How would you describe your experience on The Rape of Lucretia so far?
It’s been incredibly rewarding and meaningful. The fact that we’re doing it here: it’s probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to do a Britten opera with Britten Pears Arts, and honouring Britten’s legacy here. The opera has some subject material which is quite sensitive, it’s been a joy working with the cast but that’s tempered with how we deal with the sensitive subject matter and making sure the message we’re communicating through this opera is one of uplifting... not glorifying the violence but sending a message through it.
What do you think is important/special about The Rape of Lucretia?
It’s called The Rape of Lucretia, so we know it’s a severe opera in terms of the libretto. But it’s also one of the only operas that’s a bit self-aware about the material it’s presenting. The number of times I’ve played a soprano who gets killed, or kills herself, or has some less than consensual things happen to her, and it’s just accepted as part of opera as a medium... sometimes it’s tough being a singer conflating what I think should have a platform with some of the things that happen in operas. Whereas The Rape of Lucretia acknowledges the problematic nature of the piece, and that’s the whole point. Britten is commenting on what happened and commenting on society, using the story of Lucretia and Tarquinius as a medium. So, for me it’s interesting because they’re unpacking gender violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, and relationships between men and women on a psychological level. Despite the title perhaps suggesting the opera is glorifying the subject material, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a very complex libretto, it’s complex music and it’s obvious in many layers of the piece that it’s meant to be taken as an allegory, and you’re meant to walk away from it having perhaps thought about the subject with a little more nuance and awareness of the social context.
What attracted you to the project in the first place?
I had already been fortunate to work with Britten Pears Arts in April, on a song and opera course with John Fisher and working here was a fantastic opportunity. Anyone who has been to Snape knows how wonderful it is here. Aldeburgh is beautiful, and you are literally walking on the beaches that inspired Peter Grimes. It’s an honour to be a part of such an iconic and important Britten piece with Britten Pears Arts, with the context and the legacy of Britten.
What has the average day been like here at Snape Maltings?
I’m playing Female Chorus. For people who don’t know Opera very well, the whole thing is a reflection on an event that has happened in the past, as told by one tenor and one soprano called Male and Female Chorus. They’re called Choruses because it’s a throwback to the Greek tradition of a chorus narrating a piece. Because of that I’m on stage for one hundred percent of this opera, so I have been present at every single rehearsal.
My day to day has been 9:45 pick up in Aldeburgh, then we arrive here, we start at 10:30 and we just work and work and work, have our little lunch break, and then work until about 5:30.
Britten Pears Arts have brought in intimacy coordinators to coordinate scenes of violence and intimacy. Those rehearsals have been closed off so only the people integral to those scenes are present, so that they can explore it in a really safe way where the singers don’t feel they’re being asked to do anything they’re not comfortable with.
What has it been like working with director, Oliver Mears?
It’s just been thrilling; we’ve treated this like a piece of drama. And yes, it’s a piece of opera and obviously, opera has singing and a score, but I still feel like we’ve really been able to create our version of The Rape of Lucretia. And that’s been exciting. Because it’s big shoes to fill, especially when you’re in Aldeburgh with Britten Pears Arts. It’s been wonderful.
What have been the highlights working here and with Britten Pears Arts?
The fish and chips are great! I love the people because they’re really dedicated to helping you propel your own individual artistry and bringing yourself very authentically to projects. And that’s been my highlight throughout this process, uncovering how I want to bring myself to this, and I felt very supported in that regard.
Where did you love for opera begin?
I started my formal training at age five, and I grew up on a farm, no musicians in the family, closest city, if you can call it that, was a half hour drive away. There was a children’s version of The Magic Flute that came out on VHS around that time, and I was enthralled with it. And then, my mum walked in on me playing with my Barbie dolls, and I was pretending one was the Queen of the Night, and one was Pamina, and I was making the Queen of the Night doll scream/sing The Queen of the Night’s aria at Pamina in made-up German, but I was making the exact pitches. And so, she ended up putting me in singing lessons, and now I’ve made it my career.
Who are your inspirations?
I’m a huge fan of Nicole Car who sings a mean Ellen Orford [in Britten’s Peter Grimes]. I am very inspired by Britten. His commitment to dramatic and theatrical opera that’s driven heavily on the text of the libretto, that really set the precedent of the art form. But also, Peter Pears, I listened to a recording where he was singing the male chorus and I was just floored at what an incredible artist and dramatic communicator he was. And then of course he did so much work for young artists through the programme that is now the Britten Pears Young Artist Programme. It’s huge this legacy they left behind.
Would you say knowing the history of Britten and Pears has helped in the performance?
Yes, I think because The Rape of Lucretia deals with so many dichotomies and it has the context of a society that’s in strife and at war with itself. Knowing how much of a pacifist he was and knowing how he had this very beautiful partnership with Peter Pears, but of course there was this problem of their relationship not being public or not being legal. I think in so much of his work you can see the embers of that struggle for authenticity within a society that is not necessarily supportive.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
This. Singing a Britten opera here is already a huge honour and then being able to make my Covent Garden debut under the banner of Britten Pears Arts and the Royal Opera House... when I got the e-mail, I was shaken to my core, because it’s a huge responsibility to be trusted with.
What advice to you have for anyone who would want to start a career in opera?
Go into everything with an open heart and open ears. So much of being an opera singer is about learning how to convey your soul through your voice and learning how to hear things and others singing. Listen to orchestral music, listen to symphonic music, listen to chamber music. Soaking up as much art, visual art, audible art, anything you can, to make yourself a better informed and more open artist.
The Rape of Lucretia
Britten's earth shattering chamber opera, already sold out at the Royal Opera House, premieres at Snape Maltings Concert Hall in a production directed by Oliver Mears.
Snape Maltings Concert Hall
Song was at the core of Britten’s musical life, both as a prolific writer and arranger of songs and as a performer alongside his partner Peter Pears. Join us for the first of three special concerts across the Britten Weekend that explore all of the song cycles for solo voice and piano published during his lifetime.
Britten Studio, Snape Maltings