How would you describe your experience at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World?
It was pretty intense, as you can imagine, but very rewarding as well. It was amazing to perform with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and with my accompanist, Gary Matthewman, all week. I really enjoyed the first two rounds: my Song Prize and my Main Prize. However, there was something really special about the audience during my Main Prize. Their response was just electric, and I could really feel that they were on my side that night.
I also had to balance my time at the competition with my performance of Der Rosenkavalier with the Welsh National Opera. Luckily, I know Rosenkavalier quite well because I’ve sung it twice before, so I sort of knew how to pace myself. It was a matter of just taking rests when I could and making sure I didn’t speak very much.
How did performing at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World compare to performing at the Proms?
My performance of Fidelio this year was the third time I’ve performed in the Proms. I did Rosenkavalier there in 2014 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and I did Mozart’s C Minor Mass last year with the BBC Scottish Orchestra. I can’t describe what it’s like to perform at the Proms. I remember when I stepped out in 2014 and looked out at the Hall for the first time, and just thought “Oh my God!” However, the Cardiff audience and the Proms audience were very similar. You can tell they’re supporting you and you can feed off their energy, which is really liberating for a performer. That’s also why I love doing recital work so much, because there’s no pit in way – you’re directly in front of the audience.
What made you use Strauss’s music for a debut disc?
I love Strauss’s music – I feel he writes so characteristically for each of the people onstage, combining humour and pain and beauty into the music all at once. I came across the Rosenkavalier trio around 10 years ago when YouTube had just started up and I was at university in Edinburgh. I was browsing videos and happened to stumble across the final trio and the presentation of the rose. I completely fell in love. I started singing some Strauss songs including one that’s actually on the disc – Ständchen, the first Strauss song I ever learnt. I started to look at bits of Rosenkavalier, and then Glyndebourne offered me the chance to perform in it. Rosenkavalier has sort of followed me around ever since I did it for Glyndebourne. I’ve now performed it for Frankfurt and Welsh National Opera, and I’m going back to do one show for Glyndebourne next year, too.
What is the theme of the songs on your disc?
At first, we looked at doing whole opuses and complete sets, but soon I started looking at the poetry instead. I decided that the songs that were particularly good for me vocally would fit quite nicely into a story. We started to manipulate that idea and looked at what pieces we could add in for humorous numbers, faster numbers and more soft lyrical ones. There seemed to be a nice theme, a sort of woman’s journey through life and love. (It could be a man’s too, of course, but because I’m a woman I went with that!) I would love to do some recitals of the music from the disc, because I think they would work really well in that intimate kind of environment.
How involved was your accompanist, Joseph Middleton, in helping you put your disc together?
He’s actually the reason I actually won the Young British Soloists Competition, which is what financed the disc in the first place. He just messaged me one day and said “Do you fancy going for it?” I thought that would be wonderful to make a recording with him and have complete freedom of choice as to what I could choose to sing. We talked about several different options, but in the end decided upon Strauss. We had done a recital of Strauss songs in the Leeds Lieder Festival before in November, so we took quite a few of the songs from that and recycled them.
What are the good and bad things about working with an accompanist in a recital setting?
It’s wonderful because you can really delve into both the poetry of the songs and the duo partnership you have with each other. It allows you to be freer than if you were working with an orchestra and a conductor, because in that situation there are so many more forces that need to come together. However, when it’s just a duo of the two of you, you can feel very naked and exposed – that in itself can be very exciting. In Cardiff, there were stark differences between the rounds with Gary and the rounds with the orchestra. With one other musician on stage, you can speak more directly to the audience and there’s a lot more flexibility, especially one that is so attuned to you as Gary and Joe are to me. I am lucky to have two fantastic recital partners.