It’s hard to know where to start, it’s been such a summer for you! Let’s begin with your surprise Proms debut in July though, when you leapt in at the last moment to sing Sophie in Glyndebourne’s semi-staged performance of Der Rosenkavalier. How did that come about?
I had been covering the role at Glyndebourne from May, for the thirteen shows there. Then, I went on holiday to Thailand, and whilst I was away it turned out that Teodora [Gheroghiu, the billed Sophie] was unwell for the Proms. So, they called me and asked whether I wanted to do it. I flew back from Thailand (I was in fact already going to fly back in time for the performance) and jumped straight into rehearsals. Then, it was the next day.
Wow, so it was the one rehearsal! Were you just excited, or was it a little bit terrifying too, knowing that this was a major break, and covering on an unfamiliar stage?
Yes it was very scary, but also I felt prepared. Mainly, it was incredibly exciting. I spent the days before getting very nervous, but then on the day I felt alright, which is definitely the right way around!
What did it then mean to you, to receive such critical acclaim for that performance?
Everything. I was born in London, and it was so lovely to sing to a home crowd. Many of my friends were able to be there, and that mattered to me so much. Furthermore, it was a piece that I love, and a role that I have a real affinity with. Then, being so well received was the icing on the cake.
It was particularly wonderful music, and a wonderful role with which to make your Proms debut. What’s it like to sing Sophie?
Sophie’s the most liberating and terrifying role. She’s got such a brilliant spirit, she’s so young and carefree, and is hopeful about life. I also think she’s got a really deep soul, because I don’t think you can sing that music without one. Strauss was very careful with his writing for each of the women. They and their themes are so individual, and I think Sophie’s magical silvery high notes are the curse and also the absolute dream for any soprano.
Did it make a difference to you that this Proms debut was with Glyndebourne? You’ve got a very long-standing relationship with the company haven’t you, through your mother?
I have, and it made a huge difference. I’ve watched my parents do concerts at the Proms ever since I was born, as well as growing up at Glyndebourne with my mum playing in the orchestra. She’s a violinist and a founder member of the OAE, and my father’s a singer who sings freelance all over the place. So, I felt so supported, and really quite emotional. I think my whole family did, to be honest. Especially as it came about how it did, with such a big bang and such an amazing role.
With such musical parents, did it feel inevitable that you were going to go into music too?
Oh no, they tried to dissuade me! They were basically the complete antithesis of pushy stage parents. They said, “it’s really difficult”, and “really make sure that you absolutely know you want to do it”. Even so, I don’t think that for me there was ever any question of not doing something in the music industry. As a child, I played the violin and loved it, and also did a lot of dancing. I think I thought I’d play the violin, but I didn’t enjoy practicing so much, and you do need to be able to enjoy practicing as a string player. Then, I went to university and, through dance and musical theatre, I fell in love with being onstage and realised that it was actually singing that I wanted to do. I found a phenomenal teacher, Patricia McMahon, and that was when I realised that I could actually hone singing. It had always been something that I had done with my family, but I’d never really realised that you could learn the technique. She showed me how to sing, really.
And then, at the end of this summer you got Glyndebourne’s John Christie Award! How did that make you feel?
Oh, it’s just amazing, and I feel so honoured. I was actually down at Glyndebourne when I was nominated, to see my mum do La finta giardiniera, so I went and looked at the board listing the past winners. I just thought, “If I do get this award, that’s really something, to join such an incredible group of inspirational singers”.
Next year you will make your official Glyndebourne debut. How will it feel to be a billed artist with the company for the first time?
I’m really excited. The Rape of Lucretia is an opera that I love. I’ve covered it twice now, once for British Youth Opera and once for Glyndebourne on Tour. To sing it at Glyndebourne is a dream.
You’re singing Lucia. What is it about that role?
The role is really sweet. She’s right in the heart of the action as Lucretia’s young maid, and I think she hugely loves and admires her mistress. In this production Lucia looks after Lucretia’s child, which I think is a lovely element that the director, Fiona Shaw, has added in. It sort of brings her into the family. Bianca and Lucia really feel Lucretia’s pain, and her longing for Collatinus. Then, after the rape, they witness her complete breakdown. It’s incredibly emotional.
Right at the moment you’re with Frankfurt Opera for six roles. How are you finding it, being so fully immersed in that ensemble at the moment?
It’s wonderful. I jumped in last minute to sing Gretel in Keith Warner’s new production of Hänsel und Gretel that opens on the 12th October. It’s the first time they’ve done the opera in twelve years, and I’ve just found the poster from back in 2002. Back then, it was Diana Damrau who sang Gretel. So, it’s quite amazing to have those shoes to fill, and it’s going to be a fantastic production. The Bohème, in which I’m singing Musetta, looks really lovely too.
Wonderful. Plus, you’re singing Lisa in Sonnambula.
I am, after Hänsel und Gretel, in another new production, with Brenda Rae singing Amina. I think it will be fabulous.
And Silandra too.
Yes, I’m singing Silandra in L’Orontea as well, after Christmas. That opera was written by a lesser known Baroque composer called Cesti, who came just after Monteverdi. It’s an amazing piece, and another new production. I’ve been very blessed to be in so many new productions.
So the next couple of months it’s going to be quite a musical journey, isn’t it, moving from Nineteenth Century lushness, through bel canto, to Italian Baroque. Are you looking forward to that?
I’m really looking forward to it. I had sung Gretel and Musetta before I had graduated from college, both in smaller productions and in English. So, I knew the notes, but they have been lovely to recap and to learn in their original language. I’d never sung any Bellini before, so that’s a real learning curve, and it’s amazing to sing that style, and such beautiful bel canto music. Then, Cesti of course is a completely different style of its own, which will be really interesting to work on.
What are you enjoying most of all at the moment about the rehearsal process?
The team. Keith Warner is a complete genius, and an absolutely lovely man to work with. He really listens to what you feel onstage for your character, but also has a very clear vision for his piece, which I think is going to be very exciting and innovative. Really, the whole process is wonderful. We rehearse in the north of the city in a huge warehouse. It’s a sort of isolated hub of activity for the Frankfurt Opera where we can create something magical.
It sounds brilliant. Now, let’s talk briefly about your non-operatic work, because you’re a committed chamber recitalist too, aren’t you? What side of your musical personality does that work fulfil?
I love lieder singing because I get to do different characters. At the moment, with my voice type and in the beginning of my career, I tend to get cast as sweet, flirty young girls a lot. So, it’s great with lieder to be able to tackle more dramatic, sombre themes, and musical asks, vocally. I’m really lucky to have so many pianists that I have a good partnership with, and there’s such fabulous song rep that I reckon I could keep singing different pieces for the rest of my life. Plus, I absolutely love performing with just one other person. The two of us onstage with our own production, there and then, performing directly to an audience, with no pit in the middle.
Finally, what are you most looking forward to about the future? (Apart from the obvious with Glyndebourne!)
I just want to continue to meet inspirational people, and to continue to enjoy singing and performing whilst finding a good balance between that and my personal life. It’s nice to be able to have the best of all worlds, seeing my family and boyfriend, and my friends, as well as the enjoyment and privilege of working at this level.