Meet the Artist……Phoebe Haines, mezzo-soprano

(Photo: Allan Jenkins)

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

We had a large selection of Maria Callas recordings when I was growing up, which inspired me a great deal. I thought that if I could achieve even just 1% of the vocal and communicative power that she possessed, then I would be very happy. I also could not have begun to study music without the unfailing support of my mother.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

In terms of live performances that were formative in my early love of opera, I would have to cite Joyce DiDonato’s much-feted Rosina at ROH in 2006. She is a singer whose attitude I admire greatly. I think she is a living shrine to professionalism, and is an absolute queen on stage. Similarly I followed Renée Fleming’s ‘Thaïs’ in 2007 from ROH to the Lincoln Centre, as I just couldn’t get enough of her poise and vocal clarity. And during that same season I went three times to see Dessay/Florez’s ‘La Fille du Regiment’, which I found endlessly gorgeous and beautifully executed. I saw these performances when I was just beginning to study opera and they were incredibly influential. They were all witnessed from the standing gallery and this in no way limited their impact on me. (I diverge but, when people tell me that opera is expensive, I have always to remind them that most of these world-class performances can be experienced for the meager cost of £6 if you’re a student, and only about £10 more if you’re not…!)

More recently, witnessing at close hand Krassimira Stoyanova’s enchanting Marschallin was a huge inspiration. And one singer whose recordings have always been top of my wish list since I was a teenager are those of Cecilia Bartoli. Both her song and opera recordings are always so cleverly and sensitively curated, and I admire very much all of the work she has done to bring to light many of the lesser-known late Baroque composers. Getting to see her live for the first time last summer at the Salzburg Festival in her hero role as La Cenerentola was a dream come true!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I have been very blessed with a full compliment of incredibly supportive friends and family, and so any challenges I have faced have been greatly minimised by the simple unwavering encouragement of this support system. Of course, as musicians we face daily internal ‘challenges’, but really these are best embraced, because they cause us to think creatively about our profession. To paraphrase one of my heroes above (Ms. DiDonato), we aren’t surgeons; we aren’t tasked with the daily responsibility of protecting people’s lives and livelihoods. We have responsibilities – yes – and sometimes very big and important responsibilities, but our job as artists is to practise hard and to bring joy into people’s lives through the music we sing and interpret. We are just vessels after all, and I reckon that if we overestimate our importance within the general scheme of things, then this in itself can lead to unnecessary challenges. Far better to put our time into learning our craft flawlessly and not to worry (too much!) about the challenges along the way, I think.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I was thrilled last summer to get to perform one of my favourite bel canto arias last summer with the Camerata Salzburg, ‘Il segreto per esser felici’ from ‘Lucrezia Borgia’. I am proud of this performance and recording mainly because of how utterly stunning the orchestra sound! I felt very fortunate indeed to be on a stage with such an esteemed group of musicians (including Maestro Theodor Guschlbauer).

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

My very favourite composer both to sing, and in general to know about and learn about, is of course Mozart. It so happens that many of his travesti roles (Cherubino, Annio, etc) sit in a comfortable range in my voice, but actually learning to sing Mozart is, for any singer, a veritable masterclass in the operatic artform. This obviously isn’t an unusual opinion but I cannot recommend the study of Mozart highly enough.

I also adore a wide range of operetta, particularly Offenbach (especially because he wrote so many excellent and well-drawn mezzo roles), but truly my all-time favourite opera would have to be Carmen! This was another one I was exposed to an early age (as are many people I imagine), and I never cease to get goosebumps during almost every number when I hear it performed live. Anita Rachvelishvili’s Carmen at the Met last season is my newest favourite!

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I suppose as opera singers we have little choice over what we are cast in (within reason), but I feel very lucky to have recently had more time to put together a number of my own recitals in recent months. In terms of choosing song repertoire, well I have always loved Schumann’s ‘Frauenliebe und –leben’, and so I had been desperate to sing this for a while. I have performed it twice now in the last year but I still don’t feel as if I have scratched the surface. As the Schumann cycle is only 25 minutes long, I had been searching for something to pair it with, and a lovely friend recommended to me Shostakovich’s ‘Spanish Songs’. I have always enjoyed Shostakovich’s symphonic works but had never sung anything of his, so I very much enjoyed studying these charming pieces from an academic as well as a musical perspective. They are Spanish folk songs, translated into Russian, and while mainly sung by women, are written from a male perspective. I undertook my own English translations of them – a project which gave me endless joy.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

In terms of recital venues, I very much enjoy singing at St. James’s Piccadilly. It has such a warm acoustic and is visually breathtaking (designed by Christopher Wren). Another incredible Wren venue is the Painted Hall of the Royal Naval College, which is fairly echoey, but visually arresting. One of my favourite venues in the world is the Musikverein in Vienna, which I have not yet performed in, but in which I was lucky enough to rehearse last year with the Wiener Philharmoniker. The Musikverein is heavenly-looking, and also has such a rich history, from Bruckner to Brahms.

