also wrote ‘A Walk from the Garden’ that I performed for Scottish Opera Connect three years ago, playing the role of Eve. The libretto (text) for ‘Flight’ was written by April De Angelis.
‘Flight’ had its premiere mainstage performance at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1999. The inspiration for the story was from the true-life story of an Iranian refugee Nasseri who lived at Charles de Gaulle Airport unable to exit the terminal. Did you watch the 2004 Spielberg film with Tom Hanks called ‘The Terminal’ that was also based on Nasseri story stuck in terminal one in a Paris airport for 18 years, from 1988 to 2006, without any passport and documents? It never ceases to amaze me how life is often stranger than fiction. I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently in airport lounges listening to Controllers and soaking in the atmosphere, watching and waiting, and worked on the score to try to get it off copy (learned off the score) ready for rehearsals this past week.
He also made the mistake of thinking that a floundering relationship would be rectified by an overseas trip, like Bill and Tina. And he once sat with two people who were starting a new life in another country, which pops in with Minskman and Minskwoman.
“I think we had the feeling that the airport was potentially a kind of microcosm, with lighter elements.” He said.
Carly Owen As The Governess and Me as Flora, From January 2017
On Tuesday 22nd May 2018 at 17:30pm, I will play the Governess in a scene from ‘The Turn of the Screw’, this was the Britten opera that was my first opera scene at the Royal College of Music when I performed the role of the child ‘Flora’ in the Britten Theatre so it’s fitting that it will be my last scene. I did quite comprehensive research last year so I got out all my old notes and references to get into the new character, this is a fabulous opportunity to expand my work on this great opera. The score is very tricky. I’ve enjoyed working with Marcella Di Garbo, who plays Miss Jessel, since my return to London. The scene is being directed by Stuart Barker who directed my scene from the ‘Dialogue of the Carmelites’ so it’s lovely to work with him again and the ever-wonderful Michael Lloyd conducting, with Lucy Colquhoun on piano. Tickets for both events are free but require booking ( Click Here )
I will try and get some photos of both casts this week to share with you all.
I would like to thank Diana Roberts of the Royal College of Music for inviting me, and my fellow ‘Women in Music’ students, to perform at the Royal Academy of Arts last Friday. The event entitled “In Tune with Feminist Futures” was supported by Dasha Shenkman and we were all thrilled to see how well attended the recital was.
Diana Roberts, Dasha Shenkman, Leanne Singh-Levett, Esme Hurlbert, Me, Lisa Burgess, Katy Thompson. My thanks to Esme for sharing this photograph.
My friend Jane had traveled from Manchester to London for the weekend and it was lovely to spend time with her before the recital and to see her in the audience. After the event, there was a drinks reception and we got the opportunity to mingle with the audience and spend time talking with them.
The recital was held in The Reynolds Room in the Royal Academy of Arts which housed some amazing paintings, we were not allowed to take pictures in the room itself but if you are visiting London I would recommend adding the Royal Academy of Art to your places to visit.
Sonia Lawson – Behind is the picture “Night in a private garden”
We were asked to select a work by one of the artists from the Royal Academy to be displayed whilst we performed. I chose a picture by Sonia Lawson “Night in a Private Garden” which she painted in 2010. Sonia Lawson was born in 1934 and has had a prolific career, she was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in 1991 and at 84 continues to paint in her studios in Bedfordshire and North Yorkshire.
The songs that I chose for the evening were “In Meines Vaters Garden” and “Laue Sommernacht” by Alma Mahler whose father, Emil Jakob Schindler was a famous Austrian Landscape painter who greatly influenced her work.
Leanne Singh-Levett and Me
A big thank you to Leanne Singh-Levett for accompanying me, it was lovely to work with her again for this recital having performed with her the previous day for my “Women In Music” lecture-recital.
Thank you to everyone who joined with me to celebrate my blogging anniversary last week, it was lovely to read all your comments. I will be drawing up a list of everyone who liked or comment on the post during the coming week and then select 3 people at random to receive a signed copy of my “Haugtussa” album.
I would also like to share with you the news that I will be performing the role of ‘Maria Bertram’ in Waterperry Opera Festival’s production of Jonathan Dove’s opera ‘Mansfield Park’. The performances will take place at Waterperry House, Oxford on the 18th and 19th August 2018. I am really looking forward to meeting and working with the rest of the cast and taking this production to this picturesque venue.
To add to existing knowledge of women’s work in music in history I decided back in September 2017 to take a programme in my Master’s studies called ‘Women in Music’. Women are stepping forward more into the spotlight and news, just now I read that the American Conductor Marin Alsop has been appointed the first female artistic director of the Vienna orchestra. I just hope that at some point in the future this isn’t front page news, why is it so rare? She was also the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms and the first woman to lead a major US orchestra, let’s hope she’s not the only woman able to break through. Read this article:
It’s quite shocking that a female harpist spent 26 years in the orchestra but was never acknowledged and only her hands were shown on tv broadcasts.
