Hello, it’s me….. again.
Almost 6 months since I finished my year as a young artist in the Opera Studio of Oper Stuttgart which means almost 6 months since my last blog post. When I decided to write a blog post, every Friday from the first to my last week as a young artist, I didn’t quite realise how big a task it was going to be and those of you who followed each week will be aware of the ups and downs of my life as a singer, both during the year itself and in the year leading up to joining Stuttgart. Now six months later, I would like to share my experiences of life after an opera studio and to bring a final end to my blogging. This really is it. So, if you will indulge me one last time, here it is.
Back home – the summer
When I returned to London in July, having spent most of the previous ten months rehearsing or performing Opera (48 performances over 8 operas!), my initial plan was to have some time away from this most wonderful of art forms. By the end of the first week back I’d seen Figaro at West Green House Opera, L’amore dei tre Re at Opera Holland Park, had acquired a ticket to see Saul at Glyndebourne and had already messed up my first audition back on home turf.
When I say messed up the audition, I sang ok – really really OK. In hindsight I was just completely drained from all that being a young artist had thrown at me and I’m more surprised that the role was down to me and one other guy (they chose him) than that they didn’t pick me.
With Mrs. E on an amazing school trip to South America, I made the most of some time to catch up with people. Or at least I tried to. I managed to have tea with a couple who had supported me over the previous 18 months, and had lunch with another great supporter. All wonderful people who I now consider friends and to whom I will be eternally grateful. I managed to meet up with a few friends and saw some family but sadly not everyone I had hoped to see and I must make more effort next time I have a prolonged period at home.
I hadn’t been back in the UK long when my former Director of Music from St. Paul’s Cathedral, Mr John Scott, passed away in New York, having himself just returned from a long organ recital tour in Europe. The news hit me with a wave of emotion and I sat alone in our living room, tears streaming down my cheeks. I was a chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral under Mr Scott’s leadership for six years, from the age of 7, and during that time he had taught me a huge amount. He instilled in all of us a sense of duty, a steely determination to do ones best and gave us an unrivalled musical education. Would I be doing what I am today without John? I doubt it.
It was good, a few months later, to attend an Evensong at St. Paul’s, with prayers for John. To see many staff and fellow students from my time as a chorister was, though tinged with sadness, wonderful. I hope to make a memorial event back at St. Paul’s on May 6th, 2016.
A few days after John’s passing, my wife and I travelled to Austria for a mini break in Vienna – preceded by an audition for me in the south of Austria. Again, this went OK. Something didn’t feel quite right vocally, it’s funny how emotion can affect the voice (its not funny at all actually) and the theatre in question was terribly organised with no direction as to where to warm up, where to go for the audition, what time I was on….. It was frustrating.
Vienna was lovely and on our return I was delighted to hear that my audition in Salzburg back at the beginning of July had been successful and I would be singing the role of Belmonte, the main Lyric tenor, in Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung aus Serail in Bregenz (where I am currently rehearsing). Thankfully, the ever supportive Stuttgart allowed me to cancel covering the tenor parts in their new Fairy Queen in order for me to come to Bregenz. With 6th of December the date for my flight over here, I now had a few months to play with.
With Belmonte in the diary and three small roles in Stuttgart from Feb to July 2016, I saw these few months as crucial for future planning and opportunities. Despite the success of my year in Stuttgart, including jumping in as Ferrando in Cosi Fan Tutte, I hadn’t been able to acquire representation from an agency. In fact, such were the burgeoning relationships with various agencies, I had hoped to announce who I was to be represented in one of my final blogs….. but this was not to be and I grew increasingly frustrated with either the lack of responses or the lack of any apparent interest from agents who had shown initial keenness.
I pushed on regardless and emailed those who had been interested, a new group of agents and a couple of agents who had actively not shown interest, with the news of my role in Bregenz. I also decided to put on a concert in London that would double up as a great opportunity for family, friends and supporters to see me perform in London but also a chance for any interested agents to attend.
The initial response to these emails was positive and I ended up getting two quite last minute auditions (one in Belgium, one in Switzerland) through one German based agency, and had confirmation of two agents keen to attend my concert in London.
Once again, the auditions I acquired didn’t go amazingly well. They didn’t go badly as such, but something wasn’t quite working vocally and I felt I could have represented myself better. Fortunately, on the back of feedback I had received on a few occasions in Stuttgart, I had arranged to see a new teacher in London, one I knew had worked well with some of my friends and one who had a particular focus on an area I was looking to improve. Not to say that there was anything wrong with my other teacher, in fact I still recommend him to everyone, but I think it is important to work with new people occasionally, they might be able to open up something that another person hasn’t touched on yet.
