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.

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Who or what inspired you to take up singing, and make it your career?
Philip Evry, my mother, Iain Burnside, Graham Johnson and Robin Bowman inspired me to pursue singing professionally.

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

My mentor, Lillian Watson, David Sirus, Dinah Harris, Laurence Cummings, Julius Drake, my best friend and compatriot, Olivia Chaney, and Adam Gatehouse.

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

Singing what I love singing. Jumping in for a concert, learning Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos and Barber Knoxville in 36 hours for live radio broadcast.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Mahler Ruckert Lieder with the BBC Philharmonic and John Storgards, Phaedra with Thomas Sondergard and BBC National Orchestra of Wales, recordings with the wonderful Julius Drake, Berg and Chausson with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. These have been hugely special experiences as New Generation Artist at the BBC.

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

Lucerne Concert Hall was the most perfect acoustic I have ever experienced. I adore church acoustics so St Georges Hanover Square is very special, and LSO St Lukes. I also enjoy QEH, Ulster Hall, and  Glasgow Concert Hall – to name a few.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love listening to Brahms chamber music, music for solo piano by Chopin and Schubert, Schubert and Schumann song, Mahler symphonies, Shostakovich and Prokofiev symphonies  and ballets. Berg’s ‘Wozzek’, Strauss’s ‘Alpine’ symphony at full blast!!, Monteverdi ‘Vespers’, Tallis, Byrd.

To perform, I adore Schubert, Schumann, Bach, Handel, Berg, Britten, Mahler, Monteverdi, Purcell, and I love discovering new gems too!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Richter, Kleiber, Oistrakh, Callas, Margaret Price, Jessie Norman, Rostrapovitch, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong. From today’s generation Truls Mork, Laurence Cummings, Cristian Curnyn, Kozena, Sondergaard, Storgards, Paul Lewis, Imogen Cooper, Artemis quartet, Nico Altstadt, AKAMUS, OAE………the list goes on and on.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably the most recent: jumping in for BBC Proms with Imogen Cooper and James Gilchrist in Britten’s Abraham and Isaac.

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

Go to art galleries, look at paintings, sculpture, ceramics – this is the life blood for inspiration and imagination. I have learnt a great deal from instrumental recitals regarding sound as well as from singers, and seeing how performers, actors, and musicians communicate is really important in finding one’s own way of performing. Also, never forget the joy of music making. With the rough and tumble of this industry, my manager never ceases to remind me of this

What are you working on at the moment?

Gorecki ‘Symphony of Sorrows’ for the BBC Proms on September the 4th and a recording of Venetian Christmas Music for BIS.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Eating ice-cream with my nieces or being neighbours with my favourite people, maybe bringing up a couple of little ones of my own, who knows.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Discovering new places, meeting new and interesting people, dancing with good friends, cooking good food, Thai massage, being spontaneous, and living each day to the full!

What is your most treasured possession?

My mother’s Jazz Piano ceramics, which she made just before I was born. The other is my cello which I would love to start playing properly again at some point.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Too many things to mention!

What is your present state of mind?

Breezy, summery, and with a coffee

A BBC New Generation Artist and winner of both First Prize and the Audience Prize at the 2009 London Handel Singing Competition, Ruby Hughes is the daughter of the celebrated Welsh ceramicist Elizabeth Fritsch. She gained a First Class Distinction Concert Diploma in Concert and Song at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Munich, and was awarded a Royal Philharmonic Society Susan Chilcott Award. A former Samling Scholar, she gained a full scholarship to study with Lillian Watson at the Royal College of Music, London, graduating in July 2009.

Read Ruby’s full biography here

My review of Ruby Hughes, with James Gilchrist and Imogen Cooper, in ‘Britten Up Close’ at the 2013 BBC Proms

Robert-John Edwards (image credit: Don Lambert Photography, Stamford)

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and make it your career?

In terms of music in general, I’ve always wanted to play an instrument or do something with music. I can recall being extremely young (maybe only 2) at playschool and having an overwhelming attraction to the piano. However, my parents could not afford for me to have lessons, and I started to teach myself the piano from about aged 10. By the time I was 13, my parents and music teacher, Keith Foley, realised I had some ability and somehow lessons were arranged for me at school with a fabulous teacher by the name of Andrew Mann. By the time I was 18, I had reached Grade 8 but big holes caused by a lack of discipline in my practice appeared and I stopped playing seriously at the age of 20.

It was then, after major surgery on my jaw, which left me having to relearn to speak properly, that I was encouraged by a lady named Elizabeth Banks to take up singing. She remains a huge influence. Within 3 years, it was clear that I was significantly better singer than I was ever a pianist, and I never really looked back.

