Dear Opera Enthusiasts!
We are at the start of a new year and hopefully only a few weeks away from some warmth, blue skies and new life. I am looking forward, with much delight, to a long-awaited weekend away in Weybridge before things become hectic again but, before then, I wanted to reflect on some of the wonderful things which singing has brought me over the last few months.
I open this newsletter with a filmed aria which has only just been finished. It was written by Noah Mosley; sung by me and filmed by Heathcliffe Blair. The aria is based on the true story of Elvira, the wife of Puccini, following her arrest for slander in 1909. I hope you enjoy!
Way back in June, I started rehearsals for Buxton International Opera Festival understudying Yvonne Howard as the tough and eccentric Lady Billows in Albert Herring and Lady Macbeth’s long suffering lady-in-waiting Dama in Verdi’s initial 1847 version of Macbeth .
This was an intensive time. As the chorus of witches in Macbeth, we had a
huge amount of music to learn alongside complicated movement. As I am fairly quick with movement learning, I was given the job of movement captain by Caroline Pope to relay movement to the rest of the chorus and young artists.
It was thrilling to work with Stephen Gadd and Kate Ladner in the title roles. Their dramatic intensity and musicianship throughout the whole process was a joy to watch and thoroughly inspiring. Our final (very hot!) run through before the close of London rehearsals had us all in high spirits.
In between the London rehearsals and travelling to Buxton, I got a 5am flight to Glasgow to perform with Emma Walsh for a concert performance of the Helios Collective’s Il Letto. I performed several Puccini arias including those of Musetta, Mimi and Liu which together with Emma’s arias constructed a story based on events in Puccini’s life.
Back in Buxton, we quickly got to work putting our staging in place. We were also chorus for Lucio Silla, one of Mozart’s first operas, written when he was just 16 years old. Personally, I was also involved in several other performances, including the two cover shows and one of the festival masses so I was very busy right up until the final day. There was a particularly full day when I had three rehearsals and three performances within a twelve hour period!
Getting Macbeth onto its feet - with the addition of a challenging set, some balaclavas and intense mood lighting - was no easy task. However, with some adjustments we were able to get back into the witchy spirit of it. The show was powerfully conducted by Stephen Barlow and directed by Elijah Moshinsky, a renowned Verdi director who has directed regularly for the Royal Opera House and Metropolitan Opera. He had an incredible understanding of this kind of piece and getting to work with him and see his process will stay with me for the rest of my career. He created an electrifying mood in rehearsal, often shocking a genuine reaction out of us by surprising us with blocking we weren’t expecting. He also helped us to find our intention in the moment by encouraging us to emotionally engage with difficult experiences from our past. I found his method approach to the drama very effective and it seems that the audience did too as many people were saying that this was the best production that Buxton had ever done.
At the end of the two months, I got a visit from my mum and little brother Oscar and we got some time to spend in beautiful Buxton, feeding the ducks, after all the hard work was over.
In mid- September I was involved in a very powerful and emotional concert to raise money for the surviving victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Earlier that year, a colleague and fellow soprano, Nazan Fikret, put up a facebook post asking for singers to put together a concert. This post snowballed into a huge concert at the Cadogan Hall with some of the biggest names in the world. It was an epic concert in which I have never seen so much extraordinary talent and musicianship perform in one room in one evening and raised preliminarily £30,000 for the families of the victims.
The following week, I was given the wonderful opportunity to sing for an International Opera Awards Gala event at the Globe Theatre.
The space was decorated to perfection and we were set to work singing several Shakespearian operatic ensembles including the energetic final sextet from Verdi’s Falstaff.
Due to an illness, I was also called on to sing a tenor aria from Purcell’s Midsummer Night’s Dream which I learnt on the day and, much to my relief, went to plan! Bryan Hymel and his wife Irini sang arias and duets which had everyone in the room speechless.
Over the course of August and September, I attended a number of engaging talks on the industry with internationally renowned tenor Stuart Skelton along with a one-to one session to work on some new arias. The talks opened up a discussion between several colleagues, at my level and beyond, about the various challenges of the business and how to overcome them. I found great comfort in these discussions as it is rarely talked about how isolating and emotionally difficult this job can be. In order to market ourselves we have to project a constant show of success and seem to present ourselves as infallible. To hear that it was normal to have a complicated relationship with performing, and that these feelings should be embraced and worked with, helped me in a multitude of ways.
I separately attended workshops which explored the body during performing and to find greater vocal freedom. I also sang for the London Song Festival English Song Masterclass with Dame Felicity Palmer. Unfortunately, I had to withdraw from a competition at this time due to a back injury but I was back on my feet in time for rehearsals for my next project, a revival of Noah Mosley’s Mad King Suibhne.
Following its critical success in March we would now be collaborating with ENO, rehearsing and performing in their Lilian Baylis studio in West Hampstead and, the following week, at Messums Art Gallery in Wiltshire.
During this time, we were filmed by Renato Guerra for a documentary film and the opera was filmed again by Heathcliffe Blair at Messums. For a taste of the opera you can watch the trailer below from the premier in March.
(Further clips can be found on youtube)
The morning after closing night (after a long coach ride back the previous evening) we filmed the aria which I posted at the top of this page. We only had a few hours to rehearse and film but, with some leftover adrenalin from the night before, we pushed through and Heathcliffe brought it magically to life.
I just managed to squeeze in a concert in my home town of Morpeth (a lovely couple of days with some brilliant musicians) before a tough two weeks of auditions in the run-up Christmas and then - PHEW - it was all done!
I will be travelling North again to perform the soprano solo in Carmina