A chat with Nicholas Tolputt, countertenor

The young star in conversation

BY LAURA BIEMMI

 

If you haven’t heard of Nicholas Tolputt, I suggest you start listening up.

The young countertenor – a Melbourne Conservatorium of Music graduate and 2016 Wright-Smith Scholar – is the first ever singer to take out the Australian Singing Competition and the Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship in the same year.

And if you happen to be in Melbourne this month, you can catch him performing the role of Ottone in Lyric Opera’s production of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea.

We chat to Nicholas about high-stakes competitions, Baroque music, and life as a young operatic singer.

 

Hi Nicholas, thanks for chatting with us here at CutCommon! You’ve been described in the media as a ‘rising star’. From where would you say your love of singing has risen, and where do you hope to rise in the future?

I just feel very lucky about being able to do what I love and having the opportunity to pursue that as a career. However, I’d have to say that I have no special love for singing; it has always been an obsession with the music that has convinced me that this is what I have to do with my life.

I’m not 100 per cent sure that I have the mentality of a singer. I’ve always got along really well with instrumentalists and really try to think of my singing in the same sort of way I’d approach playing the cello or the piano.

It would be a dream come true to be able to sing for a living and be part of rising the profile of Baroque music in Australia, and really help people get hooked on this music like I have.

You’ve won some prestigious singing competitions, such as the Australian Singing Competition and the Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship (and in the same year, too). How do you prepare for and approach such significant events?

I remember getting really nervous in the lead-up to both the Sydney Eisteddfod and the Australian Singing Competition. I was working in overdrive to try to sing and perform as well as I could, and that feeling of being as prepared as possible really helped with the nerves on the night!

It might sound a little silly, but ultimately it was the idea that I wasn’t expecting to go well that really took the pressure off and allowed me to just enjoy performing. I tried to forget about the results and really dig into that feeling that I was just lucky to have made it to the finals. That seemed to help the nerves quite a bit!

How do the opportunities presented to a countertenor differ to those for other voice types?

Well there isn’t a lot of Baroque opera that happens in Australia, so opportunities can be a little harder to come by. Thankfully, we are fortunate enough to have a wonderful company like Pinchgut in Sydney that stages world-class Baroque opera. However, as a young countertenor it can be tough to get your foot in the door. Smaller, local companies tend to shy away from Baroque opera and instead present safer repertoire like Mozart, or stage more well-known operas like Carmen. This is totally understandable, but the Baroque period offers some truly great music that is perfect for young voices, so I’d love to see it more regularly performed.

This month, you’ll perform in Lyric Opera’s interpretation of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea. What can audiences expect?

This is going to be a great production! Pat Miller and Tyran Parke have put together a really exciting concept for the show that works so well with the text. It certainly won’t be a ‘conventional’ performance, but I think that’s one of the great things about Baroque music as a genre. It really is much more flexible and open to new ideas than a lot of people think. So, I’m excited to get into theatre and see what the audiences think!

You’ll bring to life the character of Ottone. How will you approach this role, and in extension, the operatic music of Monteverdi?

This production is my first experience in singing the music of Monteverdi! I’ve really been sucked into the amazing way he pairs text and music. It is perhaps some of the most expressive music I’ve have ever sung, and Ottone is a really interesting role. He goes from being madly in love, to having his heart broken, to seeking revenge, to finding a new love. All of this is interspersed with pretty much the five stages of grief, so it’s a full-on role! But that intensity is one of the exciting things about opera, I just hope I can pull it off.

What advice would you give to young singers aspiring for an operatic career?

Well, I’m still very much young and aspiring myself, so I don’t have a vast amount of experience to impart! I have had some wonderful opportunities, though. And whilst, like all young singers, I’ve also had to face some pretty daunting challenges, I feel at this stage the only ‘secret’ is hard work and persistence. If you can somehow put up with all the self-doubt and the financial stress of being a young musician, then it really can be amazingly rewarding. As I keep saying, I feel so lucky to be able to do this!

 

See Nicholas Tolputt perform in Lyric Opera from July 15-22. Details online.

 


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