Australia is a beautiful country and there are some fantastic things happening in the arts but there comes a time where one must leave the nest (and sun) to expose themselves to the bigger world of opera.
In 2014, I graduated from WAAPA with a Bachelor of Music and Graduate Diploma, after four years of good foundations and finding my feet. I discussed future plans with my teacher (Patricia Price – such an encouraging and influential lady in my journey) and she suggested schools I could audition for, as well as teachers I might work well with. After a lot of prayer and great conversations, I decided to venture to the UK and audition for a Masters degree.
For Australian singers, travelling overseas to audition can bring pressure and nerve racking expectation. Will I be good enough? Am I too young? What if I come back with no offers? Is that embarrassing? What if it’s a waste of time? But you can’t go into auditions thinking that! Chat to your teacher and trust them. If you want to go and they are encouraging it- Go for it! On the other hand, if they suggest you wait a year or two, listen to their advice. They have a pretty good idea of where your voice is going.
Making the trip to the UK was such a life changing experience and even if I hadn’t received any offers I could at least say it was rewarding. HINT: If you are going overseas for auditions, make the most of it. See shows, organize coachings and travel for a few extra weeks. Great chance to practice languages.
My audition at the Royal Northern College of Music was by far my favorite. I felt welcome by all of the students and staff right from the moment I walked in the building. I could really see myself studying here and after chatting with Lynne Dawson & Stefan Janski in my interview, I started to get quite excited about the course. This was the place for me!
So why Manchester?
RNCM put on two fully staged operas a year in their Opera Theatre. When the college casts these operas, they allow all singers to audition. This means everybody has an equal chance to be in the productions – not just the final year Post-Grads or students from a specific Opera course. This gives you so much opportunity during your time at college. I’ve had the chance to work on a few minor roles in Street Scene (Weil) and am currently working on a main role in Cosi fan Tutte (Mozart).
The college also holds lunchtime concerts and evening recitals. These give students a chance to collaborate with other musicians and composers to develop programming skills. It is a brilliant platform to perform song rep and concert arias to a public audience.. not just students! I have recently started working with a friend who is in the Jazz course. We are about to apply for a lunch concert series to perform a few jazz tunes – Such fun!
When I was still in Perth, Mary Plazas was performing the role of Madame Butterfly for WA Opera. Patricia had suggested I contact Mary when I get to Manchester but this was perfect timing! She put some time aside from her busy schedule and saw myself and some friends for lessons. Mary offered me a spot in her studio and I was thrilled: I felt very blessed and relieved to have met my teacher before I moved! You do want to make sure you are moving to a good teacher. Someone you get along with and someone that you really click with. I think performance classes are also very important because you learn such different things from different people.
There are some AMAZING visiting artists and teachers at RNCM. Every week there are one on one coachings and masterclasses with fabulous singers! The last two weeks we have had Patricia MacMahon & Craig Smith and this week there are one on ones with Sir Thomas Allen. We also get a chance to work with other RNCM staff in Performance classes.
Living Costs & Travel
Manchester is actually so amazing to live in. Rent is not that expensive. in fact, I have a friend that lives in London and their rent is almost three times MORE than here. If you do want to travel to London it is SUPER easy by train! Pop down for an audition or go for a night to watch an opera and do a gig. London is very accessible from Manchester especially if you have a railcard… You can get really good ticket prices.
Travelling in Manchester alone is easy too. We don’t have a tube but we have buses everywhere (Magic Buses only cost 1 pound) and there are trams/trains to Greater Manchester.
Living here has meant I am able to spend money on other great things. For example: lessons, concerts, music and evenings out for dinner! HINT: January is amazing for dining in Manchester because so many places have 50% off!! Speaking of dinner….
There are so many places for going out! Heaps of cool cafés surrounded by vintage shops in the Northern Quarter, some beautiful fine dining in Spinningfields, random bars that are also bowling alleys or ping pong clubs. Manchester is super quirky but then also super classy. It is known for it’s many hidden gems. I LOVE that! More importantly though – it isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg!
There are also a million gigs on every night. One of my friends organizes a jam session at a bar in Withington. Musos turn up and sight read some chamber music or whatever they want to bring along. How cool! There are many venues for contemporary music too – lots of songwriters in this city! On the other side of the spectrum there are some BIG names that visit as well. This is a great city for Music… both Classical and Pop genres.
The First Six Months: The Good, The Bad and The Challenging
The typical conversation starters 6 months ago were as follows: Do you miss Australia? You must be so cold here in England! Have you bought your boots and coats yet!? Have you looked into getting Vitamin D tablets? That must be terrible with the time difference! Do you still talk to your friends and family?
