Two great antipodean sopranos have much in common
Posted on 22 December 2016
With Melbourne’s magnificent Cranlana estate bathed in the first sunlight of spring, the stage was set for a master class with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and the singers from Australia’s Melba Opera Trust. And beyond the lovely synergy of Dame Kiri having played Dame Nellie in the British TV drama Downtown Abbey, these two great antipodean sopranos, despite being separated by nearly a century, have much more in common: a passionate belief in the need for the stars of opera’s future to be “more than a voice”.
Dame Kiri shared her international experience and encouragement with the four singers chosen: current Melba scholars Tim Newton (bass) and Bronwyn Douglass (mezzo-soprano), as well as alumna Fiona Jopson (soprano) and guest Lee Abrahmsen (soprano). Another connection of the day was that both Fiona and Lee are past winners of The Herald Sun Aria, Australia’s most famous vocal competition, as was Dame Kiri herself at the start of her illustrious career.
Singers and invited audience members alike were captivated by Dame Kiri’s energy and enthusiasm in conveying the essence of good singing to the participants. With great care, Dame Kiri showed how to invest the words with meaning and to bring their characters to life. Of course, the need to sing with polish, flair and musicianship was not forgotten: Dame Kiri was keen to ensure that the composers’ intentions were met. Though understandably awestruck by an operatic legend, the four singers were captivated and engaged by what Dame Kiri had to say and grateful for her generosity and support.
Another highlight for Melba Opera Trust’s singers was the chance to share an informal lunch with Dame Kiri. This unique opportunity to learn about her career was invaluable. Dame Kiri spoke candidly about how much the opera industry has changed over her lifetime; opportunities are few and are keenly contested. Singers need to be artistically prepared, but they also need to have the business and personal skills to survive in this highly competitive career. Dame Kiri’s insights and advice reinforced the value of Melba Opera Trust’s own three-pronged approach to young singers’ development through its’ scholarship, mentor and performance programs. By giving singers access to practical business skills such as financial, legal and media training, as well as negotiating, personal styling and performance anxiety coaching – and much, much more – Melba Opera Trust’s personifies its’ model’s own life. The relevance of Dame Nellie’s philosophy today was echoed by Dame Kiri.
It was a great honour to welcome Dame Kiri to Melba Opera Trust’ series of master classes and we look forward to future collaborative opportunities with the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation – two organisations doing so much to ensure the future of opera’s youngest and brightest from this part of the world.