This month for Vocal Voyages we have a little bit of a treat for you, as we spoke to Emma Pearson about her younger years and what is in store for the rest of 2017
How did you get into opera?
Well I studied classical singing in high school, and I did TEE music and got into the University of Western Australia to do my Bachelor of Music. I was only really singing operetta and lieder and I was sometimes in musicals. When I was at UWA the School of Music used to combine with the Conservatorium (now WAAPA), and they were putting on operas together. My teacher at the time, Molly McGurk, encouraged me to audition and give it a red-hot go. So I auditioned for Gianni Schicchi, and for some reason or another they gave me the lead – which was a baptism of fire but it was so rewarding! I then auditioned for WA Opera once I had finished my degree, but that didn’t end up happening for me that year. I was a bit disorganised to be honest, I was late for my audition and it was a disaster. But a couple of weeks later I found out that Greg Yurisich was starting the Australian Opera Studio in Perth, so I auditioned for him soon afterwards and got in and that really sent me down the opera path – and I haven’t looked back!
What was it like at the Opera Studio?
Well they drilled discipline into me and it was really quite amazing. They taught you how to work under pressure and how to structure your days so that you were always organised and on time (and not late for auditions)! They stressed the old saying, “if you’re not 15 minutes early for rehearsal then you’re already late” and I think that was the best thing for me. We worked on German, Italian and French, worked every morning with a personal trainer, had movement and drama classes, even business skills classes, and also the usual voice lessons and coachings. We put on an opera every term and really learnt how to speed learn roles to a high standard. By the end I had a huge range of repertoire and roles that I had done so it was really one of the best things for any young singer. They would bring in people to hear us sing which is how I got my first professional job for New Zealand Opera. It is such a shame that it doesn’t exist anymore!
Perth audiences have just seen you in WA Opera’s Opera in the Park, and you’ll be back here soon for a SwanSongs recital with David Wickham. What can we expect?
It is brand new repertoire for me! I’ve been singing German in Germany for the last ten years but never got around to singing Strauss! So I’m really looking forward to doing a big block of Strauss, Opus 48. There will be some Mahler as well so I’m very excited. The recital is called Hearts Dance and it is music that has a lot of rhythm and colour to it. It’s just music that will make you really want to tap your foot and want to dance.
And of course you’ll be back again later this year to sing Lucia in WA Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor!
Yes, I’m very excited about that too! I’ve sung Lucia before in German and I think it’ll be wonderful to do a traditional staging of it. I guess it will be really nice to sing some bel canto at home in Perth.
What is your advice for young singers?
It changes all the time for me! Apart from being 15 minutes early for everything – I think my number one piece of advice is to always work with a coach. I think everyone can prepare music to a good standard, but you can always add another layer of polish by working with a coach. I would not turn up to a performance now without seeing a coach first. The better the coaching is, the better the product is. So if you can get over to Europe and work with Europeans on European repertoire then you have a greater chance of getting work alongside the people that live over there. Work on your spoken languages, which is something you can do before you go over there but is so handy and is such an attractive skill to have. But in the meantime work with coaches on pronunciation of the languages, because it is one thing to know and understand a language, but it is super important to sound like you are from the countries that speak the language you are singing. Always work with a coach!
There are a lot of different ideas on what the perfect form of artistic expression is, and I think in opera you’ve got the best type of musical accompaniment (an orchestra), you’ve got the incredible singing technique that is used, and you’ve got the drama. And then of course you have languages thrown in on top of that. There is the visual design aspect as well which is a big reason as to why we can do the same shows over and over again and not get bored of them. I think it really is the perfect gesamtkunstwerk (complete work of art). It is the complete bringing together of so many disciplines that when it is good, it is really good.
And finally, if you could turn any book/movie/TV Show/play into an opera what would it be?
Oh, I was just thinking about this the other day! I went to see the movie Jackie with Natalie Portman and I just think it would be such a great opera. I would love the costumes and she would be such a great character to play.
You can catch Emma in her Swansongs recital Hearts Dance with David Wickham on March 12 at 3pm at Perth Town Hall. You can purchase your tickets here
You can also see Emma later this year as Lucia in WA Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti. Dates are October 26, 28 & November 2, 4 at His Majesty’s Theatre. Buy tickets here
Thank you to Emma Pearson for her time.
Interviewed and Transcribed by Louis Hurley