Yes- it was SO cold when I first got here but I’m slowly getting used to it. Of course I still talk to my loved ones but when people asked me if I missed Australia I always had a challenging answer. I love Australia but I don’t miss it… wait…
Did I just say that?!?
Moving to the other side of the world is massive! And to be honest, I thought I’d be a lot more upset than I was. However, I was so excited to start this journey so when the time finally came I was more happy than sad to leave. When I first realized this, I thought “My goodness! That is terrible! Why did I not cry at the airport?”. But I was just ready start my next chapter.
Technology these days makes keeping in touch so much easier! When life gets busy, that’s when things get a bit harder. I try to contact my parents, boyfriend, important mentors and mates every week. This was definitely the case back when I first arrived. Now that college has become so busy and rehearsals are full on, I contact them whenever I get a chance. That sucks because I wish I could call them all the time. I try to send them little reminders that I’m thinking of them and call when I’m on my way to a class/rehearsal.
I discovered the term “breaking the distance”. My boyfriend, Justin, was going to be visiting me in January and then I would be in Perth for Easter. Knowing these significant moments of the year made the move easier.
I think I fell in love with Manchester. It became my new home rather than just a place to study. This is probably why I didn’t struggle too much with being in a new country. I found a great parish and fantastic church family in the first week of being here and then when college started I started to see the fruit of this big step.
For a twenty-one year old, I had moments of “Wow! Everyone is so good here! I’m just the baby. Still got a long way to go.” These thoughts will always spin around a singer’s mind but I made them leave pretty quickly. My new teacher, Mary, reminded me that EVERYONE is on their own singing journey. We all choose different paths to grow on and every single performer has a different definition of success. I just needed to stick to my goals and make the most of this Masters degree… soak up all that it is worth. So I did!
Getting a lead role in this year’s opera has really challenged me.. The best challenge I could have asked for (I am playing Despina in Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte)! Never have I done so much recitative in my life. In fact, this is the first time I have ever tackled secco recit. At first, I struggled BIG TIME but it’s a learning process.. I get it now! I am really blessed to be sharing the role with a beautiful soprano called Charlie. She has added another topping on the cake for me. When we rehearse, I learn a lot from her and it’s great to share a role with someone that inspires you. You don’t just learn from teachers, you learn from your colleagues too.
Despina has strengthened my sight reading skills, ability to learn large amounts of music off copy, Italian language, pronunciation, recit stylization and stagecraft. All those years of waking up early for lectures and having to do ‘viva voce’ aural exams are paying off big time. This has been the moment where I see the meaning of my Bachelor and Grad Dip. Every single class – I now see those skills in use! Thank you, WAAPA! Thank you, RNCM!
Opera in Australia vs England
I learnt so much in Australia. I really enjoy working and performing with groups such as Art Song Perth, Opera Box, Opera Lovers and Music Amica. They are so wonderful and Perth is very blessed to have them. I have noticed that in Manchester, there are a lot more students/recent graduates/young professionals collaborating together to make music. For instance, A few friends of mine are currently working on a double bill opera which is being performed in cafes and churches around Manchester. There have also recently been a few contemporary pieces being worked on with composers and musicians. It’s quite amazing that the composer for your work is able to discuss what he wants and even develop ideas over a coffee… a little harder to chat to Bach or Schubert.
Something else that pleasantly surprised me has been the amount of auditions and competitions to apply for. What’s even better is if something is held in another country – that’s no issue. Travelling is easy here! Every week college sends out an email about work and opportunities. There are so many audition applications and companies that are looking for chorus members. This doesn’t mean you should jump at everything that comes your way but there is definitely more possibility when you have so many to choose from. It’s important to know where you’re at and apply for things you’re ready for (Again – communication with your teacher). Even if you aren’t going to participate/perform in them, competitions and productions are still beneficial to attend. It’s nice to watch and learn from colleagues too!
This has been the best ‘next step’ for me. I am constantly learning new things and finding out what MY path looks like. Knowing that is important and it is crucial you don’t compare yours to someone else’s. Be inspired by people but it’s dangerous to rate your success by them.
Manchester has opened my eyes to possibility and I enjoy every moment. I was asked to share my good, bad and challenging experiences but when you’re on a journey like this – they are all in one bundle. Sometimes what can seem like a real challenge is the thing that makes you grow the most. That’s when you realise that something so good came out of what you first may have thought was bad.
Thank you to The O Word for inviting me to be apart of Vocal Voyages. I had fun working on this and can’t wait to read the next one! If anyone has questions, please feel free to comment and I can do my best to answer!!
Enjoy your journey 🙂 Love Dani
Written by Daniella Sicari