News & Views
Audition Oracle – Thu 14 Jul 2022 @ 8:27
We were delighted to catch up with Jennifer Witton, discussing everything from her upcoming debut at Longborough Festival Opera to cake baking. Jennifer is incredibly bubbly and funny, and, as denoted by the many brackets filled with ‘she says laughing’, it was a brilliantly hilarious interview. Our enormous thanks to Jennifer.
Hello Jennifer! Firstly, thanks for meeting with us today. We can’t wait to come and hear you sing the role of Micaëla in Carmen. Is this your first time singing it?
Whilst we are on By Voice Alone, that’s a great place to start, how did you find the process? (For those who don’t know, Jennifer won our By Voice Alone competition back in 2019, which pioneered blind auditions in the opera industry).
Can you tell us a bit more about what happened after the competition?
Amazing! Did you get to go on as Gilda?
Is it a role you had sung previously or have sung since?
Oh, that’s such a shame. Have you found that a challenge thus far in your career? That your voice is deemed as one type of role, but you don’t match the character?
Yes, I completely hear you. It is great that other singers have been vocal about this issue in the press, for instance, Allan Clayton particularly springs to mind as having raised the issue. This was the main incentive behind launching By Voice Alone. We want to create a more inclusive industry which puts the voice at the very heart of it.
And, of course, streaming boomed throughout the pandemic. How was all of that for you? Of course, it was a difficult time for any artist.
So, coming out of the pandemic, and trying to get your singing career going again. Was that an easy process? Did you have a lot of things lined up?
Was there quite a lot of emotion in the room?
So, how did Longborough come about? Isabel Murphy was on the second-round panel of By Voice Alone. And I have noticed that a couple of singers from the competition are performing as part of their season this year.
Amazing, how intriguing. Well, we have our tickets so we shall see. Is this the first time you have done a full role since the pandemic?
And how has it been balancing it with childcare?
Can I ask If you have an agent at present?
I try to always ask this next question: What piece of advice would you give a young singer starting out.
What do you do to relax outside all of this?
Oh no! Your white chocolate brownies were legendary! A very important question, do you take cakes to your rehearsals?
Well, thank you so much for taking time out to speak to us. It has been hilarious! Best of luck for Longborough. We cannot wait to see you!
Audition Oracle – Thu 2 Jun 2022 @ 7:21
It was such a pleasure catching up with contralto Stephanie Maitland in Vienna since she won By Voice Alone’s Development Award back in 2019. The By Voice Alone panel were completely drawn to Stephanie’s striking lower register, and jury member Michelle Williams, Casting Director at English National Opera, had the inspired idea to connect Stephanie with legendary international mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill, a partnership which has shaped Stephanie’s voice and career to date.
Stephanie is presently a Young Artist at the Wiener Staatsoper, where she has recently been playing Roßweiße in Die Walküre. At the end of her two years at Vienna, Stephanie joins the ensemble of the Volksoper Wein where her upcoming roles include Tisbe in La Cenerentola, Mary in Der fliegende Holländer, Marta in Iolanta, Third Lady in the Magic Flute as well as Frau Reich in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Audition Oracle – Thu 19 May 2022 @ 6:14
We caught up with soprano Chloë Morgan, By Voice Alone’s Emerging Artist Prize winner, to find out about her exciting journey and singing career since entering the competition.
In this interview she discusses how By Voice Alone’s pioneering audition method allowed her an unbiased and equal platform; and also tells us a little more about her exciting career journey to date – all interwoven with some exquisite clips of her dazzling voice.
Audition Oracle – Fri 6 May 2022 @ 7:00
Following the 2022 Kathleen Ferrier Competition, we were delighted to grab a quick chat with Emma Roberts, mezzo-soprano and recipient of the second prize as well as the Loveday Song Prize winner for her performance of Debussy’s Colloque sentimental.
We first encountered Emma nearly three years ago, back in 2019 as a semi-finalist in our competition By Voice Alone. We were completely blown away by her poised and elegant performance when we saw her at the semi-final of the Kathleen Ferrier awards, and we were interested to hear more about her journey and progression from one competition to the next.
