28 September 2017
Ahead of the inaugural Scholars’ Recital at the Wigmore Hall in October 2017, we sit down with this year’s scholarship recipients to talk about their journey so far and what they’re looking forward to as they embark on their professional careers.
Independent Opera: Let’s start from the beginning, what led you towards opera and singing originally?
Katie Coventry: Well from a young age, I loved opera. My dad is a huge fan and always had the DVDs on at home, listening to things. I went to see my first Scottish Opera when I was 13, for my birthday, I saw La Boheme there which was my favourite at that time. Through school I was a violinist and played the piano as well, I joined the National Choir of Great Britain and it was through that that I heard about Royal Holloway, where they did choral scholarships. It was hard to know opera-wise whether my voice would go that way, but at 16 my voice really started to change and I changed teachers to this fantastic mezzo, Allison Cook. Hearing her, an actual opera singer, at that age in a room with me, I’d never seen it up close like that before and I was just totally in awe of her. She said to me ‘I think you’re a mezzo soprano, let’s work on getting this voice working’.
I did history and I really got a lot out of a university degree, I was a choral scholar for the first couple of years. Then I started taking solo singing a lot more seriously, and I found the graduate diploma course at Royal Colleg of Music (RCM). I just absolutely loved it, Nick Sears gave me opportunities with contemporary music and moved onto opera school. British Youth Opera was a fantastic platform for me, it was doing Fox [The Cunning Little Vixen] with them that they [ENO] saw me and invited me to come and sing and that’s when they offered me Edith in The Pirates of Penzance and then a place on the Harewood Young Artists programme. I’m really a firm believer in kind of riding a wave. You make decisions and then see what the next thing is, have a rough plan in your mind but be open to make the most of those opportunities and work hard and do well with what’s given to you. Doing Glyndebourne this summer came at the perfect time.
IO: You’ve had some wonderful opportunities with ENO so far, what have those experiences been like?
KC: It couldn’t have been better! Coming in as young British singers, having access to that [Gilbert and Sullivan], when so many houses are doing it now, but also Britten in Europe and Kurt Weill’s done in English in some places. It was the best start for me, because it was a low-pressure role with access to the fantastic chorus and other fantastic individuals. I know Soraya [Mafi] has been supported by you, we were at college together, she’s been out a few years and I was bending her ear about the profession. Even though she’s only a couple of years ahead, she’s got so much experience already. Other people like Lucy Schaufer, who was a coach at college and continued her support through the rehearsals and shows. Marnie is going to be amazing, I did the workshop for it and absolutely loved it and Nico [Muhly] and the director Michael Mayer, they’re just so fantastic.
I’m really a firm believer in kind of riding a wave. You make decisions and then see what the next thing is...
IO: Are there any Directors or Conductors you’re excited to be working with?
KC: I’m working with Tim Murray next year, Street Scene at Teatro Real, Madrid. He conducted the Tête à Tête chamber operas at RCM with Bill Bankes-Jones, he values good musicianship and specialises in contemporary music, so I’m really looking forward to working with him again. I’m working with Martyn Brabbins next year for the first time at ENO. I also want to build my orchestral song repertoire. RCM has put me forward for the Peter Hulsen Orchestral Song Award in September, which is the collaboration with Southbank Sinfonia. It’s a good opportunity, when you meet conductors, to be able to say that there are pieces you’re able to do and keen to work on. Because that’s all the extra stuff isn’t it, between doing opera contracts, it’s important to work on oratorio, orchestral works, song and competitions.
IO: Is there anyone who has been a role model or particularly inspiring on your journey so far?
KC: There are so many. Obviously, I follow a lot of mezzo tracks, I love Anne Sofie von Otter and Frederica von Stade. Diana Montague is one of my favourites, I really love the career she’s had. It was her recording of La Clemenza I had when I was preparing for the cover of Annio at Glyndebourne this summer, when I was also working with Alice Coote, Michèle Losier and Anna Stéphany, they are all just fantastic. I was covering Michèle and Rachel Kelly as well who was doing two performances of Annio, she came in for a week of rehearsals so I was observing and got to chat with her and she’s somebody I’d like to follow in the footsteps of. Obviously, coaches and répétiteurs as well that I’d love to work with, Iain Burnside and Simon Lepper, and there’s other singers like Nicky Spence, who perform both song and opera so fantastically and Soraya Mafi. I’d really like to achieve what they’ve achieved, doing roles and song recitals simultaneously.
IO: How are you feeling about the Scholars’ Recital in October?
KC: James (Baillieu) is great, I’m really looking forward to learning the Panufnik. The ensemble pieces, singing with Nika and Sam doing the Rosenkavalier trio, and I think that’ll be really exciting! I did the Brigitte Fassbender masterclass at the Wigmore in October last year, as well as the Kathleen Ferrier competition, which was exciting. It was a very intimidating room for sure, obviously with lots of supportive faces. The Wigmore is a very different audience compared to that at the colleges and of course very different to Pirates [at ENO] too, so it’s about knowing how to perform what feels right to the music and also appreciate what the audience are looking for.
IO: What advice would you give yourself or other who are just starting out at music school, and have you been given any advice that has stuck with you?
KC: Coming from university where my performance consisted of one 45-minute recital for the year, it was a shock coming into college and seeing how quickly you often have to learn things, and in the profession as well. You have to pick things up at a day’s notice sometimes. I would really advise just always being prepared, using every moment and resources to prepare, because that time is so valuable, not only as a cost thing.
Being prepared was advice passed on to me, but also knowing that if you’re not prepared and you aren’t ready then don’t do it. I held off auditioning for any of the summer festivals until I felt ready. College absolutely told me when I wasn’t ready for something, and I’ve had a few knocks. Don’t let it put you off. You must keep working at it, you have to believe that you can do it and have the confidence. That should be even more of a reason to go and show people that you can.