The work I did in the first lesson clicked immediately and within minutes I felt I had gained a more solid base of support with which to utilise what was a well-developed technique. The resulting sound became easier, fuller and warmer than what I had been working with in my last months in Stuttgart and suddenly the voice felt more me. Not surprisingly, I immediately gained in confidence and took this refreshed voice into my upcoming coachings and auditions.
Cosi once more
As if the Operatic gods were aware of my new state of mind, and voice (often the same for us singers), a week after this first lesson I received a call from Stuttgart to ask me to jump in as Ferrando in Cosi Fan Tutte once more. Despite the initial nerves of trying to remember the whole opera and production three months after I had last performed it, I jumped at the chance. The performance was a success, it was lovely to be back at what felt like my Operatic home and the changes in my singing were noticed immediately, particularly by Bettina Giese, the head of the Opera studio. The morning after this performance, the powers that be in Stuttgart offered me the first four performances of a major role in the 2016/17 season, more than I could ever hope for.
Suddenly I had more to offer to a potential agent and I once again sent off a selection of emails with news of this new success. Again with mixed results.
By the time of my much planned and self-publicised concert (how else does an agentless, penniless singer get people to attend a concert….), at the end of November, one of the two confirmed agents had cancelled and suddenly my big opportunity to showcase this new voice and artistic package was going to be relying on an agent who could only make the afternoon rehearsal.
The rehearsal went well, the agent was lovely and very positive, the concert, with the fantastic Maite Aguirre, was a success – you can hear some clips here if you so wish https://soundcloud.com/thomaselwin – and I was very happy to have the chance to sing to a room of family, friends and supporters before I was to be away for another three months.
A week later, and following a concert in Winchester Cathedral, I travelled here to Bregenz to start rehearsals. My first major professional role, not as cover/Jump in, I was very excited to start. The rehearsals did not disappoint and, but for a week back in England for Christmas and two more ‘jump ins’ as Ferrando in Stuttgart last week, I have been here in this charming small town of Bregenz ever since.
What I have enjoyed most about this is just being allowed to work, and create the art. Not having to justify my place here, not feeling like I am only here because I am opera studio or having any sense that I am constantly auditioning for my next job. The atmosphere has been great, and the show would be a great showcase for any agents I would like to invite would it that I still needed one.
Delighted – (perseverance)
Happily, on the back of hearing my rehearsal back in November, and the clips from my concert, I met with and was taken on by Jonathan Groves, Helen Hogh and Lulu Chivers at Ingpen and Williams at the end of December Thomas Elwin - Ingpen. It is very much a novelty having some people actively working with me in this way and I am absolutely delighted.
I have been trying to get an agent interested in me ever since I was in Postgrad. at music college back in 2009/10. Others in my year picked up agents, friends had agents, but not me. In the lead up to going to Stuttgart I contacted quite a few, and had interest from one or two….. but nothing developed. I actually emailed Ingpen back in May 2014, but was politely declined. I emailed again when I knew they had sent someone to watch one of their artists in Stuttgart, and once more politely declined. Despite two polite refusals, I emailed once more when I knew I’d jump in in Cosi Fan Tutte back in June 2015, and slowly from that point interest developed. Getting Belmonte in Bregenz pushed things along, jumping in in Cosi in November definitely caught their ears and by the end of December the perseverance had paid off enough – I was taken on.
SOAP BOX (stay with me, I’m almost done)
It’s great for me to be able to end this 6 month, post opera studio, chapter with the good news of getting a top agent. As with my blogging throughout, from day one, I hope it is apparent that it hasn’t all been plain sailing to get here. Being in the opera studio at Stuttgart afforded me numerous opportunities, great opportunities that have allowed me to reach an exciting start of a hopefully long career in opera. I get to sing amazing music in beautiful places with great people. Yet being in the studio in Stuttgart also cost me another year not earning a sustainable income, a year being away from wife, family, friends, England.
As with any choices in life, there are swings and roundabouts and for those of you who are reading this with the romantic notion of wanting to be an Opera singer, great, congratulations! I really do wish you the best of luck in your endeavour. I urge you not to make the decision lightly and if you do make it, to persevere as much as you can. Knock on doors, knock on them again. Learn from everything, every teacher, colleague, superstar, performance. Ask questions, and be honest with yourself. Do everything you can to justify the amazing support that family and friends will give you and never take that support for granted.
For those of you who just read this as an opera supporter or a friend of mine on facebook, or of my family, or just happened to stumble upon it and have made it this far, thank you for the support and please don’t stop. The arts are a mad place to try and make a life in, it can be lonely and tough and without the support of family and friends it would be almost impossible. Whatever form that support manifests itself, thank you so much.