I was assigned a professional female mentor after submitting a list of people I would like to work with to get a better understanding of what a professional career in Music looks like and to gain an awareness of issues and experiences female musical professionals may encounter whilst studying an introduction to current gender theory. This project will be coming to fruition over the next two months with a project I’m submitting mid-February and a performance lecture-recital I will be presenting at the RCM on 8th March 2018 based on one female figure breaking through a glass ceiling in music – I chose Kaija Saariaho, a Finnish composer based in Paris, France.
I’m hoping that I can share my slides with you all after the event and if you’re in London as part of this project I will also be performing at the Royal Academy of Arts on the 9th March , which I am really excited about, as you know I like to see art and music combined.
During my research I studied female composers through the ages one thing stood out to me and that was I don’t sing any of their music in all of my years training their songs did not form part of the exam syllabus or the A-level music I studied, then I looked at the wider music industry as women forged ahead in some areas more than others. I tried to find parallels and I asked my family and friends back at home who their top female musicians were and when, how and what influences did they use to break through in their genre: from Dolly Parton (unique, trailblazer), Madonna (revolutionary), Kate Bush (ahead of her time, original, innovative, arti), to Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross and current big-name stars like Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Katie Perry.
Then I wondered do people outside of the classical music world know the celebrated female stars of opera – if so why did Maria Callas have to be played by Meryl Streep when there are so many superb actress/singers in the world of Modern Opera such as: Renee Fleming, Anna Netrebko, Angela Gheorghiu, Joyce DiDonato, Jessye Norman when you google search ‘top female British Opera singers’ we get Lesley Garrett and Sarah Brightman followed by Dame Janet Baker, what do you think? Who would you put at the top of a list of female singers still alive today that could be counted as role models for today’s students? Can you tell me who your choice of a female musician that has broken through and is a household name in the Classical music world?
It has been fabulous this week to perform in three separate events which were the culmination of several weeks of hard work and preparation.
On Wednesday afternoon I sang and gave a tribute to Gary Waller’s memorial service at St Stephen’s Church, Westminster, it was a beautiful and touching ceremony. As a friend of Gary it was lovely to see so many lovely people gather to remember and speak fondly about his lifelong achievements, passion for music and support for his colleagues in politics. It was also a pleasure to perform alongside the talented pianist Waka Hasegawa, and I hope that we find the opportunity to work together again in the future.
After meeting some of Gary’s family and sharing memories with them, I then traveled to the Lancaster Hall Hotel in order to prepare for the evening concert. Soon after I arrived, I had a rehearsal with Dr. Leslie Howard, he is the very talented and renowned pianist who specialises in music composed by Franz Liszt and I believe is the only pianist to have recorded all of Franz Liszt’s music for solo piano, which in itself is a huge achievement. The event began at 6:30pm and it was so lovely to perform alongside the talented Michelle Alexander, Andrew Yiangou, Dr. Leslie Howard, Simon Wallfisch, and Nigel Foster. We each represented a different music society, Wagner, Alkan, Mahler, Liszt, and Schubert. I represented the Gustav Mahler Society and really enjoyed telling the stories within the poetry and making music with Dr. Howard. The songs are truly beautiful and delicate and it was a great challenge to work on them. I look forward to performing them again. After the performance, we were invited to join the societies members for a meal and relax in each other’s company. At the end of the recital, we were presented with a gift of London Honey, which is a tradition of the event and one that I appreciated as locally sourced honey is a boon to a singer.
A Big Thank You To Catherine Who Helped Organise The Event
The Whole Cast Of Our Opera Scenes
A few days later, I presented my opera scene along with my accomplished colleagues at the Royal College of Music. On Friday we had a technical rehearsal at 10:00 am, which involves plotting the lights, practicing the scene in Costume and using any props/scenery. It was very useful especially because my costume isn’t usual daily attire, I had to practice moving, kneeling and hearing with my full habit on. It was very interesting and added another layer to the drama. At 14:15 we had a dress rehearsal in front of a few friends and teachers. Then we opened to the audience at 17:30. I performed alongside Glen Cunningham, who some of you may recognise from previous projects I have done with Scottish Opera Education. It was wonderful to work together again and build on our relationship on stage. It was also a great opportunity to be on stage with Davidona Pittock who I went to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with, she was Mother Marie.
Glen and Me On Stage In Our Scene From Dialogues des Carmélites
Photo credit of Stage scene provided by Laura Pearse who also designed and selected the costumes for this year’s scenes, thanks, Laura.
