You trained as a dancer at the Rambert school, before pursuing a career in opera. Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I was working as a dancer in several brilliant opera companies – ENO, Grange Park, Garsington and Longborough Festival Opera – and while rehearsing I would watch the opera singers. I became utterly fascinated by them, how strong and how physical they were. They were like singing machines, totally embodied and so alive on stage like dancers but with this epic voice and no microphones. A lot of the opera singers I spoke to then told me they had started in dance or in musicals. They said that I should train first and pointed me in the direction of some brilliant teachers. I was afraid to ask them but I’m so glad that I did. I started auditioning then got some more confidence by training but I knew that singing wasn’t something I could turn away from. It was too late – I was utterly hooked, and I was encouraged by professionals. I would be mad not to at least try.
I know that you trained with Jenny Miller at Barefoot Opera. Can you tell me about the influence she has had on your musical life and career?
Working with Barefoot Opera was the most wonderful training for someone like me. Jenny’s mother danced with Rambert and having been incredibly influenced by dance all her life, Jenny understands movement instinctively. Barefoot’s training method draws on ensemble and physical theatre techniques. Jenny’s teaching is all about the responsive breath and connecting emotional and physical responses to classical voice training. As a dancer I had a lot of awareness of my physical body but none for my voice so I was really looking for a teacher who would accept where I had come from and see it as an asset rather than a hinderance. Working with Jenny gave me great freedom to explore my sound, she also gave me the opportunity to sing in my first opera, it was the second boy in the Magic Flute. The whole ethos of the company is to create embodied singers who can work in an ensemble almost like a dance company and that is what I really loved bout working with her. She brings together the most terrific coaches from the best opera companies and you get to work with them so intensely and in such a focused way I think in a way it was better than going to college. I got to learn how to do the job on the job.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
For me I think one of the hardest things is rejection. We all have to audition (and thank goodness we do), I’ve had more no’s than I’ve had yes’s. Constantly having to pick yourself back up again and again, you would think it gets easier but it hurts to be rejected because it feels personal, but it isn’t. My mum always said what is right for you will come. If you don’t get a job you always have to think maybe it’s for the best.
You will sing the title role in one of Longborough Festival Opera’s main productions this summer. Can you tell us more about this production, and what you are looking forward to in taking on this role?
I was drawn to auditioning for La Calisto with Longborough as I know they are always pushing the boundaries with their young artist productions. I relish working with directors who don’t shy away from challenging their audience and who can utilise and push the skills I have to offer. Mathilde Lopez is making such exciting work and equally I knew that Lesley-Anne Sammons would bring something musically exquisite and unique to the fore. It’s hard to say any more until we get into rehearsals. I am sure that it won’t be what you’re expecting.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I am very proud and lucky that I got to perform the role of Sophie Scholl in ‘Kommilitonen!’ by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies with The Welsh National Youth Opera. It was a happy accident as I didn’t get cast in the role to begin with but that is also why it is so special to me. I had never sung a solo role before but I had people there who believed in me. Sometimes you need people to believe in you before you can believe in yourself. I knew this opportunity might not present itself again so I just grabbed it with both hands and had such a terrific time. It was the most thrilling show, with a huge cast of students of all ages, a magical promenade set, the audience immersed all around us. We got to tell this unbelievable true story. I also got nominated for best opera singer by the Wales theatre awards which was pretty cool and unexpected.
One of my favourite recording experiences was narrating over Madame Catharina Pratten’s Elfin’s Revels, for guitarist Jamie Akers. He is a fantastic musician who specialises in Baroque guitar. The album Le Donne e la Chitarra features unique recordings of neglected works by women composers of the 19th century.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I love creating new roles. I think it’s really thrilling for a lot of artists to be created on. To invent, play and mould your own role is probably as good as it gets. Then you aren’t trying to measure up to anyone else’s performance. When you get to play someone for the first time and feel that audience reaction, it’s really exciting. Saying that, I love playing character roles. Parts that challenge me to behave in a way I wouldn’t naturally do.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I try to go for as much as I can, but I have to be very honest with myself. If I think I could truly do justice to a certain role then it’s a no brainer, I just go for it.
Do you have a favourite venue to perform in, and if so, why?
The Georgian Theatre Royale in Richmond. It is a typical eighteenth century playhouse built in 1788 and it’s a little treasure! The history of the building is so fascinating from the original scenery of woodland scenes painted in 1818 to the smell of the wings. It’s got that feeling like you’re walking back in time. I love the intimacy of the space and the way it supports you and makes you feel like you’re able to give each audience member a real eyeballing. We got to perform the Loves of Mars and Venus there last year with The Weaver Dance Company and Barefoot Opera. It’s the story of John Weaver and how he created the first British ballet in 1717. I got to play one of my heroines Hester Santlow. They call her “England’s first Ballerina”, but I love playing he because she could act, dance and sing. Today we call that a triple threat. She embodied it and she seemed to have lots of fun whilst doing it too.
Who are the favourite musicians, past and present?
Tom Waits, Victor Wooten, Henry Purcell, Maria Callas, Radiohead, Led Zepplin, Charlie Chaplin, Lotte Lenya, Joni Mitchell, Diana Damrau, Nina Simone…… the list goes on and so can I.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I have an aversion to the word success because to me it implies getting somewhere. Like winning an award or getting a certain revered job or role. We hear the word success a lot in our profession and though you may have success you many never be happy, fulfilled or satisfied. I try to remind myself that happiness comes from feeling a sense of inner pride and achievement within yourself that can’t be compared or measured by anyone else’s. Feeling like I’ve done the best job I could do gives me joy. Consistently showing up, working hard, and loving what you do.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Miles Davis said, “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”
A lot of performers I have met feel as though they are frauds, it’s called Imposter Syndrome. You never feel as though you made it, but in a way if you are doing what you love, then you have.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Hopefully not under water.
Chiara Vinci sings the title role Longborough Festival Opera’s production of Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto from 29 July to 3 August 2019. More information
Shortlisted in 2017 for Best Female Opera Singer by the Wales Theatre Awards, British Born Soprano Chiara Vinci originally trained as a dancer studying at The Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance and The Arts Educationl School in London before training with Jenny Miller, director of Barefoot Opera.