A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

A glimpse of what the future may hold?

This week saw college hosting the National Opera Studio for a short series of recitals, workshops and a gala concert with the WNO Orchestra. This was the first attempt at so close a collaboration between the NOS and RWCMD, and initial feedback seems to suggest we may expect this to happen again next year, and maybe even grow into a larger project.

I can only speak for myself and say how I felt it went and what I got out of it. I can also only hope the NOS Trainees felt welcome and didn't find working with us too much of a chore. From my point of view it was interesting to see what might be in store for those of us lucky enough to progress to studying at the Studio in a couple of years' time. I suppose all these thoughts started when we saw the first lunchtime recital on Wednesday, got to read the Trainees' biographies and relate them to what we could see and hear onstage. First impressions: average age is higher than on our course and most of them have already worked with professional opera companies, so perhaps a break between college and somewhere like the NOS is not a bad idea... Also, the voices on show were fairly securely established, in the sense that they were already focussing on repertoire specific to their voice types. More on that later.

After said recital we had a joint workshop, in which I was fortunate enough to sing. It felt slightly contrived at first, with neither cohort quite knowing what it was meant to be about, and with some visible differences in attitude and approach, but under Alma's guidance it turned into an enjoyable ice-breaking session, complete with all sorts of inappropriate banter. The nice thought for me personally was that I didn't feel vastly inferior (self-centered approach, I know, but let's be honest: we all compare ourselves to our superiors, peers, etc). It also got us talking to the guys from the Studio, which was good.

We then had an informal recital in the Foyer, which generated some positive feedback from the assembled audience. How about an uplifting quote: 'You know, apart from them being older, there isn't that big a difference between the two groups.'

After that was a fascinating Q&A session with people from WNO (the Director of Artistic Administration, Head of Music Staff, and Casting Administrator) about auditions, what it's like to work for WNO, etc.

The following day saw the Studio gang rehearsing with the orchestra, which gave us the opportunity to work with the Director of the NOS: Kathryn Harries. I promise to write about that class, complete with notes from her that perhaps my singer readers will find useful, but I'll do that in a separate post.

Friday was the big night, the gala concert. I have to say, having heard them on Wednesday, backed by the incredible WNO Orchestra with some inspiring baton-work from Stuart Stratford, the Trainees upped their game and gave a great performance. Again, they were all shown in repertoire specifically chosen for their voices, and had the opportunity to shine, an opportunity most of them made the best of. This did make for a bit of a same-y programme, but the concert was short enough to not be boring. After the concert we retired to the bar, where some schmoozing took place, however exhausted as I was after the half-week of being under pressure (or at least perceived or self-inflicted pressure) to measure up to the NOS singers (I have to say, this is all in my insecure head, the guys themselves are a great bunch, very supportive and easy-going), I quickly decided to withdraw to what we affectionately call 'the dark side', which means I left the posh theatre bar and passed through the keycard-locked doors to our cheap and cheerful student bar.

There I met up with the Opera'r Ddraig gang who had just finished rehearsals and after the bar closed we headed into town for one last quiet drink in the Bunk House (my favourite place in Cardiff). To our surprise it wasn't long before the entire NOS team ended up there as well! And I have to say, it was a fantastic end to a difficult week. No pressure, a chance to talk over a drink, everyone still buzzing after the concert... Good times!

From talking with the NOS cohort, it is obvious that the Studio is a great springboard for a career, but has to be timed well. The programme is incredibly intensive, quite short (only 9 months), so really it's vital that you know you can handle working in the profession before you even apply, because over the course of their time at the Studio, the singers are heard by everyone who is anyone in the UK operatic industry. It's vital you have the stamina to deliver at all times, and also to have a clear vision of what you want to do, or what your voice is able to do, what roles you will be going for. Because of the exposure you really want to be able to work straight away. Of course, nothing is guaranteed... In any case, the simple fact of getting through the auditions process should mean that you have what it takes. But there are always exceptions, and best not to be one of them, which is why I think it's better to give it a lot of thought and prepare a plan for yourself beforehand, rather than taking a punt at auditioning. Of course, there are only 12 places, so while you're planning, better prepare a plan B. And C, and... You get the idea.

On a personal note, my 'conversation of the week' was with a tenor who until a year ago had been a baritone. He told me what the change had been like, why he left it so late, and also compared himself to me (that comparison had been made a couple of times before by other people as well, which is why I was so glad to see him in Bunk House and have a nice chat with him) and offered the best advice he could: be careful, patient, and don't do anything because people tell you you're a tenor. Let the voice decide.

So bearing that in mind, maybe I shouldn't audition for NOS until the voice has decided ;)

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