Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Six Months later.....

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.


Mr Scott

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.


Next step

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.


Always striving

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.


The concert

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.


Bregenz

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.


That’s it from me. No more blogging……. If we happen to meet, do say ‘Hello’. Until then… 





                           Portrait by Gerard Collett

Friday, 17 July 2015

Yes I do! See you out there!

      ‘This blog, which I aim to make weekly, will record and discuss my year in the Opera Studio’
                                                                                                                      
                                                                                        Thomas Elwin, 12.09.14

Well here it is, folks, the finish line. The 44th blog on the 45th, and last, Friday of my season.  The final day of my time in the Oper Stuttgart Opera Studio, the final Friday living in Germany and the final blog from me, Thomas Elwin.

I think, having written over 60’000 words about my time here, I have fulfilled my little brief, missing just the one Friday which was over the Christmas holidays. I have also fulfilled the brief I gave myself when I moved here, that being to try and make the most of the opportunity, always seek to improve and end the year closer to fulfilling my ultimate goal, that of being a fully-fledged Opera Singer.


How?

I wanted experience, I wanted opportunities, and this is what I got. Straight away I was thrown into the thick of it with roles in Der Freischutz, Ariadne auf Naxos and Kovanshchina. Around the same time as those three I covered the Junge Seeman in Tristan und Isolde and sang in the 5th anniversary concert for the Opera Studio. Now at the other end of the season, I have just jumped into a performance as Borsa in Rigoletto, my 8th production of the season having, just a week earlier, stepped up to sing two nights as Ferrando in Cosi Fan Tutte, a major role in major house debut.
In between all that I have been involved in masterclasses, had many auditions and watched more operas than ever before.

The last 45 weeks have included:

47 nights on the Opera stage

 -Singing in 8 different productions: Der Freischutz, Tristan und Isolde, Kovanshchina, Ariadne auf  Naxos, Nabucco, Il Vologeso, Cosi Fan Tutte and Rigoletto.

·          -12 concerts, both in the UK and Germany

·          - 10+ auditions

·          -Visits to numerous central European cities including: Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt, Zurich      and Salzburg

·         -3 Masterclasses

·         -Attending 12 operas, many for the first time, including: La Sonnambula, Jakob Lenz, Platee, La  Boheme, Luisa Miller and Die Fledermaus

·         -Some bier

·         -Some local food

Not a bad Opera studio year I’d say.



Highlights

Hard not to look past Cosi Fan Tutte, just two weeks ago, as my year highlight. 

Getting to perform so much on stage has been great.

Starting to get to grips, slowly, with a new language has been great and I have enjoyed the experience of living in a New country. 






What will I miss?

There are many aspects of this year that I have enjoyed a lot, not least being part of a ;arge community. I was struck by how many people came up to me to wish me best wishes (or just toi toi toi) for my Cosi Fan Tutte performances. When I jumped in as Borsa in Rigoletto last week (which went well thanks)  I was, once again, struck by how many people are in the Opera company, always there to help if needed and ultimately make the job for me to go on stage and sing as easy as possible.  This includes the Wardrobe guys, in particular Cort (as pictured with me in Freischutz and Borsa costumes) without whom I would have constantly been wearing the wrong things on stage and with whom I can even have semi-coherent German conversations with.






A great example of this community was last Saturday when the yearly ‘Solistentreff’ event occurred just outside the centre of Stuttgart. This is an event put on for soloists, and others, from the opera house community to meet, eat, drink and play games. There were more than 25 of us there including Jossi Wieler, the Intendant, so our Boss, who proved a mean goalkeeper. There were many singers and other people from the house, past and present. It was great to feel part of this community.  

I will miss the convenience of Stuttgart. I am a Londoner at heart, but it didn’t take me too long to get used to leaving 20 mins to get anywhere instead of an hour like in London.

I will miss the friends I have made, the ease at which I can just send a text and be in a Brauhaus half an hour later sharing a local bier.

I will miss the supportive staff in Stuttgart, the artists buro who seem to be there to help whenever I need, the head of the Studio whose door is always open for advice, discussions or just answering questions about living in Germany.


Challenges

This blog was never intended to be a warts-and-all account of the goings on inside an Opera house. Much more a warts and all account of being a young singer trying to make it. I would be lying if I said there weren’t things I didn’t enjoy, people I didn’t get on with, things I didn’t want to do. At least one of the 8 productions was a struggle to justify in terms of what I felt I have to offer and what I was being made to do. That’s opera studio for you.

I have felt fortunate with most people, but there are people who will always look down on an opera studio singer, not necessarily treating them with the respect they afford other singers. Then again there are always power games in every walk of life and I will always have respect for those who treat colleagues correctly. As I said, I have been mostly lucky with this and Stuttgart as an Opera house is lucky in this respect. We have one of the nicest and most supportive management teams I could hope to experience.

