Alexandra is thrilled to join the Ionian singers as a Bursary recipient this autumn. The Ionian Singers is a chamber choir of about 25 singers with a particular focus on less familiar and unjustifiably neglected repertoire both sacred and secular from the 16th century to the present. The next concert will be on 8th December at All Saints Church, West Dulwich. Head to the events page for programme info and more details.
Alexandra is thrilled to be covering Sarah Tynan in the role of Despina at Opera Holland Park next year. Alexandra will also be performing in the Chorus for Così fan tutte and La traviata.
After playing the role of Joyce for over a week, Alexandra has now been recast as Tatyana and will perform 11 dates in the role; 5th – 23rd December. You can find more information on the diary page.
Alexandra is thrilled to be a 2017/18 Opera Awards Bursary Recipient and is immensely grateful to her sponsor Jeremy Scott and the Foundation for their support. Please see the link below for more information on the Opera Awards Foundation.
Olivier Award-winning OperaUpClose comes to the Arcola for the first time with a new English version of Tchaikovsky’s sweeping opera, Eugene Onegin.
A coming-of-age story, a requiem for lost innocence and a triumphant celebration of hard-won independence, it is told through some of the most glorious vocal music ever written.
This new chamber version transposes the story of Tatyana’s sexual awakening to the early 1960s, a world on the cusp of the women’s liberation movement when new thinking stood up to the old ways.
Infatuation and self-restraint do battle in a well-tailored world of sleek suits and full skirts, with seasonal allusions to the snow-swept Russian landscape of Alexander Pushkin’s original novel.
Alexandra will be playing Solo Soprano Chorus and covering the role of Tatyana. Performances running 22nd November to 23rd December 2017.
I was recently, very kindly supported by Talent Unlimited and I now have a profile and interview on their page.
To view my profile and read the interview click here http://www.talent-unlimited.org.uk/profile99.html
Everybody’s favourite Mezzo speaking words of wisdom once again.
As part of the Artist Spotlight on Joyce Di Donato the Barbican presented some of Guildhall’s finest students to work with Joyce at the Milton Court Concert Hall in April. Singers involved were Francesca Chiejina, Dominic Sedgwick, Alison Langer and Eliza Safjan.
Here are some of the notes I took during the class –
How to deal with performance nerves. Drop your breath low in your body and focus on your breathing to help calm down, focus on the text, live each word and savour every consonant. Focus on what the character has to say and how they are feeling. Not you.
When making choices re ornamentation be sure and be clear. Make sure they are true to the character and the nature of what they are saying. On the other hand, when working with others you will have to make many changes to the ornaments you use in a piece depending on the conductor/opera company etc. You need to find a way to make all of them work. Don’t be generic with your choices. Be specific.
Emphasise the rhythms and use them for dramatic effect. Don’t just sing it correctly, use them to your advantage.
Dealing with singing to other characters who aren’t there in the audition room. Have specific reactions to what they say – for example, in the instrumental where they usually sing, know what they say and base your sung response on how you react to it. Sometimes having a specific place in the room where they are (in your imagination) can help.
Don’t just be a singer. Be an artist.
Don’t get bogged down with being correct. There’s a time and a place for that, but once you know the music, you know it. After that you have to trust yourself and really become the character.
Recit – even when really spoken should still be attached to a constant legato with constantly spinning, flowing breath.
In practice – physicalising what you are trying to achieve vocally can really help show your habits/where you are going wrong. Obviously we are dealing with an instrument you can’t see and if you’re arm is getting stuck when you’re trying to achieve legato chances are your voice is too.
Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses – be a good business person. It’s business, not personal.
Don’t do the effect. Do the work and then the effect will come naturally, based in truth, not manufactured.
Sing the words like you’ve never said them before. We know that you know the words but your character has no idea what they are going to say until seconds before they speak. Look to the harmony for hints e.g. resolve, questioning, unsure, certain etc.
When we are nervous it is easy to go to generic acting because it feels like a safe place to be. But specific intentions and taking risks are far more exciting to an audience than a perfect vocal rendition with no soul. Ideally in time you obviously want to achieve both, but as I said earlier, as long as you’ve done the work you can relax in knowing that that will be the case!
When you have a very static play in find something linear and an inner dialogue within yourself to keep yourself focused and in the right place.
Find the shape in every phrase.
Play with the same aria sung in a number of different ways then you have options for variety. Through exploration you’ll often find that who you thought the character was can change enormously during production. You need to stay open minded to this. Each director will decide who he wants your character to be, not you. Don’t do too much work that is set in stone on your own before you meet with the director, be flexible about who your character could be. Don’t miss out on the possibilities. If you’re really stuck with the WHY of what you’re doing ask the director to help you understand it so that you can do your job better. As singers we are often working alone, therefore learning this skill can be more difficult than it seems!