However, I had a further set back at the age of 25. I was diagnosed with a non-malignant tumour on my pituitary gland (a condition known as acromegaly). I had to have invasive surgery through my right sphenoidal sinus to remove the growth. The doctors had told me that I would likely not be able to sing again. A year later, I went back to having lessons with Tim Ochala-Greenough (who now sings with Opera North and ENO) who convinced me to give up being a school teacher, as I was at the time, and to pursue a professional career as a singer. I owe Tim big time for this as it was the best move I have ever made (even if I have become a poor, penniless musician by doing so!!!)

Who or what are the most important influences on your singing?

It’s funny; even though I’ve been principally a singer for 15 years (7 of those, professionally) there is a warped part of my brain that still thinks I’m a pianist! So when I first saw the question, names like Chura Cherkassky and Dinu Lipatti as well as Claudio Arrau and Hélène Grimaud spring to mind. But this choice of musical personalities probably says as much about how I approach my singing and repertoire choice/programming as the late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau or Bryn Terfyl or Sir John Tomlinson. In fact, if I were to go one step further, as a child I listened endlessly to the soundtrack to Walt Disney’s Fantasia and a life-long love of Stokowski maybe coloured all of these choice influences!

Now I’m a more “mature”(!) musician, I can say that one philosophy of performing overwhelms everything. It must be honest. When I sing Winterreise and Kindertotenlieder or perhaps German’s Just So Songs and Sinatra hits, I try always to believe in every word and every note that is written. To me, this is the only way I feel believable and maybe even credible to those who come to see me perform.

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

Balancing parenthood with a career! Currently, I’m taking a little time out from opera to concentrate on raising a family (I have a very energetic 21 month old son who keeps me very busy indeed) and teaching, whilst getting my technique to the next level required (whatever that may be). I’m still “young” for a bass-baritone and who knows where I could be when I’m 46 and my children are established in school. My health in the past has told me that life is too short not to spend time in the here and now and my family are too important for me to be away from on tour for weeks and months on end right at this moment.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

Being a singer, you get the best of both worlds. In opera and oratorio, you work with an orchestra and enjoy all the colours and contrasts. It does demand a tip-top technique but it does not mean that one should have to shout to be heard (even in Verdi or Wagner). One of the best singers I have worked with over my short career, Mary Plazas, has the most astonishing pianissimo I have ever heard which is still audible at the back of the opera house whilst the orchestra are playing, yet sounds so intimate when you are nearby. However, we also get to do Lieder and this is where my heart truly lies. When you have a good pianist (and I have one in Philip Robinson, with whom I am working on a Winterreise at present), you can bounce ideas off one-another left, right and centre to produce the best interpretation and performance you can. We can be critical with one another without risk of insult or injury whilst being free to compliment each other or simply disagree where necessary too. I feel I can do so much more vocally with a pianist than with an orchestra and I feel truly alive when doing so!

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

Am I allowed to mention an entire town? Buxton is astonishing. Here you have this small, market town with a pretty ordinary demographic and yet there are not one but THREE major festivals that go on there (Buxton Opera Festival, The Buxton Fringe and the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival). I made my operatic debut with Buxton Opera Festival back in 2007 in Dove’s Tobias and The Angel – not in the opera house, which I adore, but in St John’s Church, next door. It is a magnificent building with a lovely acoustic. I have performed there a few times now through the Festival and enjoyed each one immensely.

Who are your favourite musicians?

How long have we got? My musical tastes are truly eclectic. I remember once being almost psychoanalysed in a little independent CD shop (sadly, no more) in my hometown of Stamford as I had purchased a Robbie Williams CD, Paranoid by Black Sabbath, a recording of Tallis’ Spem in Allium, some Frank Zappa, a recording of Górecki’s Second Symphony and some romantic period piano music! Poor chap had to run half way around the world to find all the CDs to put in the cases from all of his drawers!

However, if you were to pin me down and point a loaded revolver at my head to make me choose just one, it would be Hélène Grimaud. She is not afraid to be adventurous, either in her programming or her performance. I do not always agree with what she has to say musically (I’m struggling a little with her recent recording of Mozart’s great A minor Sonata K310) but that’s the point. She doesn’t always want to play safe and I like, indeed admire, that a great deal. Her Credo CD (with Corigliano followed by Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata and the Choral Fantasia and topped off by Pärt’s Credo) is a personal favourite.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Would you be surprised to hear that I have two? Both, coincidentally at the Royal Festival Hall. One was when I was just 18 and I went to watch Peter Jablonski playing the Rach-Pag. Amazing. But that was not what blew me away. The second half of the concert was just one work, Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No4/Symphony No. 5. Just stunning! The second movement – to a young man who was actually studying to be a composer at the time – and its backward variations of a unfinished fragment of Mahler’s just completely rewired my brain as to how composition should be in the modern age. Then, about 8 years ago, I got the chance to watch Hélène Grimaud there. Same row, coincidentally – row E in the stalls! She was playing the great B flat minor sonatas of Chopin and Rachmaninoff. She came on stage to rapturous applause for the second half and opened with that dramatic downward arpeggio of the Rachmaninoff sonata. The extraordinary thing was that she managed to time her bum hitting the seat precisely with the striking of the big bass B flat octaves at the end of that arpeggio! A bit of a stunt perhaps but, my word, great fun!