Living away from my wife has been difficult. Despite the difficulties in my career during 2013/14, it was a year in which I got to see Mrs Elwin a lot and I was happy with that. Making such a big decision as living away from her for a year put a pressure on me to get as much from the year as I could and really showcase my talents.

It has been a challenge to live on very little income. I am very much penniless now and I wouldn’t have been able to get through the year without the support I raised last summer. I am hugely grateful to those who have supported me.


What am I looking forward to?

I am very much looking forward to being home again. To getting back to living with my wife and having some sort of ‘normal’ life, seeing  family, UK friends, being able to go to the cinema without needing to check if it is ‘Original Version’ or not.

I’m looking forward to stepping up to the next stage of my career. To not being ‘opera studio’ anymore but instead a working opera singer with whatever challenges that may bring.

I am excited to get back working with my singing teacher and coaches to continue striving to 
improve.

Stuttgart has made me much more confident with my identity as an artist, where my voice is, what I can offer. As a result, I look forward to returning to England as a much more complete vocal artist and package.


Thanks

There are many people I would like to thank ,not least Bettina Giese, head of the Opera Studio, who has believed in me and championed my cause throughout the year. She is the mother of the opera studio and it would not be what it is without her.

The list of those I would thank at the Opera house is too long to write on here, but all of you that I have had any dealings with, thank you very much for making this year one to remember.

Thank you to my supporters, in particular Glenn, for the support, financial and otherwise.

Thank you of course to my wife and family, for their never ending love and support.

AND thank you to you all for reading. For commenting on posts, sharing them, retweeting them, emailing/messaging me with questions or support. I had no idea what to expect when I first posted this blog and to have had over 55’000 site hits is far beyond what I could imagine.


Bye bye


In my first post, back on 12th of September 2014, I spoke honestly about the ups and significant downs I had faced in the 18 months before I came to Stuttgart and about my hopes and goals. Over the following 43 posts I have tried to be honest and insightful about whatever the year has thrown at me. I hope you have enjoyed the journey, I have.

See you out there!!

Tom


PS. As a thanks to all my London based social media buddies I would like to invite you, this Tuesday night, at 7pm on 21st of July, to have a drink with me at the BFI Riverside bar on the Southbank, London. I would be delighted if any of you, my readers, Facebook likers and Twitter followers would like to join me in an event I have called #TomsMeetnTweet. Social Media is, of course, much better when it is truly social. Hope to see you there.


PPS. Drinks are not on me…..

PPPS. Today (17th of July) is my Birthday! Good timing....



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Friday, 10 July 2015

Yo-Yo

‘The chance of me going on as Borsa are almost nil’

I said to my mother, who had made the trip over, with my father, to watch my 2nd performance of Ferrando in Cosi Fan Tutte.

‘Borsa is a role that you could sing, no matter how unwell you are, and this guy has vocal chords of steel’

I elaborated, even exaggerated, so convinced was I that my season was finally over.


The TEXT

                ‘Good morning Thomas, tenor unwell, cancelled Friday. Please call me’

How wrong I could be. Sure enough, as Bettina Giese’s text to me alluded, Borsa had indeed cancelled and, tonight, I will be jumping in for my third performance in two weeks, just on this occasion as Borsa, the Duke’s little friend, in Verdi’s masterpiece Rigoletto.

A significantly less challenging role than Ferrando, more on Ferrando’s difficulties later, my relaxed week has again been knocked off course as I have fitted in watching the opening night DVD, had additional costume fittings and a three hour staging call.

I am excited about the performance, it is a great new production here in Stuttgart and Borsa in unlike any character I have played before. He is energetic, a live wire, funny, crass, almost as opposite to Ferrando as one might find. Also, in this production, and in all productions by Wieler and Morabito, there is a freedom within the characters, born through a sincere approach and a trust placed in the singers discovery of the character. As such, though there are places where I need to be at certain times, there is much more freedom for me to ‘play’ Borsa than in Stuttgarts new production of Cosi which, without meaning to criticise the show, is much more rigid in its construction.

So, Borsa tonight. Opera performance  47 (FORTY SEVEN) of the season. Probably deserve a little bier after it I think.


Family

At the other end of the week, and where I left you last time, was my 2nd performance jumping in as Ferrando in Cosi Fan Tutte.

