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 pursue a career in music?

The thought of singing and acting appealed to me from a very early age. I was always the performer in my family and as the middle child, it was the best way to get attention! Singing was a part of normal family life. I enjoyed singing at home, (although most of the time my brothers wanted to shut me up!) My parents always had music playing and were always singing. We sang regularly at our church, so it always felt quite normal to sing. I started to write songs from the age of 13 and had piano lessons from around age 9.

Singing always made me feel good, although I hadn’t ever considered it a career choice.  When I started to pursue my acting career, I took up singing seriously. Singing was originally to add a feather to my bow as an actress. However, unexpectedly, I completely fell in love with the classical technique; I had found a medium that would let me fully express myself. I was able to use my body in a way that allowed me to channel my energy and emotions. I could pour my heart and soul into it. It felt inevitable that this was going to be my career.

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

The most important influences on my career have to be my voice teacher Maryliese Happel, Mark Crayton and my mum.  Maryliese introduced me to classical repertoire and opera.  I had no idea about singing in this genre before I met her and to her I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude.  She taught me solid technique, taught me about my own voice and has always been an inspirational teacher.  She helped me ‘free the beauty of my voice’.

Mark Crayton (Roosevelt University, Chicago) who over the years helped me find my inner confidence through technique and performance master-classes. He has helped me find freedom of expression in my voice.

My wonderful mother, who calls me her little songbird, always wants to hear me sing. From the moment she wakes up, she is always singing around the house. My mother always made it feel really normal to just sing.

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

Self-belief and self-doubt. I have done lots of work to help myself through these challenges.  My top tips that have helped me include; meditation, positive affirmations, healthy diet & keeping fit.  I am a great believer in healthy body, healthy mind.

I always come back to a couple of sayings, allowing yourself to be both a work in progress and a masterpiece simultaneously, and my favourite quote from Martha Graham:

 “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”  
― Martha Graham 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Probably my recital ‘Dans L’air du Temps’ at the Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair and the recording that I wrote and sang for a performance at Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

Puccini; I love his songs, his operas, and his characters.  On the surface they can seem simple, but underneath there is a complexity and strength to them.  The way he writes is inspiring. There is always a leading melody, and long beautiful lines.  As a songwriter, I know how hard it is to make something sound ‘simple’ and that is what I love about his compositions.  I also think I perform my own compositions pretty well, because I have written them. I know every feeling and every memory that has gone into the writing of every line, lyric and melody.  I do hope one day that other singers will want to perform them.

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

I try to choose pieces that are well known with the audience, combining them with unknown or rarely-performed works

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

Not really, I just love performing wherever I have an audience.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, Prince, George Michael, Faithless, Massive Attack, Andre Previn, Richard Rodney Bennet, Michael Nyman, Gabriel Yared, Hans Zimmer, Eric Serra, Puccini, Bellini, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Renee Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu and Maria Callas.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first ever concert.

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

Practice smart, know your words/notes, know yourself.  Get trained in the business side of things. This can take up a lot of your time!  Be determined. Don’t give up. Try to get a little bit better every day. Make time for family & friends, and most importantly, have fun!

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

In my beach house in Bermuda.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Any of the following: Summer barbecues, listening to old LPs on a Sunday afternoon with family and friends, roast dinners, long beach walks, my poodle every time I look at her, getting to sleep in a bed with my favourite pillow and a duvet, waking up to another sunny day, the sound of rain, the smell of a forest, the touch of my grandmother’s hand, skiing, ice-skating.

What is your most treasured possession? 

An 18th-century French dressing table which has been ‘dipped and stripped’ about three times, it was my mum’s dressing table from when my parents first got married, and it has finally been restored and I use it everyday.

What is your present state of mind? 

Excited – relaxed – grateful.