Be positive. Change your inner dialogue and your energy changes. Thus, people usually treat you differently. For example, “how can I learn to do a trill?”, not “I can’t do trills”. “This director is rubbish” VS “how can I understand their direction and make it work for me?.”
Listen to everybody’s advice and see what you can learn from it, but at the end of the day you have to have the strength and self belief to choose what you believe is right.
Saturday’s workshop was with course director Martin Constantine focusing on using the exercises we did with Barbara and Paul.
We all tried the following exercises –
walking the sentence, walking the punctuation, creating a spectrum and walking between the two points as the scene changes.
Then we watched each member of the group perform their audition aria using an exercise of their choice and discussed how well we felt it worked.
One of the most effective exercises was the spectrum, Martin also suggested that we put a bottle at each end of the spectrum that would represent that thing e.g. past and future, or fear and confidence so that we could interact with that thing using the bottle. For example, throwing it, squeezing it, hugging it, shaking it etc.
This was really effective as the movement between the two points clearly illustrated the twists and turns in the scene and having a physical object at each end meant that you could interact with that thing in a number of ways.
Another effective exercise was to draw a picture of what you want/what is going on in the scene. This was particularly useful for creating focus and stillness both in the voice and physically.
Another interesting exercise which we took from Paul’s work was for the group to set a number of tasks for the singer, of which they were unaware. The point being that they spend the entire aria trying to figure out what tasks they need to complete in the room e.g. moving a chair, putting their hands on their head etc which takes the focus away from the singing and creates interesting moments in the aria which aren’t usually there. This one was good for fun and freeing up the voice.
On Sunday we chose the exercise we would like to try best on our chosen audition aria and then revisited it in the afternoon with a view to applying the same focus and movement in an audition situation (where you obviously can’t run around hugging bottles etc!) It was really interesting to see how much the freedom obtained in the exercise could be put into performance when standing still because your mind was still visiting all of the things you had focused on earlier.
It was really nice to practice and get feedback on the whole audition situation. How to walk into the room, naming your pieces, talking to the pianist etc. The more we practice doing this the more comfortable and natural it becomes and in time you have a system which works for you.
In the Sunday session we were also joined by the wonderful Jayke Branson Thom with whom we have worked before. She is a Master NLP Hypnotherapist and Creative Performance Coach. She specialises in mentoring opera singers, helping them overcome their fears and bad habits and sits on many audition panels at ENO, ROH etc.
She gave us a number of physical and mental exercises to focus the brain, calm adrenaline and release negative energy – particularly useful for audition nerves.
We also played with the effect a mental warm up can actually have on the voice. By just imagining the vocal warm up you do you can actually warm up your voice. This is particularly useful for those not so ideal audition situations when you turn up and there is no warm up room or you are asked to go early etc.
We also noticed that a sense of mid focus in the room was crucial. Often in an audition there is a sense of us and them. You’re either locked inside yourself or staring at the wall 30 feet away. However, often in opera you are singing to people who are on stage with you, you’re in a forest/in a palace etc. So a sense of mid focus is crucial. See how much you can imagine and create in your mind. Create points of focus and play and a sense of flow in the body. If there is a sense of movement in the mind you won’t be stuck physically. There is a difference between being rooted to the spot and being reasonably still but ‘in the moment‘.
Keeping what you do with your aria fresh is important, repetition makes things dull. Don’t find one thing that works and stick with it. If you were in an opera it would be different every night, try and apply this to solo performance as well. Make your objective and obstacle as clear as possible. If it is clear in your head it will be clear in performance.
In the same way, don’t let you arias become one dimensional. Sad arias are only sad because of the happiness that once was or could have been. Focus on specific memories/fantasies and then your work will be specific instead of general.
Doing is more effective than trying. Auditions tend to bring on the trying part of the brain. Not helpful. Stop thinking of it as an audition but as a place to play. A place to be spontaneous. You influence the environment, don’t let the environment influence you. If you go wrong, don’t show us.
Audition Tips and Feedback –
Do as much work as possible before hand so that the spontaneity can happen.
Keep visualising when it has gone well before.
Slow down and own the space.
Breathe out and then let the breath in to calm down.
Make it clear you want space and silence to focus outside before the audition. Don’t be afraid to ask for people to leave you alone to concentrate. This is your job.
You have more time than you think. Take time to anchor yourself and become the character before the music starts. Tell the accompanist before you start that you will need some time in between pieces to do this.
More specific thoughts. If you say it twice – WHY?