Moments after I finished the epic blog (next time I do this blogging thing I’ll give myself a word limit) I hopped on the train to meet my parents at the airport. Having very kindly dropped their weekend plans and booked a flight over to see me as soon as they heard I was singing Ferrando on Friday, I was delighted to see them. As I think I mentioned last week, it was a huge occasion for me and it was special to be able to share it with my parents. Like with many parents of musical children, mine spent an incalculable amount of time travelling around to watch me sing as a choirboy – even my poor sisters would spend half of December, including Christmas day, traipsing in from East London to St. Paul’s Cathedral to see me sing, every year from 1994 to 1999.

As an adult this has been less the case, inevitably. I never expect them to come to anything in fact, it is my job after all and I perform a lot. Often I don’t even tell them what I am performing, where or when.

But they made the trip for this, and we had a lovely, if slightly too hot, weekend in Stuttgart together.


The Heat

There is a rule which states that sleep and hydration are the keys to good vocal health. A lack of sleep or being dehydrated and the voice will suffer.  This is one reason that too much alcohol is not ideal for the voice, it affecting both you hydration levels and your sleep.

Another little voice pest is heat, particularly extreme heat.

As I mentioned last week, Stuttgart was hot. Very hot. The geographical situation that Stuttgart finds itself in, surrounded by hills, creates an almost airless and sometimes unbearable climate even when it is 28/29 Celsius. With the thermometer hitting 39 degrees on Friday, Stuttgart wasn’t nice. It felt like living in a tumble dryer. My room, top floor, south west facing, ideally built to be a greenhouse, made things worse. Not only did the excitement of singing Ferrando prevent me from sleeping, but the heat made it virtually impossible.

By Friday afternoon I felt drained and vocally tired. In truth, I wasn’t sure if I would get through a second performance of Ferrando 7 hours later.

Kindly, and partly because I told them to go away for a few hours, my parents allowed me to use their air conditioned room to sleep in for a couple of hours. I also stocked up on water and woke up feeling much more able, around 4 in the afternoon.


A second chance

Tuesday, being my first Ferrando and so last minute, was a bit of a blur. I had since watched back the DVD of the performance and I was disappointed with it. It was fine, but I knew I could do better. Friday was that chance.

I warmed up well, had my routine down to a T, the bathroom visit, the make up, the physical warm, and pep-talked myself into the feeling of Act 2 from Tuesday, not the manic Act 1 guy. The heat was still horrible so, just before we went on, I bathed my feet in cold water.  

This particular production opens with all 6 of us on stage, and I got into position with plenty of time – and started to sweat, a lot, streams of sweat. By the time I stood up to sing the first line, there was virtually a waterfall cascading off my chin. It was like performing an opera in the sauna – not even sauna German-completely naked style – fully clothed in a sauna, coat and all.

The big challenge in this production of Cosi, as if singing Cosi wasn’t challenge enough, is that the four lovers are on stage ALL evening.  No chance to cool down for a bit when you aren’t singing, check the voice out, to drink a bit, wipe your face, prepare for the next scene etc. There wasn’t a lot I could do about the heat, nothing in fact, the sweating was not going to stop, if anything it was going to get worse as the action increased. There were, though, lots of bottles of fake alcohol on stage, so I used every moment I could to replenish my fluids with those – and every moment I turned up stage to wipe my brow.

By Un Aura Amorosa, Ferrando’s act one aria, an aria that almost no tenor in the world likes to sing, and about an hour into the show, I was dehydrated, hot and physically tired. I tried to relax, tried to drink as much as I could just before it, and it was ok. It was better than Tuesday, but I just don’t think this production is set up to help the tenor sing that aria to the best of his ability.

Act 1 as a whole was 40% better than Tuesday had been I’d say.


Awkward laugh

I used the interval for a much needed cool down. Once again did my vocal exercises and some stretches and went out to Act 2 in a positive mood.

Act 2 was fun. I enjoyed it a lot. I relaxed even more into the character, Ferrando was mine, and I sang everything better than the first night. The cast was working well together too, the other five all relaxed in the situation of have me with them and the show had a good energy.

One unfortunate moment, a moment I had to apologise profusely for, came in the act two Fiordiligi aria. In this production, the aria happens just after her and I have been in bed together and almost gone too far (meanwhile, Guglielmo and Dorabella are mirroring us downstairs – this all happening during their duet).

It had been decided, following the suggestion of the rejection of full intercourse by Fiordiligi with her pushing Ferrando off the bed, that Ferrando needed to do something to get his frustration out and to calm down.  So as Fiordiligi starts her soft, thoughtful recitatitve, Ferrando is next door doing some sit ups or press ups to help calm down.  On Tuesday I did 12/13 press ups to a light titter from a few in the audience. On Friday this moment came and I started  – 1,2,3… 10,11…. 24,25 press ups and then a large round of applause, just at the most tender moment in the recitative. I felt terrible, I wanted to turn to the audience to tell them to be quiet. I had upstaged the soprano in her moment of glory.  I have also never done 25 press ups before in my life….