Natasha’s new production ‘Lost in Love’ is premiered on Saturday 30th April at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London. Further details and tickets here

Natasha Hardy is a soprano whose eclectic repertoire seeks to demystify the traditional operatic world. Trained in both Classical and Contemporary traditions, her maverick approach has seen her work on several classically inspired projects, most recently an intriguing concert series of her favourite operatic works as well as those she has penned herself.

www.natashahardy.com

 

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

I was crazy about Beethoven as a child and I listened to everything. My Dad taught me and my brother the piano and we learnt simplified piano transcriptions of some movements from Beethoven symphonies. I also was transfixed by Elizabeth Soderstrom’s voice, and after hearing her in ‘Capriccio’ my brother smuggled me backstage to meet her. She was so nice. I was lucky enough to study with her. I didn’t really choose to do music, I just assumed that’s what I would do. The moment that blew me away was at school hearing ‘Eight Songs for a Mad King’. I used to like frightening myself by listening to it with the volume up in the dark! Also’s Ligeti ‘Lux Aterna’ and ‘Requiem’. I was totally transfixed by the colours, textures and extremity of the vocal writing.

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

I wanted to be Freddie Mercury. I still want to be Freddie Mercury. I also loved The Jackson 5, such great performers. I especially loved the horn section in the Jackson 5 songs. When I was growing up my mum listened a lot to the African band Osibisa and Leonard Cohen, as well as Mahler and Mozart.

My brother was an Astro-physicist so keeping one eye on the cosmos was to me a normal thing to do and there was really no separation to me between pure scientific experiment, and music and sound as experiment. My dad was an engineer specialising in radar and brought home loads of bits of equipment to play with that made all these great sounds: there was always for me an awareness of pure sound.

Rabbi Rosenblum at our synagogue had a completely amazing high tenor voice and used to make beautiful complex vocalisations from liturgical tunes that I later recorded him singing and memorised. This particular influence led me to a musical trip around the Middle East where I became fascinated by Yemenite and Iraqi Jewish music, and I really enjoyed tracing song lines from the most ancient liturgical chants I could find to present day Christian hymns that began every morning at junior school. I continue to be fascinated by forms of music such as Bosnian Sevdah that combine scales and forms from several different cultures to make a new form.

Then of course there was the classic situation of a really amazing music teacher at school, Mrs Ellefson, who with seemingly insouciant ease created loads of opportunities for a young sound freak to freely explore all kinds of music. When I came to London, I studied at City University where music could be read as a science: you could choose to study sound recording and the physics of music, ethnomusicology and aesthetics and criticism. They called it the ‘consciousness transformation department’! My first professional experiences were with Complicite, then called Theatre de Complicite. That experience really opened my eyes to what was possible physically with regard to singing. My work with Richard Thomas and exploration of comedy in music has been an underlying constant. I love comedy, I love its form. I think it’s one of the noble arts. No one seems to takes it seriously enough.

Rather short-sightedly I’m afraid I never really thought of music as a career in the conventional sense of the word. If I had, my choices and behaviour might have been very different.

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

Too many to write here, I suppose the biggest challenge is the daily battle with myself. Also the eternal battle with finances.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I’m very proud of my latest CD recording of ‘Lore Ipsum’ by Frederic Acquaviva. It’s an experimental piece based on my voice and the cultural news of the day because culture is the barometer for all that is going on in other areas of the life. ‘Lore Ipsum’ took several years to come to fruition and has I think really benefited from being slowly cooked.

I’m very happy with the collaboration I have with violinist Aisha Orezbayeva. We have been performing concerts of ‘Kafka Fragments’ that have been going really well. However, on the whole I’m usually unhappy with everything I do. When I listen to recordings of myself I want to kill myself. I always try to persuade people to let me re-record.

I find it easier to be pleased with things I’ve done as a director as there is a bit more distance involved. I directed the UK premiere of Kagel ‘Staatstheater’ at Durham university and the Sage and I was really pleased with that. All the details were just right, the timings, the individual performances. It was really great.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Works that are written in the true spirit of creation and experimentation.I think I’m best in repertoire that require a huge range of colours and where the vocal range itself is wide. I enjoy music where the vocal writing is instrumental if it’s a living or dead composer, i.e. Bach, Furrer, Okegham, Aperghis, Barry. I like it when the composer knows traditional vocal technique but consciously reaches for something beyond it. Messiaen is incredible because he combines the spirit of experimentation with spiritual transcendence. I love birdsong and I love the texts he uses. I often work with conceptual artists who experiment in sound which is fascinating because they often have a very strong ideas that can be very pure.

