My creative practice as an opera singer in both Australia and the United Kingdom has led me to investigate and question the pathways and pitfalls of the mid-career transitions of female dramatic voices.
Born in Canberra to a piano and english teaching Mother and a public-service economist Father, my love of the theatre and performance was encouraged with singing, piano, flute, ballet, jazz, tap and drama lessons. I began my undergraduate studies at the ANU in a Science/Law degree, but after two years spending most of my time singing and dancing with local theatre companies, I successfully auditioned for the Canberra School of Music. I graduated from the ANU with a Bachelor of Music and a Bachelor of Laws(hons) and then completed a Post-Graduate Diploma in Voice. During this year I experienced success in the Australian Singing Competition, performing with the AOBO at the Sydney Opera House and winning a full scholarship to the Royal College of Music’s Opera School and being offered the Concerto Prize at the ANU to perform Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder with orchestra under the baton of Director Nicolette Fraillon.
Graduating from the Royal College of Music with distinction, I commenced my performing career auditioning and accepting work for small to medium sized companies and opera festivals across the United Kingdom and France. I developed through a wide range of operatic roles from the lyric mezzos of Mozart and Britten to spinto soprano roles and often escaped the European winters to take contracts on cruise ships performing opera, operetta and musical theatre in India, Egypt, China and Antarctica. I was a member of the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, performing Britten’s Albert Herring in Aldeburgh and performed in The Rape of Lucretia for The Dartington Festival in the theatre the opera had been composed for. I also garnered a reputation in London for creating new roles with living composers and librettists on opera outreach programmes with the English National Opera’s Bayliss Programme, The Royal Opera House and The Ashmoleon Oxford.
In short, I took every job I could as a singer to develop my talents and make a living while based in London.
Seeking mentorship about the professional development of my voice, I auditioned and accepted a place on the English National Opera’s OperaWorks programme. Through this professional development I received feedback from the Head of the Young Artist Programme that I should retrain from my current lyric mezzo fach to a more dramatic voicetype as my voice had “outgrown” my current repertoire and technique. Supported by a Finzi Trust Award I moved to Berlin to have singing lessons and investigate the Zwischenfach and Spinto Soprano repertoire. I returned to London and continued as a singer, gradually accepting heavier and more challenging roles. During this last year in London I house-sat for the late, great dramatic soprano Elizabeth Connell (Liza). Living with and receiving mentorship from a singer who had experienced such a successful career and also successfully managed her own vocal transition from mezzo soprano to dramatic soprano was an incredible experience. I learnt more about the realities of managing one's voice and having a singing career on the world stage through Liza's stories over brunches during this year than I had through my performance degrees. I lived with Liza up until 2 weeks before her death from cancer.
While I could have continued to pursue a career in London, in the aftermath of Liza's death I decided that I wanted to return to my home country of Australia. For a decade I had chased auditions and performed roles, travelling across the world for work with only a suitcase in hand. I felt that both my voice and my spirit required "grounding" and I felt that I needed to be in Australia to do this. I still sing opera professionally (Covid-permitting) and although Australia has a smaller operatic scene than the United Kingdom and Europe, it has provided me with a sense of grounding and many creative opportunities.
This creative practice, and the process of renegotiation of my own technique and voice, has been the source of my idea generation for my current investigation into the mid-career transitions of dramatic female voices that forms the basis of my PhD by creative works at the ANU. I believe that singer's have a wealth of embodied knowledge not only about how their voices function, but also the strategies and psychological resilience necessary for success in the singing profession. Whilst we are able to hear an opera singer's voice we are often not privy to the work 'behind the scenes' which has been necessary for the singer to achieve success. I am interested in these stories and how they can generate new knowledge in the realms of operatic training and professional pathways.