As soon as I got off stage at the end I apologised to Mandy, the least diva-ish of sopranos, and she was fine with it. A lesson to me though, not to get carried away.


Success

Act 2 was a success. The aria was 100 times better than Tuesday, the big duet was fun, the finale went off without a hitch and I received my curtain call with a genuine sense of achievement, a job well done, and a great evening had.

Everyone was very grateful to me for jumping in and complementary for a good job done. I had proved to the powers that be that I could do a big role. Now it was time for a beer.


Relax

A few beers were had outside by the Shauspiel haus. My parents joined us and met my bosses and colleagues. Another nice moment.

I managed to speak to the wife, who was in Spain on a school trip, and share a brief moment of the day with her.

I then spent Saturday relaxing with my parents. Went for a swim, visited the Porsche museum, had same some local dishes in Esslingen and a few ice creams.


Come down

By the end of Saturday, and for much of Sunday my mood changed significantly.

The high of Tuesday night, the first Cosi, followed by Salzburg and then a second Cosi, was huge. I was living on a wave of nervous excitement and adrenaline. By Saturday afternoon this had subsided and was replaced by extreme tiredness and an almost depressive emptiness which alarmed me. Fortunately my parents were there, but the signs were there that I wasn’t so happy when I started sending poorly considered text messages to the wife on her way back from spain, starting arguments that weren’t there to be had.

By Sunday evening I was fine again, but it is important for me to be aware of these yo-yoing emotions. I doubt I will have such a whirlwind week as last week, but I need to know when my feeling bad is just because it is a post show come down and actually the people around me aren’t being unreasonable or inconsiderate.

In these moments particularly, I see how those around performers have a tough job. I must remember that.


The Rest of the Week

Asides from the call to do Borsa this evening, the week has been nice and relaxed.

I went to the Mineral Bad Berg, a spa pool about 15 minutes walk from my flat. Every time I have passed it it has looked empty, so I turned up looking forward to chilling in an empty pool. Of course with it being 35 degrees on this occasion, it was rammed, but still relaxing.

I also escaped the heat by going to the cinema a few times. Once to see the very enjoyable Minions film and a second time to see a ‘Secret screening’, an English film showing at which you don’t discover the film you are seeing until it starts. On this occasion the film was ‘The Age of Adaline’, an enjoyable film that I won’t rush to see again.


Not long left

Just the nine days to go until I fly home. I don’t expect to sing any more performances following tonights Borsa. In fact, I don’t expect to be doing much work over the week apart from sorting out my room and all the administrative faff that moving house entails. I also have my birthday, which will be the day of the last post.

I have an audition this afternoon, here in Stuttgart, three hours before the show. I’ve done enough auditions this year to not be too stressed about it.

The next blog will be my last: the last of ‘So you want to be an Opera singer?’ for certain. I am somewhat surprised how long I have dragged this on, I have never been much of a writer but I guess my passion for Opera and for what I am doing has been easy to translate onto the bloggersphere.

I am also surprised by the 50+ thousand hits the blog has received. Thank you all for reading!! Do come back next week for my last one, and in the meantime, share the page with all your friends and have a great week.

Best,


Tom 

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Friday, 3 July 2015

The Week that was

With just over two weeks left in Stuttgart and all 44 of my performances a distant memory, with no more production rehearsals, a clear blue sky and a glistening sun,  I was looking forward to a relaxed  week. A week whose highlight was to be a first trip to Salzburg, birth place of dear Mr Mozart, for an audition. A week in which I would watch a few operas, do some ‘sports’ (the German term for what I would call exercise) and try to resist the urge to pack up all my things and wait patiently by the door, ready to finally return home.

Well….

It didn’t turn out like that.


The CALL

It was on Monday morning when, very slightly hungover and extremely tired from the Rigoletto premiere party which I had left sometime after midnight, I woke to a missed call from the Opera house and a text from the head of the Opera Studio. This text simply read:

                ‘Good morning Thomas. Tenor in Cosi cancelled for tomorrow. Please call me back.’

I knew what this meant. I was to be going on as Ferrando in Cosi Fan Tutte…. In Stuttgart…. In a proper Opera house with 1500 people watching…. In 30 hours time….. Awesome!

The calmness and clinical nature of the text sent shivers through my bones. I probably shouldn’t write what I initially thought, it was something along the lines of the opening scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral, but I was filled with a sense of excitement, happiness, but also debilitating fear and a genuine sense that I wasn’t sure if I could do what was being asked of me.