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

I have a list of pieces I want to perform and a personal schedule for a year of when I want to perform/record them. Often seasons are artist-led so it’s more who I want to work with, performers and composers, then choices are made in collaboration.

Some seasons have an element of ‘chance operation’! In other words a strange and fabulous project can appear seemingly out of the ether.

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

I like Wiltons Music Hall, the Philharmonie Berlin, Peckham car park, CBSO centre, Venice fish market, Musikverein and Stefansdom. All these places have a very specific acoustic that I really like.In stefansdom the acoustic changes according to where you are.

I also love to perform in art galleries and churches because the space is more flexible.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

My first response to this question is I love to sing things that are totally new, experimental, hot off the press! I like to sing things in Russian because that language has such a wonderful mouthfeel. To listen to, a big treat for me is a massive orchestral concert, maybe Messiaen’s Turangalila symphony, or the concert version of ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ in a huge venue that can really contain the sound. For similar reasons I love singing orchestral song cycles where the full throttle of the orchestra is right behind you, rather than in opera where it is contained in the pit.

I love to perform ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ because it is a groundbreaking piece in every way. In the same way I like to perform John Cage’s ‘Aria’ which is another piece that is way ahead of its time and set the bar for solo vocal pieces that came after it. John Cage between 1952 and 1975 I think is fabulous. I love the texture virtuosity and ranginess found in Aperghis’ vocal music such as the ‘Recitation’, ‘Monomanie’ and ‘Tourbillons’. For similar reasons I enjoy singing Mahnkopf.

I like to listen to music where the composer is clearly on a creative quest and where you can hear the struggle and process. Also where the composer has embedded codes and secrets within the music. I’m still a Beethoven fan: I wish he had written more vocal music. I’m also a fan of Chopin’s piano music: he has a totally original voice, his use of harmony is really amazing and I love that he concentrated mainly on this one instrument.

I listen to Carnatic music. It’s fascinating the way the tuning up process is included in the form and isn’t separated. It’s interesting that the music is both spiritual and functional with set times of day to be performed. I also relish the extraordinary length of time over which these ragas develop. It’s one of the reasons I also explore the operas of Wagner or the films of Tarkovsky and also Kubrik’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. I really enjoy that these creators allow the images to hang for a very long time that allows you to completely absorb them.

At the moment I’m listening a lot to the Notre Dame school.

Both Charles Ives and Varese get my imagination going as does Nancarrow.

As a listener and performer, of course Bach is fantastic. I like to try and sing his solo instrumental pieces. I went through a phase when I was a student of transcribing instrumental solos to sing, such as the Brecker Brothers and also Anthony Braxton because I enjoy practising music that really stretches the technique and forces me to expand my technique. I also enjoy singing Sorabji for its insane complexity and sensuality.

I have been really lucky in having composers write for me, who have written especially for my voice. I have a ‘marmite’ voice – people love it or hate it. So for singers with marmite voices, having rep written especially for you is doubly important. I’m incredibly grateful to composers who take on this strange instrument.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Cathy Berberian, Françoise Kubler, Leo Slezak, Kim Borg, Karita Mattila, Pascal Galois, Christopher Redgate, Anton Lukoszevieze, Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Pappano, Sylvia Hallet, Samer Totah, Natalie Stulzman, Scott Ross, Roger Norrington (especially conducting Beethoven), Glenn Gould, Mark Simpson.

All the performers in the Occupy the pianos’Pierrot Lunaire line up – I nearly fainted when I saw who was playing.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

An audience member crawling into the stage and trying to set fire to me

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

I usually advise young musicians to do everything in the opposite way that I did.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
To be performing ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ on KEPLER – 452b.

I would love to be curating and performing in a contemporary/electro acoustic opera season at the Menaus Opera House.

Also I would like to be in a position to realise projects much faster than I can now.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Endless time discussing ideas with the people I trust the most.

Endless time in a recording studio.

Endless time.

What is your most treasured possession?

My instrument (my body) – though strictly speaking I suppose I don’t really own it, it’s more on loan until it dissolves back into the sub atomic flow.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Listening and eating but NEVER together.

What is your present state of mind?

Totally confused.

Lore Lixenberg performs in Occupy The Pianos at St John’s Smith Square. Details here