Firstly, massive congratulations! What does winning the Kathleen Ferrier Second Prize and also the Loveday Song Prize mean to you?
There are two sides to it really. On the one hand, I am completely overwhelmed and can’t quite believe it, I am definitely pinching myself! But on the other hand, in perhaps a more realistic way, I acknowledge that I have worked really really hard, I have tried and tested many things that have failed, and it has been my third attempt at the competition, so I also feel like perhaps, finally, I am doing something right.
It is really wonderful to hear you say that. We often only hear about people’s success, but never the journey which leads to it. So, we are grateful to you for sharing that. It is also interesting for us, especially as we were impressed by you three years ago. In By Voice Alone, there were more than 400 people and you made it to the top 28.
By Voice Alone was a pioneer of blind auditions, and we wanted to make the process as fair as possible, and only about the voice. We are now seeing this approach adopted across the industry. However, I understand that you also felt additional benefits from having the screen. Can you tell us more about that?
Singing behind a screen felt totally liberating! There was no feeling of judgement and it felt like ‘play time’. I felt as though I was inventing things on the spot because I couldn’t feel any judgement.
Funnily enough, if I connect the dots, I felt like at the Kathleen Ferrier Awards, I was finally able to harness that freedom, but without needing a screen there. Over the three years, I have slowly managed to transfer that freedom that comes from being behind a screen to feeling like that in front of people.
So, what inspired you to take place in the By Voice Alone competition in the first place?
My main intrigue stemmed from my experiences of closing up when I felt judgement and feeling that the panel were really scary, and consequently not being able to do what I know I am capable of doing both musically and vocally, which, of course, leads to feeling disappointed in myself.
But when I sang with a screen, everything loosened up and I was able to do what I would in a singing lesson or rehearsal room.
You were very young when you took part in By Voice Alone, and early on in your training. Therefore, how was it walking out to the semi-final of the By Voice Alone competition knowing that there was a large panel, which consisted of all the most influential opera casting directors?
I remember walking into the room and my mouth drying up completely, thinking ‘Ah, this isn’t as fun as last time!’ and just getting through it. I think I was suffering from a bit of imposter syndrome, comparing myself to other people who had made the semi-final and thinking they were further on with their training than I was. I think I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the final, but I just aimed to get through the pieces and not embarrass myself!
Ah imposter syndrome, I am sure everyone can relate there! So, tell us how have you kept motivated these last three years? We understand you have been training during that time, but also through a pandemic, which must have been incredibly isolating?
At the beginning of the pandemic, the change of pace really helped me. At college (Emma currently attends the International Opera School at the Royal College of Music) everything is really fast-paced, and I sometimes feel there is not enough time to truly get under the surface of a piece or a character. So, I enjoyed having time to really delve into the arias and songs I was learning. Although after a few months, it did get a little bit old! And, like the rest of the music world, I was craving performing to real people, not at a screen. But as a student, I was fortunate to have a schedule and structure. It’s hard to remember now, the pandemic seems like a weird bad dream! But I am really grateful to have been part of an institution that was helping me and having goals also really helped.
Yes, having a goal really helped people through the pandemic. Would you say that is your general approach in life? Having a goal and then working towards it systematically?
I wouldn’t say that comes to me naturally, but opera singing has definitely brought that out in me. I am naturally quite disorganised and lazy.
We find that really hard to believe!! You have clearly worked so hard!
No, no, I definitely worked hard. I know, as it’s a real contrast to previously being lazy (she says laughing).
How did you realise you had this voice inside of you?
I think I knew when I was about three years old! I have basically sung ever since I could talk, which must have been so annoying because as a child I would just sing at people! There was this one song that had ten verses, and I remember I would sing all of the verses and then start all over again! And my parents, I don’t know why, would encourage it. But, as a child, I liked singing pop.
What sort of things would you sing?
Well, it depends on the age, but when I was about eight it would have been The Spice Girls, Shania Twain, Britney Spears and, to be quite honest, I wanted to be Christina Aguilera! But my Dad sang both folk and classical music, so I suppose I did have early exposure to both of those genres.