The fact of the matter is that the sum of the 44 performances I have performed this season, if I had a recording of every line I have sung on this stage so far, would not extend to the amount of singing Ferrando does in ONE show.  Of course I have sung a lot of it in rehearsals, the role is very well prepared, but it has been almost a month since the premiere and if truth be told, I was pretty much expecting Monday to be feel like a holiday.


Action

I got out of bed, drank some water, ate an apple and did some stretches and humming so as to try and make my spoken voice not sound like I had only just woken up. I called Frau Giese, our head of the 
Opera studio.

                ‘Have you only just woken up’

She asked. Fat lot of good those stretches were….

                ‘Not quite’

I replied.

The rest of the conversation was pretty simple. The tenor has cancelled, they would like to ask me to perform as Ferrando, what do I need to do today to prepare myself? Have I any questions?

Obviously I said I would jump at the chance. I said that a run through of each scene with the assistant director and a pianist would be ideal – I also said that I didn’t want to have anything on on the Tuesday itself, apart from the show of course.

Shortly after our conversation a whole new schedule arrived from the KBB, the artistic administrative hub:

1230 – Costume fitting

13 to 1730 – rehearsal with Pianist and assistant director to run all scenes.

1730 to 1830 – musical rehearsal with Sylvain Cambreling (the conductor)

6 hours of Cosi, coincidentally about the amount of sleep I had got that night, and a costume fitting – ouch.

I had a quick shower, breakfast, got my things together – score, extensive notes on the rehearsals and lots of water – and sat, for a moment, on my makeshift sofa.  


Realisation

As any of you that will have read my blog before will know, I am an ambitious singer. I really really really really (really) want to make it in this crazy career. I want to be singing the best roles in the best opera houses with the best singers and in front of as many people as I can.

Stuttgart has been a big thing for me. The despair and resulting depression of losing my voice for 4 months in the summer of 2013 (read the first blog post for more on this) knocked me almost completely off course. I was one successful job interview away from giving it all up. From being someone who has studied for four years at music college, having spent every penny I had in the hope of a career as an Opera singer, only to fall at the first hurdle.

And yet here I am, two years later, being given the opportunity to sing a lead role in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at a major European opera house.

As I sat there, alone in my room, I couldn’t quite believe this chance had arrived. The fear and sense of potential failure subsided, with a complete calm taking over instead.  And, fully in the knowledge that this will sound painfully cheesy and clich├ęd, this was my moment. This was my chance to shake off the shackles of small role frustrations and put all the hard work into practise.


Preparation

Up I got from the sofa, and off to the Opera house I walked. A spring in my step.

After a quick stop in the shops to buy many bottles of water and some student mix (nuts and raisins and stuff) I dropped in on Frau Giese, to be told that I was probably performing on Friday too and that it was important that I got everything I needed from the days rehearsal.

I warmed up, got costume fitted, and then the rehearsal. The room found for said rehearsal was the Orchestra rehearsal room, a sports hall like space in which I have done many auditions and with whom I have an odd relationship. The acoustic feels horrible for the singer but I always think people sound good when I hear them through the door. I was a bit worried that rehearsing in there for four hours would tire my voice out and the last thing I needed to do was feel vocally tired BEFORE the show had even begun.

This particular production of Cosi has more difficulties than your normal Cosi, not least because we are on stage for almost every second.  Ferrando goes off stage for about 30 seconds, twenty minutes into the first Act, and that is it. As a ‘jump in’ that means there is no moment during the show when I can be reminded of the next scene, instead it is a challenge of remembering 90 minutes of words/actions/reactions. It is also a challenge of finding moments, whilst one is on the stage, to conserve energy, prepare for big upcoming scenes but yet not look like you have turned off.

For  me, the long rehearsal was about making sure I knew the map of the night, making sure that I knew I went from a to b to c, always at the right time. I know the piece well, therefore my acting through the piece would be honest and true to the text, whether I remembered the exact nature of the ‘original’ reactions or not. It would be easier on the night anyway because I wouldn’t be on my own on stage, guessing where the other singers are as, unlike in this rehearsal which was just me, the assistant director and the pianist.

For our assistant director, the rehearsal was an opportunity to cram as much detail in as possible. Tell as much as possible and hope that some of it sticks in my mind the follow night.

The rehearsal was fine. I got increasingly tense as it went on and started to forget words. The room was hot and airless so I tried to escape it as often as I could. But it was fine.

The musical rehearsal that followed was an opportunity to sing every note through with the conductor, to test again my memory and to reassure all of us that I could sing it. It was also fine.


Relaxation

The most important thing after this epic afternoon of intense rehearsals was that I tried to turn off, tried not to think about the show and relaxed. Don’t think about Cosi/Ferrando I told myself. ALL I could think about was Cosi and Ferrando. It was going to be a long 24 hours before the show itself!!

