01 Apr 2011
Rosenblatt Recitals in conversation with... Elizabeth Llewellyn
Elizabeth Llewellyn, who was awarded the honour of Best Opera Newcomer of 2010 by the Daily Telegraph, will be the next Rosenblatt recitalist performing on the stage of St John’s, Smith Square, on Wednesday 13 April, accompanied by pianist Simon Lepper. The British soprano made a very successful English National Opera debut as Mimì in Jonathan Miller's production of La Bohème this year and she was praised by audiences and critics alike.
Most recently Elizabeth kindly took the time to answer our questions and tell us more about her highly challenging career, her passion for singing and her interests outside of music:
What one thing that has happened in your life has made the biggest impact on who you are today as a singer and made you realise you wanted a career in music?
There are two answers to that question. The thing which had the biggest impact on my life as a singer was having to stop singing. When I started singing again in October 2007, it made me realise what a privilege it is to be able to make a career creating other worlds with just your voice, body and imagination. I do feel quite keenly that this is my privilege and not my right, and so not to be squandered.
What made me realise that I wanted to become a singer was a recording given to me of Jessye Norman singing spirituals, "Es gibt ein Reich" from Ariadne auf Naxos by Strauss, and "Dove sono" from Le Nozze di Figaro (which is included in my recital). I was utterly transfixed by the power and expressiveness of her voice. I had only just started having singing lessons myself, and longed to develop even a fraction of her ability to 'transport' an audience.
You stopped singing for 10 years due to illness and when you returned to singing, you triumphed as Mimì in ENO’s production of La Bohème. Could you please tell us what this was like for you?
It was surreal and very exciting. Most nights I would giggle at my reflection in the mirror before going on stage, as I could not quite believe that I had such a golden opportunity to sing such a beautiful role. Every night I was encouraged by the warm reception from the audience at my curtain-call, but most of all it was very humbling to think that they had really enjoyed and appreciated what I brought to the production.
What advice would you give to a young aspiring singer?
Spend as much time and take as much care developping yourself as a person as you do honing your skills as an artist - travel, work a normal 9-5 job for a little while, be a keen observer of people, and be realistic with yourself... I have found that technical/vocal ability is only half the job. Our audiences want to be moved and changed by what we do, not simply impressed.
What is the most satisfying thing in your life as an opera singer? On the other hand what have you sacrificed for your art?
I love the fact that am an eternal student. There is always more to read/translate/learn/listen to, always a myriad of ways to deliver a line in an opera or a song, and you can never predict how a responsive audience (or colleague) will react. Even after thirteen performances of La Bohème, I came off stage thinking, "Next time, I'll play that scene differently" or, "I'd like to try to improve that section or build upon what I started there"... I am very fortunate that my work is so stimulating.
The downside of my life as a singer has been that, especially since things have moved on so quickly for me and I have had to work hard to make the most of these opportunities, sadly I have spent less time with family and dear friends over the past three years.
What one song would work as the soundtrack to your life?
"Wayfaring Stranger" as recorded by Eva Cassidy. I am a committed Christian and this song reminds me that, even though I have the very best job in the world, my real home is with Jesus Christ.
Do you cook? If so, what dish is your speciality?
I'm ashamed to admit that most of the time food is about taking on fuel! So when I do cook, it is a wonderful form of relaxation even if the result leaves much to be desired. My latest passion is making soups, and I have an interesting repertoire of them now, as they are a great way to get my "5-a-day". If I have lots of time, I can make an amazing bolognese, which takes at least three hours to cook.
If you weren’t an opera singer what would you be?
I had aspirations of becoming a journalist when I was in my mid-teens. If music had not broken at that point in my life, I am fairly certain I would have pursued that career.
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
Tricky one, as I love living in London very much (which is why I have included the Walton songs in my programme). But there is a part of my genetic make-up which craves feeling the sun on my skin for at least half of the year. Whenever I can, I enjoy going to Italy on holiday as Italians seem to have the balance right between work and life, and style and substance... So I guess my answer would be somewhere in middle/south of Italy near a large town, and within striking distance of the beach.
Looking beyond your Rosenblatt Recital, could you please give us an outline of your forthcoming projects?
There are still a number of things to be confirmed, but a wonderful composer - Jean-Philippe Calvin - is writing a song-cycle for me which I hope to start working on soon. I will be singing the role of La Contessa in Opera Holland Park's production of Le Nozze di Figaro in the first two weeks of July this year, and then singing Governess (The Turn of the Screw) for an exciting new opera company in London. Early 2012 will see my first performance of Strauss' Vier Letze Lieder in Canterbury Cathedral, followed by a return to Holland Park in the summer to sing Fiordiligi (Cosi fan tutte). All of the details will appear on my website www.elizabethllewellyn.com, and you can follow my blog on my News page.