Another jaw-droppingly beautiful venue that I have performed in is the theatre at Giardini La Mortella, a roman-style amphitheatre carved into a mountain on the island of Ischia. This was the residence for many years of William Walton, and still boasts his wife Lady Walton’s sensational walled gardens.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To perform, it would have to be Mozart, Handel, Offenbach, Tchaikovsky, and Britten. And of course ‘Der Rosenkavalier’, which I think is one of the most transcendent pieces of art (words and music) ever to have been made.

To listen to, I would have to choose Ashkenazy’s famous Chopin recordings on Decca from the 1980s. They are so precise and yet so full of life – a very inspiring combination!

Also, my new absolute favourite piece ever written or performed is Jake Heggie’s ‘Camille Claudel: Into the Fire’, performed with complete fervour, tenacity, and vocal majesty by Joyce DiDonato earlier this year. I am deeply in love with this music, poetry, and Ms. DiDonato’s rendering of it. It is recorded on a CD entitled ‘Here/ After’, and I would very strongly advise everyone to buy and listen to this!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Apart from the singers I have already mentioned variously above, I have also to include Grace Bumbry, Monsterrat Caballé, Fiorenza Cossotto, Sophie Koch, Elina Garanca, Jennifer Larmore, Sarah Connolly, Anna Netrebko, Stephanie Blythe, Thomas Hampson, Placido Domingo, Jonas Kaufmann… The list goes on! In terms of musicians from other styles I would choose Sarah Vaughan, Kurt Elling, and Jennifer Pike, who I recently saw in concert and was totally in awe of!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

This wasn’t exactly a concert per se, but the most memorable moment of my nascent career to date (memorable mainly for the combination of abject terror I felt in the minutes leading up to it, and the complete relief I felt for the hours after it!) was opening the International Opera Awards in 2014. I sung Rossini’s ‘Cruda Sorte’ and was incredibly nervous about performing this characterful and fast-moving aria in front of an audience of 800 of the world’s opera singers, intendants, creatives, and critics (!). But I was so grateful for this priceless opportunity, and I have my sponsors at the International Opera Awards, and my fairy godmother (you know who you are!) to thank for this incredible experience.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

The thought that has been the most useful to me is the idea that this is a marathon, and not a sprint. Once we have learnt a little bit about music and the whole funny business of being on stage, the next part to tackle is our stamina, and also our attitude; to always remind oneself of the big picture is a very important tool.
 British-American Mezzo Soprano Phoebe Haines studied at the University of Cambridge where she obtained a Double First Class Degree, and recently completed her MMus at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama under the tuition of John Llewelyn Evans. She continued her training at the Guildhall as a Fellow in 2014/15, and was also a 2015 Opera Works trainee at the English National Opera. 

In 2014, Phoebe became a Britten-Pears Young Artist, partaking in the Aldeburgh English Song Project. Also in 2014 she was named a Concordia Foundation Artist, an Iford Arts Young Artist, and a Salzburg Festival Young Artist.

Last summer, Phoebe made her debut at the Salzburger Festspiele as Zweite adelige Waise in Der Rosenkavalier conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, and as Tisbe in La Cenerentola für Kinder, a co-production with Teatro Alla Scala. She participated in many concerts during her time at the Festival, including a concert of arias with the Camerata Salzburg under Theodor Guschlbauer, and sang in master classes with Thomas Hampson and Helmut Deutsch. Her engagements with the Festival also took her to Castell Son Claret, Mallorca, where she sang in their annual gala concert, ‘Opera Under the Stars’.

Also a talented recitalist, Phoebe has given recent performances at 22 Mansfield Street, the Pushkin House, Castell Son Claret, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Villa Kyrélos, Giardini La Mortella, Villa Del Balbianello, Belvoir Castle, Bloomsbury Ballrooms, the Handel House Museum, Christ Church Spitalfields, The Savoy Chapel, Asia House, the British Embassies in Rome and Budapest, and the Lebanese Embassy in London. She performed Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben at St. James’ Piccadilly in October 2014 for the Concordia Foundation, along with her own translation of Shostakovich’s Spanish Songs. She is a passionate advocate for charitable causes, and very much enjoys working for Concordia Foundation on a number of outreach projects at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

Phoebe opened the International Opera Awards on April 7th 2014 and has performed at many other events throughout 2015 under this auspice. This summer, Phoebe returned to Austria to join the prestigious American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, where she was a finalist at the Graz Meistersinger Competition, under the direction of conductor Karen Kamensek. Phoebe worked with the legendary Montserrat Caballé in masterclass in September 2015 at the Auditorio Zaragoza, Spain. In September and October 2015, Phoebe takes on two modern cantatas: Britten’s Phaedra in London, and John Eaton’s El Divino Narciso in New York. She then goes on to sing the countertenor role of Katte in Scott Wheeler’s critically-acclaimed Sorrows of Frederick for Center for Contemporary Opera, NYC.

1 Comment

  1. Inspiring story! I agree that all the challenges we encountered is minimized by the love and support by the person around us. It is also true that the internal challenge is the greatest of all. It takes a lot of courage to fight for our fear.

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