As with much of the rest of Europe, Stuttgart is having a bit of a heat wave at the moment. The temperature on Monday was nearing 35 degrees  C and my top floor flat had started to become somewhat unbearable to be in. I decided, therefore, that I should book myself into a nice, air-conditioned hotel room for the night, somewhere I would be able to sleep a bit better.

This was a great move and I ended up sleeping much better than I would have done in my own place. It meant I woke up on Tuesday morning feeling refreshed and ready.


A routine day

The hours leading up to the show are a bit of a blur really. I walked around Stuttgart a bit, sat in my air-conditioned hotel room for as long as I could, grabbed some food and generally tried to stay calm.

I spoke briefly with Frau Giese and just said that I had one request for the day. This was that no one treated me any differently and that everyone treated this just like any other show. The last thing I wanted to happen was to be reminded of my upcoming challenge every time I saw someone in the opera house. Obviously I am happy for supportive comments but it would have been fine with me if I could have disappeared until 10 minutes before the curtain came up and just got on with it.

With this in mind, I tried to repeat the routine I have established through the other 44 performances this season. I turned up about 90 minutes before the show, dropped my things off in my dressing room and then went to warm up, starting with a physical warm up and then slowly getting the voice going. At 6 was my make-up call, nothing major on this occasion, and by 6.05 I was up on the 2nd floor visiting my bathroom of choice. Funny old thing, routine. Somehow it has become second nature for me to leave the dressing room, turn right, take the lift up to the 2nd floor to use the same bathrooms I always use, then return to the dressing room via the staircase.

At 630 I met once more with the assistant director and we walked around the set – and that was that.



The show

As with so many pieces I have sung (The Magic Flute, Messiah, John Passion, Matthew Passion, L’Elisir D’Amore, Freischutz AND Khovanshchina) – the tenor sings the first solo line of the evening. In Cosi, the opening is a long trio section with the three men and I bulldozed my way through it, the adrenalin of the occasion getting the better of me and so quickly I realised I was getting tired.

It was extremely hot on stage and sweat my streaming down my face.

By the time we reached Ferrando’s aria, about an hour through, I was mildly dehydrated, very hot, and vocally more tired than I would have hoped. I wasn’t sure if I could sing the aria in fact. This is an aria I have sung hundreds of time, but I stood there, down stage right, trying to convince myself that it was all ok but also thinking there was little chance of me getting through to the end of the night at this rate.


Interval slap

The first half came to an end and I rushed to my dressing room, downed as much water as possible and wiped my face. I needed to put myself together, but the first thing to do was a rehearsal for the long recit. Section in Act 2.

Off I rushed into the piano room and greeted the pianist with the stupid searching question:
 ‘hows it going?’

Of course, I knew how I felt it was going, and in truth I just needed someone to say it was sounding good. On this occasion the pianist chose to tell me that it was ‘ok’ but I needed to sing out more, and some of the phrasing was a bit off. Bang! Why did I want to hear that? It felt like a slap around the face. It felt like they had just told me it was terrible……

I reacted softly, thanked them for telling me that and returned to my dressing room potentially in a bit of a state.

Thankfully, experiences over the last few years and my complete trust in my singing teacher helped me out big time. After another routine pit stop I once again ‘warmed up’. Strange thing to be doing having sung for the last two hours you may think, but I really needed to. I needed to reset everything, de-stress the voice and set it up nicely for the rest of the show. I stretched some more, did some exercises introduced to me by my speech therapist back in 2013, some light vocal work and caressed the voice back into a happy place.

I also gave myself a serious chat. Act one was now over, the excitement and nerves of performing a big role here in Stuttgart can be forgotten now, time to go and enjoy Act 2 – just like any other performance.


The better act

Sure enough, Act 2 was much better. The work I had done in the interval was a huge help and I slid through the act with more confidence.

There were,  of course, challenges. The act 2 recit and aria for Ferrando is not a walk in the park, nor is the duet or the finale – but I felt much happier and I came to the end of the night genuinely happy 
with a performance and, for once, satisfied that I was worthy of some applause.


Reaction

I wasn’t exactly sure how I would react after the show. This was a momentous occasion for me, a day I will always remember and one that I will mark as the first as a proper Opera singer. But once again, I just felt calm, happy with a job well done, and calmly content.

I guess I have never been one to jump up and down with excitement about things (apart from at the football). Maybe after tonight I will react with more energy, maybe not.


Bigger – and easier

Singers and actors often say that small roles are the hardest to pull off. It may seem an odd thing to say about such a challenging role as Ferrando, but in some ways it was the easiest role I have performed all year.

I have known Cosi since I first sang it, in English, in a church in Cambridge in January 2009. Ferrando is a character I have thought a lot about, discussed, developed and so on.

