Who or what are the greatest musical influences in your life?


© Kristin Speed

I have been blessed with a wonderfully supportive family and circle of friends, but also with amazing teachers, and I must accredit my love of performance to my first teacher, Geraldine Magee. She was and still is a huge influence on me, and on my performance skills and technique. When you are lucky enough to start early with someone as inspirational as her, you learn the joy of performance, of bringing joy to other people through your performance. Above this, you learn to be grateful for a gift you were given at birth that is precious and should be cherished and well looked after. I am also so lucky to have been a member of the Bavarian State Opera company for the past six years, a company that is buzzing with talented and exciting performers. Being able to work alongside, and watch, these incredible singers, conductors and coaches, and experiencing the culture and tradition of such an old opera house, has undoubtedly been a massive influence on my life.

When did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career as a professional singer?

I began taking singing lessons when I was 10 but it really hit me when I was 13, on a family holiday. We went to Verona and experienced a stunning production of Aida at the Arena,a life changing experience and my first ever live opera performance. I already knew that I loved to sing but this opera experience was a new firework that interested me beyond belief. And that was it, I had decided!

You are currently a member of the ensemble at the Bavarian State Opera. What are the benefits of being part of an opera company that still has an ensemble?

Firstly I had been a member of the opera studio at the Bavarian State Opera for two years, after which they asked me to join the Ensemble as a resident principal soloist. Talk about being a lucky girl! Being a member of the ensemble of such a long established company means that not only am I exposed to all of the major repertoire as the company puts on over 40 different productions each season, but I'm also exposed to the wonderful traditions that such an institution has – musically, dramatically and also from the public. Having sung small roles on the main stage as a member of the opera studio, I began my contract in the ensemble directly with a debut as Cherubino in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. And the role debuts kept coming, including Dorabella in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, L'Enfant in Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilieges, Romeo in Bellini's i Capuleti e i montecchi, Hansel in Humperdink's Hansel und Gretel, Rosina in Rossini's il Barbiere di Siviglia, Angelina in Rossini's La Cenerentola, and most recently, Sesto in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. These among many other productions meant that by the age of 25 I had reached my 100th professional performance. Having a full time job like this means I could study all of these roles, and debut them in such a wonderful theatre that I can call home.

You're about to sing Octavian in Richard Jones' new staging of Der Rosenkavalier. What appeals to you most about this role?

Having been in Germany for the past six years, I have fallen totally in love with Der Rosenkavalier, and the beautiful role of Octavian. I have seen it performed at least twice a year every year since I moved to Munich, not just at the BSO, but also in Vienna, Hamburg and Dresden. This is a mezzo's dream come true, the vocal line is lush and plays intricately with the text, and the orchestral accompaniment is some of the most breathtaking music that I know of. Playing a boy, who is playing a girl, is also terrible amounts of fun! However, I must honestly say it is all about being true to the music with this piece. I knew, when I began to study it, that the only way to do justice to the piece is to give your heart and soul to it and stay true to every single beat.

Glyndebourne is renowned for its thorough rehearsal period – how has this helped whilst making such a major role debut as Octavian?

We have been blessed with a long rehearsal period, it is one week longer then I have ever had before, and let me tell you, with this piece you need it! Such a wonderful libretto means that you must focus on each tiny detail to give the audience the full picture. Another great thing about having this amount of time is that as a cast we have had plenty of time to become a family and thus become closer as a performance team. I feel the family feeling all around at Glyndebourne, it has made all of us more relaxed and thus in turn, more vulnerable with our performances.

It has been hinted at that Jones' staging is going to dispense with some of the preconceived notions of sentimentality that surround the work – how would you summarise his approach?

I don't know what has been hinted, but what I will say about Richard's approach is that he stays so true to the music and the text that he has pushed each and every single person in this opera to find the through line of the character, from the biggest role, right to the role with no singing at all. All of this adds up to a much more honest story, vulnerable performances and a better understanding of the overall picture. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to do such an important role debut with Richard. I feel we have discovered every corner of Octavian, and I've had the chance to play right into these corners, turning him into a well-rounded and formed character.

You've sung Hansel in Jones' acclaimed staging of Hansel und Gretel in Munich – as a director what is he like to work with?

Richard is a wonderful director, he knows every single note in the score not just the text, this means that the entire process is a collaboration. He allows each person to voice their opinions and he takes it all on board. My very favourite thing is that one can learn so much from Richard, he pushes you to be as vulnerable as possible with the character, to do only what is required, and to bring the audience a clear, readable story. It has been a joy working with him on Octavian. Hansel was one of the greatest experiences of my life – my first main role in German, and Richard's production was fun from the first note of the overture right through to the end when you are stuffed full of cake!

What other new roles are now on the horizon, and will we be seeing more of you in the UK?

Next on the study cards for me will be Carlotta in Strauss' Die Schweigsame Frau, Christa in Janáček's The Makropulos Case and Despina in Cosi fan tutte. And I am delighted to sing Octavian with the cast from Glyndebourne at the BBC Proms on 22 July, and I will be back in London in December for my debut with the London Philharmonia at the South bank Centre.

What advice would you give to any young singers wanting to enter this profession?

Practise, practise, practise. Llisten to everything, perform as much as possible, and make sure you find a good teacher because every singer needs a good foundation. Tools for the rest of your life!

If you were stranded on a desert island, and allowed one musical score which would you take with you and why?

This question is HORRIBLY difficult! I could cry even thinking I should only bring one. I think it would have to be Der Rosenkavalier, an opera with love scenes, comedy scenes, life changing events, a boy playing a girl – I mean, it's an absolute all-rounder. (In my pocket would be a tiny condensed score of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, it that's allowed!)

Glyndebourne