Very close behind this was the chance to watch Alfred Brendel’s last performance of the ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata. Again, Royal Festival Hall (I do frequent other venues, honest guv!) and his encore… Für Elise! Wow.

What is your favourite music to perform? To listen to?

Professionally… as a singer, Schubert Lieder all the way, although Puccini’s operas are all so rewarding too. However, like so many pianists, I love to play Chopin, I do a reasonable impression of a performance of a Beethoven sonata and I’ve been known to butcher the Bach/Busoni Chaconne on occasion!

To listen to… almost anything! Depends on my mood. Could be Bach, Beethoven, Brahms or The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Pretty Things or Ocean Colour Scene, Fat Boy Slim and Röyksopp!

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

Again, I have to say, be honest. What is on the page? Singers have to get so much out of what is on the page it’s delightful. There is the musical detail (often in the piano part in songs) but there is also the literary detail which is often the rewarding place to go. Read the poetry, read between the lines (just as your GCSE English teacher told you too) regardless of the language. Know what every word means and its context in the sentence, paragraph and entire story. Only then can you colour the music “correctly” (if there is such a thing… there is certainly an “incorrect”!) Knowledge is power!

What are you working on at the moment?

Schubert’s Winterreise with my accompanist, Philip Robinson. I am hoping to have that ready to go in the next 6-8 months. It is a mountain – a true journey if there ever was one. I am also hoping to record this and have that published but one step at a time. However, I am also about to do a performance of Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, often referred to as “The English Winterreise”. It’s quite an eye opener doing that again after 7 years but also to be working on both side by side. So different and yet telling a very similar tale. Wonderful.

However, in my “time out” I have taken on a male voice choir called “The Belvoir Wassailers” – a bunch of working men, originally from the estate of Belvoir Castle (although no more) who make an honest noise. I love it. Without the grassroots music making of groups like theirs, music would truly have no meaning.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

In the recording studios of either DG or Naxos recording an ambitious and audience-challenging cycle of songs from a cross section of composers. Or I’d settle for full-time chorus at one of the major houses…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

…OR I’d settle for being at home, teaching talented (and not-so-talented but keen and passionate) students with my wife and child(ren) around me.

What is your most treasured possession?

My family.

Robert-John Edwards (left) with Alison Barton (Festival Chorus – right) as the Innkeepers with James Rutherford as Baculus in ‘Der Wildschütz’ (The Poacher) by Lortzing (Buxton Opera Festvial 2008)

Born in Stamford, Robert-John originally trained as a pianist and composer at Middlesex University and had small choral works performed at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields church and Lincoln and Winchester Cathedrals as well as at some local churches. He trained as a singer in his twenties and attended the Birmingham Conservatoire as a Postgraduate, studying with Henry Herford, scoring a distinction and winning the PGDip course prize in 2007.

Whilst at music college, he performed the roles of Dr. Katafelto in Williamson’s English Eccentrics, Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca, Antonio in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and had four separate roles in Matthew Locke’s rarely performed Psyche.

His professional roles include Benoit/Alcindoro in Puccini’s La Bohème for Co-Opera Co, Priest/Cadmus/Somnus in Handel’s Semele for Operamus , Ashmodeus in Jonathon Dove’s Tobias and the Angel and The Alcade in Mendelssohn’s Die Hochzeit der Camacho (both for Buxton Opera Festival) whilst being in the professional chorus of several productions for the Buxton Opera Festival, Carl Rosa Opera and Stanley Hall Opera. As a professional understudy, Robert-John has covered the roles of Shadbolt in The Yeomen of the Guard, the Colonel in Patience (both Carl Rosa Opera), Harapha in Samson, Pancratius in Der Wildschütz, Father Phillippe in The Wandering Scholar, Gubetta in Lucrezia Borgia and Don Quixote in Die Hochzeit der Camacho at the Buxton Opera Festival.

Robert-John is extremely active as a teacher in his native Rutland and still performs with the church choir in Stamford that started him on the road to a singing career. He is also very active as a soloist both as a recitalist and with choral societies, performing many Messiahs and Creations over the past few years.