And fast-forward to now, what would you say your favourite piece you performed in the Kathleen Ferrier competition was?
That’s so hard to say! My favourite programme was my semis I think, as I enjoyed the journey it had. But my favourite piece was the Mendelssohn (Die Liebende schreibt), it’s a bit of an underdog that song, but I love it!
Handel – Di speranza un bel raggio… Venti turbini (Rinaldo)
Mendelssohn – Die Liebende schreibt
Debussy – Colloque sentimental
Mark-Anthony Turnage – No Way Out (Twice Through the Heart) – 1997
Mahler – Urlicht (Symphony No. 2)
Mascagni – Io qui potrei forse restare (Zanetto)
Bizet – Près des remparts de Seville (Carmen)
Nadia Boulanger – J’ai frappé
Brahms – Unbewegte laue Luft
Britten - O tell me the truth about love (Four Cabaret Songs)
Ah, that’s what matters. If you love it, you will interpret it very sincerely. That’s something I particularly loved about watching you perform, I find you very sincere as a performer.
Thank you! That is basically the greatest compliment I could receive.
You talked of your father performing folk and classical music, but what was it that inspired you to pursue a career in opera? Once you had finally let go of The Spice Girls?!
My school was quite musical and had a good music department, which is really lucky as I know a lot of schools don’t. We also had a choir. Admittedly at the time I didn’t think classical music was very cool, and I wasn’t really interested in it, but I did it anyway because I could and I had a voice. I started to like the odd thing at first, I remember doing some Britten arrangements and liking those. But I knew I wanted to sing in some capacity, so I did a music degree at university. Maybe also because it was the only thing I was good at! Whilst I was at uni, I sang in the choir, and we did a Mozart Requiem, (granted it’s not opera) but that was a huge light bulb moment for me. I think it was in the Lacrimosa movement that I just thought ‘this is the best thing ever'. I remember saying to my friend ‘You know what, I think I am going to try opera’. And that was it! And then it got really tough because I had no idea how hard it was going to be!
We couldn’t agree more with Lacrimosa being the most amazing bit of music. We find a lot of people go straight from school to music college, so what was your journey like from then onwards having chosen a university degree pathway?
After my second year at Manchester University I dropped out and I decided I wanted to go to a singing teacher in London that I knew who worked at the London College of Music, which is part of the University of West London. But that wasn’t actually for me at all! So, I also dropped out of that. I thought I wanted to go back to Manchester Uni but it was too late in the year. So, I spend the rest of the year doing a Musical Theatre Diploma at the Central School of Speech and Drama, which was part-time, and then I worked as a nanny as well.
After that year was over, I knew I didn’t want to be a musical theatre singer, I definitely wanted to be an opera singer, so I went back to university and finished my third year. In that year, I also auditioned for all the London conservatoires, and didn’t get into any and had a bit of a meltdown. I realised there are lots of really good singers out there! However, my Mum had a good idea, as I was beginning to feel like maybe this wasn’t for me, but she advised me to go and talk to a professional and see what their opinion was. So, I emailed the Royal College of Music, and I paid to have a consultation. At the time I didn’t know who Nick Sears was (as you will remember I said I was quite lazy and I didn’t do my research). For those who don’t know, Nick Sears is the head of the vocal department!
So, I went and sang Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix from Samson and Delilah, which was way too big for me at the time. And he initially told me that I was doing some rather strange things, but we ironed some things out within the hour. But at the end, he said he really loved my voice (!!) and how he was sorry he wasn’t on the panel as he would have given me a place. And that he was going to try and pull some strings!!
The next day I got an email offering me a place on the Graduate Diploma course! And, of course, I lost it with excitement and ran up and down the street screaming with joy! And that is how my journey at RCM began. From there I got into the masters course, and from there into the opera school. So, it has been five years, but it was much-needed work as I had a lot to do.
Well, you have certainly worked hard, and I think the proof was in the pudding last week having heard you in the competition.
Do you think you have come across any obstacles in your journey that you think industry leaders could help to mitigate?