As I have said, Ferrando sings most of the evening. Unlike Offizier in Ariadne, with his one line, or Abdallo in Nabucco. With these small characters there is a pressure to make a statement with the few words you have, there is no chance to warm into the character and character development you might try and develop can feel impossible.

For Ferrando one is given the space of three and a half hours to develop the character, to really experience an arc. One can also pace things, vocally and dramatically, instead of feeling that you should be giving everything possible in your one moment.

In many ways, Ferrando is easier – I will try to remember that tonight for my 2nd performance!


Lucky coincidences

Someone once wrote that Good Luck is what happens when good preparation meets opportunity.
As you will have gathered by this point in the blog, this is a momentous week for me. And also a lucky week. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to jump in as Ferrando.  It is often funny how things line up in life and I have noticed a lot of lucky coincidences this week, linked to my singing this role.

Only on Saturday morning was I listening to the great Fritz Wunderlich singing Mozart. The great Fritz Wunderlich who was in the ensemble in Stuttgart and who was one of THE Mozart tenors. The great Fritz Wunderlich whose picture hangs in the dressing rooms in Stuttgart and which I borrowed before the show on Tuesday.


On Wednesday I went to Salzburg for the first time for an audition booked some weeks ago. How funny that I should debut as Ferrando in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte on Tuesday night and on Wednesday lean against Herr Mozart’s place of birth for the first time. I am an unashamed Mozart lover, thankfully since its where my voice sits best. This was another great day.


My teacher for so long was Ryland Davies, Ferrando was a role that made him huge success. My recording of Cosi is with him and Solti. It seems right that Ferrando should be my first major role.

This week, coincidentally, marks 10 years exactly since I was part of the vocal group, Voces8’s, first ever performances in a competition in Italy. Ten years, almost to the day, since I started seriously considering having singing as my career.

Another little coincidence is non-musical. 22 years ago, Adidas released the Adidas Predator, a football boot I have been mildly obsessed with ever since. 22 years ago was also when I first started as a choirboy at St. Paul’s Cathedral, the start of a journey that ultimately leads to me being here. On Tuesday this week was the last day that Adidas made the Predator ever – ever ever – no more Adidas Predator and in fact on Wednesday they relaunched themselves with two brand new Football boots. How funny that I should wake up on Wednesday feeling like I have entered a new phase in my career, the same day that Adidas should be doing the same.


What else – what next

As I mentioned, I had an audition in Salzburg on Wednesday for a Mozart opera next season elsewhere in Austria. Inevitably I was tired from the night before and the four hour train journey, but it was ok. I met a lovely american couple on the train back and tried very hard to sell Opera to them, hopefully there are two converts there!

It was lovely to bump into two fellow Royal Academy of Music alumni at these auditions, what a small world we live it, and it was Roberto Ortiz, also a former Stuttgart Opera Studio member, who took the picture of me infront of Mozarts birth place.


Last Sunday was the opening of Rigoletto, the last premiere of the season. I cover a small role in this and the opening night was a huge success.

The rest of the week is a bit of a blur, and tonight I sing Ferrando again….


Supportive

I finish this week with some thanks. Thanks to all in Stuttgart who trusted that I could do Ferrando, 
that worked with me in rehearsals and coachings. To Bettina Giese in particular for believing that I would do a good job and for always being available to discuss aspects of each role and being a singer. To the management in Stuttgart for taking a punt on me back in March 2014 as a member of the opera studio.

Thanks to the extremely supportive colleagues who I shared a stage with, who pushed and pulled me into the right place and welcomed me in a hugely positive and supportive manner.


Thanks to all of my friends around the world, those of you who suffer my social media onslaught and send good wishes to me over here in Germany.

Thanks to my supporters, particularly those who have given financial support to enable me to be in Stuttgart.

Huge thanks to my trusted teachers and coaches. Audrey, Gary, Johnny, Jonathan, Ryland.

And of course thanks to my close friends and family for their love and support. To Mrs Elwin for her amazing love and support and who suffers having to be married to an Opera singer, to my parents in law who support me as their own son, and of course to my family.

I am extremely happy to say that my parents will make it over to Stuttgart to see the show tonight.  

Well…. that was longer than expected….. I’ll be back to form next week with a much shorter account of an uneventful time no doubt.

Thank you for reading.

Enjoy the sunshine!


Tom 


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Friday, 26 June 2015

Logistics

Today I had to have a meeting with my logistics manager (that’s me) about the next few weeks, and then with my travel agent (also me) and my accommodation liaison (that’s me too).

At one stage this week I had to put all these different hats on, and more, with there being a very real possibility that I was going to leave Stuttgart immediately and ‘jump in’ in a production somewhere else.