Same with coloratura – there must always be a reason.
If you’ve chosen a long aria bear in mind this might be the only thing they hear, so if you do choose a long aria, make it for a good reason.
Parallel movements often aren’t organic.
Keep the magic when you’re walking out. Don’t show the panel how you feel it went.
Be an authentic version of yourself.
Don’t stress about audition rules. They are guidelines but essentially you need to find your way of auditioning. An authentic way.
Visualise the stressful situation whilst doing your calming exercise. Do this every day.
Choose an atmosphere to bring in with you, the audition will be what you make it.
Time is travelling quicker for you than it is for the panel. Don’t be afraid to go slow.
Don’t bring in choreography. Or a production you have done before.
There must be an impetus for every line before you sing it.
Your eyeline can be lower than you think. Someone staring high above your head can be a bit creepy.
Whatever you’re feeling, however your day is going, once you’re in the audition room keep your status high and be generous. Aim to make the panel feel comfortable. Have fun.
Tips from your Accompanist –
You are not alone when you audition – there is a pianist.
Make sure the music is easily turnable.
Mark your music clearly.
Don’t feel apologetic or rushed when speaking to the accompanist – say what you need to say.
If the pianist is going way too fast it is fine too stop. Otherwise, if the tempo is only slightly out change it yourself.
Ask for the accompanist to give you a moment in between pieces if you need it.
Friday afternoon was spent with Jane Robinson, head vocal coach on ENO Opera Works and Sophie Joyce Head of the Harewood Artists Program and Casting Manager. It was a mock audition set up where they stopped us and advised us throughout on how to improve our audition technique.
A few tips…
Don’t walk away from the panel too quickly.
When finding your place to stand in the audition room just stand and be.
The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable the panel will be.
Be confident, say what you would like to sing.
Don’t do stage acting in an audition, less is more. Don’t try to show them everything that would be happening on stage.
Try to keep your arms by your side for most of the time, over gesturing can be very distracting.
Include recit if it is an aria that has recitative preceding it.
Show what you can do as much as you can in the first aria.
Present your best work not what you think they want to hear.
Notes from the pianist…
Don’t bring scores covered in scribbles or marked with breaths/ornaments that you don’t do.
Don’t bring huge heavy scores or loose sheets. Music should be stuck together.
This weekend started with a great charisma workshop with Alex McLaren, founder of the Spontaneity Shop www.the-spontaneity-shop.com
There are three different ways of replying to people and their suggestions/offers.
No. (Being inflexible an knocking down other people’s offers)
Yes, but. (You don’t oppose their idea but it’s obvious you don’t like it)
As children we are unfazed by failure. As we grow up we learn to be protective of ourselves and fearful of failure. But is a marker of control in interactions. It is the safest way of staying in control. It also means we don’t have a definite opinion because we’re not committing to having one.
Yes! And… (You roll with their idea and encourage them)
You can be ‘Yes, and’ and friendly without being arrogant. A “yes, and” person is confident. They maintain their own status while raising the status of others. Agreement rather than opposition, listening more. It’s about giving a smile, offering a handshake, rolling with your colleagues’ ideas etc. Being generous.
We did a simple exercise of simple picnic food suggestions to practice these responses and the different effects they have on both the giver and the receiver. However, the point is that these responses are ways of being.
High Status Behaviour –
Strong upright posture, speaking slowly and taking the time and space to do and say what you want. It’s not necessarily what you’re doing, but that you’re doing it with purpose. This kind of behaviour is very important when you’re on stage but not so great in social situations!
Auditions – We set up a fake audition room with some of us playing the panel of judges and the rest taking it in turns to use the ‘yes, and’ behaviours to take control of the room.
Yes! And mode is very useful as a performer, particularly in auditions. Don’t let the mood of the audition room determine your performance, bring yes and into the room. People make guesses on your feelings based on your behaviour – if you’re friendly and warm they’re unlikely to think that you are nervous even if you are!
Speech needs to be loud and slow. As does your walk into the room and to the accompanist etc. By slowing down you’re showing that ‘this time is for me’
Be the one to speak first if you can when entering the room. Say hello and introduce yourself, offer a handshake.
Make choices that show your authority and control. If you mess up, own it, don’t let it ruin the rest of the audition.
We did a number of exercises throughout the morning that were useful in confidence building and taking control of situations.
Key points –
Maintain your own status… Keep your head a bit stiller than normal and make eye contact. Make purposeful movements. Slow down and be comfortable taking up space.
And raise the status of others… Smile first, smile often. Admit what you don’t know. Make other people feel important and validate what they want. Mount an agreement not an argument. Say “Yes And.”