The cost of applying for things is really tough. There are times when I am at the very bottom of my bank balance and I need to apply for something and it's fifty pounds, but that’s also my week of food. I know that they need to pay for people to be on panels and such like, but sometimes the cost is so high. Spending money to get rejected is really tough.
What else? This is a really personal one, I wish that so many places didn’t require a Mozart aria. Mozart is not for everyone, that’s all.
Also, there are a lot of things about age limits as well, especially in Europe, where the limit is often 32 for men and 30 for women, which is totally nonsensical to me.
Because you didn’t go to conservatoire straight out of school, have you felt that you were slightly older than other singers at times?
I am 28 now. But I think there’s a different timeline for every different type of voice. And I think being 28 is okay for my voice. But some young artist programmes just look at my age and don’t consider me, so I think that should be changed.
If you had your time again, is there any advice you would give your younger self?
This advice is tailored to the type of person I am, but I am going to say do the groundwork. Learn the translation of each word for every single song, for a long time I used to get away with it, but it only gets you so far. And research, I think that’s where the sincerity comes from.
Do you have a dream role? Now or in the future, and you can have any voice type.
In an imaginary world, I would love to sing Isolde, from Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde. But if I am sticking to being a mezzo, I would probably choose Delilah from Samson and Delilah.
Well, there have been many a mezzo who have transformed into a dramatic soprano, so you never know! What can we come and see you in next?
I will be in Flight by Jonathan Dove in the summer term at RCM, for which I am playing Minsk woman, which I am really excited to do. Then, I am going to take a bit of the summer off, as I haven’t had a break in a while. And, after that, I am going to be better at updating my website, as I am terrible at that but there is definitely more to come!
One final question, what are the next steps in your singing career?
I think in practical terms, I’d like to get more work in the real professional world (she laughs). Perhaps that means having an agent. And then, also keep working on my technique and never let it slip.
Yes, please never let it slip because we adore hearing and watching you! And who knows, hopefully, we will see you as Delilah one day. Well, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us, but also enormous congratulations once again on the Kathleen Ferrier competition, and we are so thrilled that By Voice Alone helped you in that journey.
To keep up-to-date with Emma's latest news please visit https://www.emmarobertsmezzosoprano.com.
Audition Oracle – Wed 4 May 2022 @ 8:00
Having attended this year’s semi-final of the Kathleen Ferrier awards, we were absolutely captivated by baritone Alaric Green, both by his fantastic instrument, and also his energy and on-stage presence. Those amongst you that are fans of BBC One’s The Voice, may recognise Alaric from his appearance in the 2016 series. Since then, Alaric has made the switch to the opera world, and although, not successful in making the final of the Kathleen Ferrier competition, we couldn’t be surer that a wonderful career lies ahead for him. From The Voice to working as a bouncer and backstage, Alaric has a fascinating story and unconventional path into opera, therefore we wanted to catch up with the young singer to find out a little bit more about his journey so far.
Can we briefly ask about your wonderful name, Alaric?
I believe it's of German origin, but I don’t have any German routes. My Mum just met somebody called Alaric once and really liked the name (he says laughing). Other than English, my Grandma is from Jamaica, so I’m a quarter Jamaican.
How did you discover singing and that you had a wonderful voice naturally?
I always loved singing, but a pivotal moment in my adolescence was in Year 10 when I auditioned for Les Misérables, and got given the role of Javert. Admittedly, I wasn’t really suited to school, so after GCSEs, I went on to Canterbury College (I’m from the Ramsgate area so it was nearby), and I studied Music Theatre between the ages of 16 and 18. I met some really great people and made lifelong friends, however again, I wasn’t so suited to the academic side of things, at that age anyway.
From there, at the age of 17, I auditioned for the London School of Musical Theatre, and believe I am still the youngest person to have been accepted there, graduating at the age of 18. This was another pivotal moment as it meant moving to London.
And what happened after that?
