So, can every week be like that one?

Every so often, while training to be a classical singer, the hard work pays off and this week was one of those lovely occurrences…

I auditioned for the soprano solo in Carmina Burana way back in September along with many of my colleagues at music college and remember getting the email confirming I’d got the part as I was walking along the Thames, near Temple. I’d never expected I’d get it against so many competent undergrad and postgrad singers and literally jumped up and down with excitement. Thankfully, my husband was walking alongside me so I didn’t look too crazy. Best of all, Dominic Peckham, conductor of many amazing choirs including the Royal Opera House’s RM19 Youth singing group, would be conducting us.

The undergrad choir, which is made up of all undergraduate singers and all first year instrumentalists, started their rehearsals for the chorus in the first week of October, but the five soloists didn’t get involved until a week before the performance. We turned up to a choir rehearsal and were blown away by the quality of the sound. Dominic had certainly done what his predecessors had failed to in previous years and made all the participants excited about this piece of music. The power of O Fortuna is hard to ignore in any setting, but at the rehearsal in the Old Royal Naval Chapel, it was incredible and really got the five of us excited to be a part of something so great. We had a rehearsal with Dominic the following day and sang our pieces; I would be singing 17. Stetit Puella, 22. Tempus est iocundum  and 23. Dulcissime, he also asked me that day to provide the Ragazzi choir for 15. Amor volat undique. Dominic said a few things that really boosted my confidence; how he thought the sound was stunning and my Stetit better than a lot of recordings he’d heard. He also gave me licence to sing Dulcissime a little louder than I’d rehearsed as he was adamant this performance would be great for the first time classical music audience member.

Dominic Peckham working with the Chorus and Pecussion Orchestra in rehearsal
Dominic Peckham working with the Chorus and Pecussion Orchestra in rehearsal

Singing a Top D has a lot of pressures tied to it and regardless of the fact that I’d never not hit it and that my teacher, Alison had me go up to a top F in a lesson, there is always a risk it could crack. So a lot of my preparation was perfecting the technique to reaching that note with ease. No one wanted to see me struggling to get there so I worked hard on my support and in spinning the line so that the sound produced came from my body and nowhere else. That way I could sing as many as I needed to without getting tired. It was a wonderful feeling when I sang it in front of the choir and orchestra at Blackheath Halls the day before the performance as they all gave me a round of applause. It felt great to have everyone behind me willing it to go well.

When the percussion were introduced, I was slightly disappointed… They sounded so amazing and just transformed the music yet my songs didn’t feature them so much. I’d never wanted to be a Baritone as much when I heard the timpani banging away!

Getting ready with my fellow soprano, Amy Worsfold and good friend Jess Thayer, meant we could take a few snaps before we took the stage.

With fellow Soprano soloist, Amy Worsfold before the performance.
With fellow Soprano soloist, Amy Worsfold before the performance.

The performance  went by too quickly but I was so pleased with my performance as I sang to the best of my ability. I loved every second of it and was just sad I couldn’t do more and more performances. Unfortunately, the recordings had some sound anomalies and so can’t be used.

Chelsea performing Stetit Puella at Blackheath Halls Great Hall.
Chelsea performing Stetit Puella at Blackheath Halls Great Hall

The following day after begrudgingly abstaining from alcoholic celebrations in order to remain in good voice, I had the  pleasure of singing in a master class with Mezzo, Louise Winter. I sang Puccini’s Un Bel di Vedremo from Madame Butterfly. Louise had spoken to the singers before me about maintaining a legato line which is something I work on extensively with Alison. So when I performed for Louise, I really tried to support and spin the line, particularly in the dramatic phrases and also tried to get a more intimate sound in the middle “chi sa ra” passage. As is usual, when you try to be too clever, I dropped the ball in a few areas. In trying to spin the line on the dramatic phrases I forgot about the lower notes which need just as much work, , in trying to get an intimate sound, I perhaps made my sound too weak and so had to work at the intimacy with acting, and in worrying about the technique too much I forgot all about the character! In the past I may have berated myself but I realised  how lucky I was to have this expert advice from someone as accomplished as Louise. It’s great to get the opportunity to take part in master classes but it’s important to remember that it is essentially a singing lesson with an audience. It was while I was listening to the master class on my headphones at the bus stop as I do with all my lessons , that Louise Winter spotted me and told me I was very well trained and had something special. It was just what I needed to spare me on even further on my journey!

Blackheath Recital Room where I took part in Louise Winter's master class
Blackheath Recital Room where I took part in Louise Winter’s master class

On Friday night, I joined my singing teacher Alison Wells and her other students for a concert at St Barnabas Church in Mile End. It was lovely to see all my colleagues performing some great repertoire. I sang Michael Head’s “Slumber Song to the Madonna” in the first half and Puccini again at the end of the second half, taking on board all of Louise Winter’s wonderful advice.

With my friend, Mariona De Lamo before our St Barnabas Church performance
With my friend, Mariona De Lamo before our St Barnabas Church performance

On Saturday evening, I watched a condensed 50 minute performance of Die Zauberflöte by Puzzle Piece Opera. They approached the Libretto as a Music Festival and while I don’t want to spoil it for anyone planning to go to the next two Performances, it was brilliant!

Unfortunately, their Papagena had taken ill at short notice and as they had no understudy, James Newby playing Papageno sang their famous duet with a penguin puppet whilst Kirsty McLean, already in costume as Second Lady, hid behind a tent to sing Papagena’s part. It was a stroke of genius which had me genuinely crying with laughter in a good way. Rebekah Smith and Guy Elliott did great justice to their Pamina and Tamino, but their voices always sound beautiful whatever they sing. The rest of the cast were amazing and I strongly recommend this to any one looking for some entertainment in Greenwich!

Some of the Puzzle Piece Opera cast in their final scene
Some of the Puzzle Piece Opera cast in their final scene

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