On Friday afternoon I took time out to watch my talented colleagues perform in the dress rehearsal of the Royal College of Music’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen. This wonderful opera by Janácek’s was sung in English for this particular production and tells the exciting and episodic story which constantly raises the imagined similarities and differences between humans and animals.
The costumes designed by Hannah Wolfe were flamboyant and wonderfully colourful. Every costume was personalised and each suggested a hint of different animalistic features, such as a spiked backpack worn by a hedgehog/man. It was fun as an audience member to notice these intricacies which added to the story and allowed your imagination to build on the images played out on stage.
The set was also exquisite and full of extra compartments that drew your attention as they that opened and closed the space to new scenes. My particular favourite scene that Alex Berry designed was the chicken coop which showcased a Charlie and Chocolate factory esque egg laying factory that really caught my childlike imagination.
Daniel Slater beautifully combines lustful dancing with animalistic gestures performed by the Singers in his direction of this opera. It worked brilliantly and told the story seamlessly. I particularly enjoyed the love duets performed by the dancers which continued to expand on the story during the passionate orchestral interludes, sophisticatedly lead by Michael Rosewell.
7:00pm | 27 November 2017
7:00pm | 29 November 2017
7:00pm | 01 December 2017
7:00pm | 02 December 2017
I’m really looking forward to the ‘Winter Concert’ with the Thames Philharmonic Choir and Beth Moxon (alto), Steve Mills (tenor), Dan D’Souza (bass) under the direction of conductor John Bate and Stephen Disley (organ) in Kingston upon Thames, with our thanks to The Josephine Baker Trust who match us to engagements and provide half the fees. We’ve had our first rehearsal the program is called ‘A Feast of Baroque & 5 Modern Carols’ you can get tickets at www.thamesphilchoir.org.uk or at the door, should be a great start to the Season.
I’ve also been working hard on my Handel ‘Messiah’ soloist preparations, the Messiah is an English-language oratorio from the Baroque era, composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, it premiered in Dublin in 1742 at Easter and has been performed by choirs across the United Kingdom every year since. Handel continued to work on the piece until 1754 when he arrived at the version we use today. You can read more about it here http://www.classicfm.com/composers/handel/music/george-frideric-handel-messiah/
I’m excited to start the first of two performances at Blackburn in Lancashire with the Blackburn Music Society and the Lancashire Chamber Orchestra under the baton of conductor Tom Newall and with Chamber Organist Samuel Hudson. My fellow soloists in Blackburn Cathedral are Helen Ann Gregory; Alexander Grainger and Matthew Mannion who I last performed with in Don Giovanni at Opera Britain last year. Tickets: 01254 201978 or on the door.
This week has been Induction week at the Royal College of Music, also known as ‘Freshers Week’ by many students. This involves meeting the heads of departments, the helpful and delightful Vocal Faculty, matriculating, group lectures and introductions to the different and many wonderful things the Royal College of Music (RCM) has to offer.
The other side of Induction week involves many social activities organised by the Students’ Union to help introduce and encourage new friendships between students. This year they held events such as a Jazz night; Pub quizzes; a Boat Party and Post-Graduate Speed-dating, (which despite the title is more like speed-friendshiping), you go around and have a short burst of time to meet new people and is a fantastic way to mingle.
It is a great week to introduce you to the RCM and to experience living in London. One of my favourite activities of the week was watching some of my colleagues perform in a public masterclass with Malcolm Martineau, a wonderful piano accompanist who has worked all over the world with many distinguished Singers, in the Britten Theatre at the RCM. The session started at 14:00 and lasted until 16:30, there were four singers who took part, each prepared two songs. It’s really wonderful to be able to participate and watch these masterclasses as you can learn so much from observing your peers and how the Guest Artist shapes the musical pieces. You can come away with new tasks to try and implement into your own practise and insight into pronunciation and the craftsmanship of storytelling.
They are also very interesting to anyone who has a love for music and would like some more insight into the technical demands of singing, as it is like watching a lesson and can give you an idea into what we have to work on in order to stand up there and give a live performance. If this interests you the next masterclass at the RCM in London will be with Sir Thomas Allen on the 11th October 2017.
Here is a video of a masterclass he has done before at the RCM in 2014.
It will be lovely to watch him work live again as I saw him a couple of years ago in Glasgow and I’m really looking forward to that.
It has also been so wonderful to catch up with all my friends and hear about their summers and share stories of our experiences.
Next week our lessons commence, along with autumn, and I can’t wait to hit the floor running and make the most of my second year of Masters of performance training here. The nights are drawing in and daylight hours shorten and you can definitely feel the nip in the air so cardigans out from under the bed!
[ 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.