So still in London, I fell into bouncer work as a way of making a living and worked mostly in Camden, which suited me well as I also had (and still have) a blues/rock band. I then ended up working backstage in theatres for quite a while and then went travelling and to Australia with my girlfriend. I came back to the UK as my mother was sadly diagnosed with breast cancer, and although okay now, I couldn’t be on the literal other side of the world at that time. I went back to working backstage and then landed a job as Deputy Master Carpenter at The Criterion Theatre. It was a great time, and I really loved the people I worked with, but by this point I had been doing backstage work for about four years and missed singing. I knew working backstage wasn’t my real passion and the reason I moved to London. So, I decided to audition for Guildhall, and see what happened. And I got in! A real factor in my not auditioning sooner was the issue of finance, and the thought of all the debt was enormously worrisome. But I have been so very lucky not to have had to pay for the course fees.
With such a voice, we are truly delighted that you are back on the stage. What made you switch from musical theatre to opera?
I always had an aptitude for opera I suppose, as within musical theatre, I was always more suited to the older repertoire, like Rodgers & Hammerstein, or repertoire that is more operatic, like Sondheim or Les Misérables for example. The whole time I was studying music theatre, I was always told I should sing opera, but (I laugh now) I wasn’t interested at the time. I did sing ‘Oh ruddier than the cherry’ from Handel’s Acis and Galatea, but it just wasn’t what I wanted to be doing at that time in my life, musical theatre was where my interest was.
I suppose whilst travelling I started to consider opera, and also rock, a little more seriously. Everyone I am working with has been enthused by my singing alternative genres alongside opera. And, I do still love music theatre and haven’t entirely turned my back on it. I would absolutely love to do both in my career, as well as play big stages with my rock band. Simply put, I just love singing and I can find a connection to each of those genres. But opera allows me to really liberate my voice, whilst my own music (in my band) allows me to express myself in my own words.
How was the transition vocally between music theatre and rock to opera?
It was definitely a learning curve! And there’s a lot to learn! And I am still learning! I think a lot of elements from my rock singing had seeped in. But you get what you put in, and I put a lot of work in. I have to say working with Robert Dean and Stephan Loges at Guildhall is an absolute dream team. They just know how to talk to me, as my brain won’t work if you tell me to tilt my larynx by four degrees to the west! But they seem to have the perfect metaphors which work for me. Also, a lot of it is just getting out of my own way!
We have to ask! What would be your dream role?
There are so many! But for music theatre, my top role would be Sweeney Todd, simply for the epiphany moment. And then for opera, there are two. In terms of what I could sing now, Figaro, I love the character and would jump at the chance to play him. But in the future, my dream role would most definitely be Scarpia from Tosca.
So, what’s next for you?
Whilst I didn’t make it through on the Kathleen Ferrier final, I accept it and am just so happy to have been there and involved. I always go into these things with the intention of making myself proud. My journey so far has certainly thickened my skin and I feel like everything that has happened has allowed me to realise the importance of every opportunity I get and really give it what it’s worth.
So, this summer I will be joining Garsington Opera in their chorus. After that, I am staying on at Guildhall for their opera course. And, after that, I aspire to have a global guesting opera singer career and dig into as many interesting roles as I can. I want to move people and give myself to it. And, well, to get paid for doing that would be a marvel!
Training and living in London is expensive, have you received help from your family financially?
Unfortunately, both of my parents are disabled and live on the Disability Living Allowance, which isn’t a lot. I am so enormously grateful that my undergraduate studies tuition fees were completely funded by Richard Oldfield and Amicia de Moubray with the Henry Oldfield Trust. And then, I took out a student loan to cover living expenses. I also recently found out that Richard Oldfield and Amicia de Moubray will continue to play a huge role in supporting me throughout the opera course too! For which, words can’t really begin to express my gratitude! I have also managed to secure some funding to assist with living expenses, for which there are still other funds are yet to audition, so that is on my horizon.
Have you got any advice for those looking to follow in your footsteps?
Just give everything. If you love it, then that is why you’re doing it. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, because you (and everyone else) are unique, there are no two voices exactly the same.
We want to thank Alaric for taking the time out to chat to us about his career thus far. Not only were we struck by his incredible voice and presence on stage but also his down to earth nature and humility off the stage. Alaric, we wish you the very best of luck for this summer and your further studies. We will be watching your career, which we know will flourish, with great interest and want to wish you the very best.