As I mentally prepared for the eventuality, I had to consider all that was to be done. Notifying Bank, health insurance, finance office, o2 Deutschland, landlord, local government office and the Tuesday night pizza delivery man of my change of address. Change flight home from 19th July to as soon as possible. Pack room (pay for excess baggage). Donate various items from room to whoever will want them.  Book flight from London to destination of the ‘Jump in’ for some point within 24 hours of arriving in London. Find accommodation in new work place. Re-arrange auditions booked for next few weeks. Rapidly fill out an A1 form.

And that is without ANY consideration for learning the music, memorising the part and being prepared to slide effortlessly into the third week of production rehearsals in a company who would be as surprised to see me as I them.


Logistics

I have yet to hear either way whether I am jumping in so all the above may still happen in some flurry of activity that I would no doubt tell you all about. Not every change of location need be so hectic of course, in fact this occasion is not aided by the fact that I am moving back to England on July 19th anyway, but without the Jump in I would have 23 days to get all that done – much less pressured.

We are very lucky to live in the era of the google travel agent. Websites like rome2rio are a great source of travel help, transferwise is amazing for saving money sending money between countries and I have also been very lucky with advice and help from various colleagues with what forms I should have filled in, and should fill in for the future, regarding tax in Germany, health insurance and the like.

Despite the help, it is a shame that I missed the ‘logistics for a career in Opera’ course when I was studying. If there isn’t one, there should be.

As I look to the next twelve months the logistical side of things starts to get much more complicated. My December alone is starting to look like the start of a Bourne film (London – Winchester – Stuttgart – Tel Aviv – London – Granada….. sleep). Instead of being based solely in Stuttgart I will instead be based at home in England, needing  to find temporary accommodation for the rehearsal periods here in Stuttgart and also for the show nights. As soon as possible I have to work out when I will be staying and where I will be staying, which flights I need to book and where to. As other work comes in these things are complicated further. I won’t even start on potential cash flow issues….

And yet again, all this working out of coming and going is done without any consideration for when I can learn the music, have singing lessons, work on my voice (or pay for the lessons…. Unless one of you kind readers would like to help out?!?) I must make sure there is time for these vocal things or I won’t have any career to have to arrange anyway.


Lone ranger

This week rehearsals finished for Rigoletto, with the opening night on Sunday 28th June. As the sole understudy for the show, that’s not to say I am understudying ever role but that there are no other understudies, I have been sitting diligently at the back of the auditorium watching the rehearsals develop. I also finally got a chance to work on the role myself, with a musical rehearsal with the conductor and then, on Wednesday morning, a two hour staging rehearsal for all of Borsa’s scenes.

As with the Cosi, where I had to imagine five other singers, the set and the orchestra, I was once again the only performer present.  Fortunately we had the set in place, but Borsa mostly spends time interacting with the chorus and imagining 25 people on stage with you for two hours can make one think that they are going crazy.


Preparation

With production rehearsals now finished for the season, and having three weeks left in Stuttgart, I can turn my attention to preparing for some auditions and also doing some good fitness work.

The first audition is in Salzburg this Wednesday, my first visit to Mozart’s birthplace and suitably I will be auditioning for a Mozart opera. I have another audition for the same opera later in the summer, also in Austria. It would be too convenient to succeed in both auditions, I will do my best!!

In terms fitness, I am a lot fitter than I was earlier in the season – I tend to be a bit precious about exercising too much before singing and I am a sucker for comfort food. Having three clear weeks when I can practise well in the morning, eat well and exercise well will be great.


Looking forward

I am also preparing mentally for what I need to do when I get back to London. See friends and family I haven’t seen in an age, have some singing lessons, celebrate my birthday but also get onto the next stage.

Firstly, I have decided to learn four core Mozart tenor roles before my next contract starts in 
November. So relearn Tamino from the Magic Flute (with my now voice), keep Ferrando (Cosi Fan Tutte) going and learn Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni) and Belmonte (Die Entfuhrung). I’m sure this work won’t be wasted and if I succeed in the auditions coming up I will be singing at least one of these four anyway.

Planning for three recital CD’s will continue, new publicity photos will be taken, new tracks recorded for my website and a redesign of website.   

Finally I will get back to writing to, and meeting with, current supporters, and writing funding letters to as many potential sponsors as I can find. It is fair to say that being in an Opera studio is not hugely beneficial to ones bank balance!! (if any of you are keen to sponsor a young opera singer….. thomaselwin@hotmail.co.uk )

Summer time

In the meantime, the weather gods have delivered a stonking last few weeks here. 30 degrees Celsius for the next week. So I am going to go and enjoy that!

Until next time.

Have a great week.


Tom 

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