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Becoming an accomplished singer is a long haul. Even after post-graduate study certain voice types (and most men) require further years of lessons to reach anything approaching full potential.
Alwyn Mellor (Isolde at Grange Park 2011) is a case in point. It was only in her mid 30s that the voice came into its own and she is now booked for Brunnhilde at Bastille in Paris.
During this post-post-graduate period, singers find some chorus work but lessons are expensive and don't lie within living budgets.
The Scholarship Fund is used to help these singers pay for lessons and coachings in the preparation of particular roles, or to work on a particular aspect of the voice. We often pay the teacher/coach directly and keep a watchful eye on progress.
Seven singers this year have benefitted from this pot of money. Click here to read how the fund has helped them.
For more information, contact:
Anthony Flaum is currently studying at the National Opera Studio in London supported by Grange Park Opera, John Wates Foundation, Nicholas Boas Charitable Trust, Robert Vivian Memorial Trust and Michael Ward.
Sing Song Merrily on High - November / December 2012
Christmas is a time for giving and receiving. A time to eat, drink and be merry and when one's feeling bold enough, to get up and sing a song or two. This is what faced many of us in the term leading up to Christmas. The "Song Recital" loomed over us all and although the challenge and indeed the performance was, I'm sure, relished by all, I would not be the only trainee to admit that those words initially filled with me with dread!
Following the success of the Talevi scenes project, I had also been working hard to pull together my programme for my first ever song recital. Bearing in mind, I'd never sung "songs" per se before...or at least not the type you hear at these recitals, it was quite a tall order. I would have gladly reeled out a string of rugby songs from my bygone University days but I don't think this would secure me a place on the illustrious UK recital circuit. This got me thinking about the origins of a song and whether there is any difference between performing a "song" in an artful Kammermusikhalle or performing an opera on a stage. When performing an opera there is a story (often but not always dramatic or love-based), a setting, a time period, a costume and lots of different types of characters; an ingénue, a villain, a hero, a maid or two, a beautiful girl with a cough (!) and perhaps a child or two wandering about innocently in a white night gown. My point is that there are lots of "things" that inspire your performance not to mention your own life experience that you bring to the role. What is there when you approach a song? Innumerable recordings in various different voice types and keys, biographical literature galore on the composer (if known) and that's about it. No frills, no back story, no overture, no Act 1 cliffhanger - nothing! Or so I thought.
There is of course one vital component that both song and opera have in common - music! The black and white lines, dots, markings and notations that we all learn to love and dread at the same time! In a full-length opera there is naturally a lot more music to deal with and therefore to tell the story. However, I have found this term that a song and an opera are intrinsically very similar. Many of the composers we study have written opera and song as well as symphonic music. I'm sure that a composer as adept as Tschaikowsky, for example, would not have written a song (or anything else for that matter) for no reason other than to pass the time. He would've written it to tell a story - a moment in time in his or someone else's life that he has observed and felt worthy of setting to music. So when confronting song repertoire, I found that each piece was like a mini-opera in itself - with characters, a setting, a time period and of course a meaning. A whole new world of music has been opened up to me, particularly some of the wondrous Russian repertoire I am enjoying and my preconception of song as too artful, stylised and stuffy. I have discovered a new found respect for the artform. Telling this amount of story convincingly in such a short piece of music, is not an easy job! The song recital went well - I managed to sing the lullaby without the baby crying and I sang Chaliapin's version of "Ochi chornye" (Dark Eyes), that my Nana used to sing during the Second World War on the BBC Radio, without me crying! The other trainees of course presented wonderful programmes ranging from Tosti to Dvorjak and from Britten to Schumann to name but a few - all thoroughly well performed. It was a great, albeit initially daunting, experience.
Following the recital, there was no time to rest up though as it was on to the business of more core role work and also learning our scenes for the residency at Welsh National Opera in January and Scottish Opera in February. The scenes for me are the Act 1 Quartet, Scene & Arioso from Tschaikowsky's Eugene Onegin in which I sing the role of Lensky and Puccini's Act 4 duet for Rodolfo and Marcello from La Bohème. I have had the luxury of knowing both pieces quite well so was able to try different things out in rehearsal. By the time this blog is published, we will have performed at WNO and will be looking forward to Scottish Opera.....but what happened in Cardiff will all be revealed in Blog Entry 3! For now, I'd like to continue with a few more things that happened leading up to Christmas.
In the first term we focussed some of our time on the wonders of the Italian language - its phonetics, its history and its inherent openness and intrinsic legato for the voice. During these months however, we were given the opportunity to focus on other languages by working with language coaches such as Florence Daguerre de Hureaux for French, Dominic Dengler for German, Alissa Firsova for Russian and Lada Valesova for Russian and Czech. All of these people are passionate about the correct pronunciation of their language through music but also use the music to help us and are sympathetic to how singers need to produce sound. I have found that each and every one of these languages has its own rhythm and flow and therefore in the right music, has its own beauty when spoken and sung right. For me particularly, I have enjoyed the exposure to Czech - a language I have not sung in previously but would certainly like to again.
Another person we encountered during this term was the esteemed Mr David Pountney, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Welsh National Opera. We had the opportunity of singing to him in a working session and then having a group Q&A with him. Naturally, my first question was "Can I have a job?" at which everyone laughed including him (hopefully not an indicator of my future success with the company) but it broke the ice well nonetheless! Following this, we all posed questions about auditions and repertoire to which we received poised and insightful answers. Most importantly I feel, he spoke of how important it was to be an artist and not just a singer - encouraging us to ask questions such as why this character is saying these words. It sounds simple enough but so often this is missed when focussing on la voce. As mentioned above, we are on a stage to tell a story through music and this should not be forgotten!
Sessions with Mandy (movement coach) continue to play an important part of people's development both physically (for me I am working on core strength and flexibility to improve my breathing as a singer) but also mentally. For example, the tango as a dance is intense, passionate, open yet secretive and soulful in a way that has most people shying away. It is this openness and truth to a core inner feeling that can really enliven a performance. So hopefully we can bring some of what Mandy teaches us into our singing (if not all the right steps!).
Other things of note are the sessions we had with ROH Youth Opera and a secondary school from North Wales who came in to talk to us about opera and being an opera singer. It was great to share our passion with others and hopefully inspire more people to look into or take up the artform. I also had the pleasure of singing for Grange Park Opera at a wonderful venue in London, which I didn't know existed - the John Soanes Museum. A fascinating building with an innately good acoustic! I hope next month to visit HMP Erlestoke again to see how Pimlico Opera's production of West Side Story is getting along - a wonderful project, which I still am in awe of.
And of course, we had Christmas! To kick start the holiday period, we all went to the ROH to watch John Copley's production of Puccini's La Bohème, (yes....more sopranos coughing!), which is now in its 38th year. This year, Rodolfo was sung by the Mexican star tenor Rolando Villazon. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Once on holiday, it was a whirlwind of family, friends, food and yes.....song! But this time, NOT the type mentioned above....more festive, slurred and warbled!
So, a few months in and things are going very well. The trainees are all naturally very talented and thoroughly nice people to boot and we are all enjoying the journey so far. What's next? Tales of Wales, more recitals, a trip North of the border to bonnie Scotland and for me, a 3 month old baby who has started to move!!
Life, love and language - September / October 2012