BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
The West Australian Opera is teaching emerging opera stars how to work the stage and build their craft. Its Wesfarmers Young Artist Program gives singers ample professional development opportunity, and you’ll see the artists in action as part of The Merry Widow this month.
This year – WAO’s 50th anniversary – Paull-Anthony Keightley is one of the young talents to grasp the opportunity. It’s the second year running for this Wesfarmers Young Artist, who made his debut with the company in 2016 and has performed in leading productions such as Don Giovanni, Die Fledermaus, Elijah, The Taming of the Shrew, and many more.
The bass baritone graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, and has been granted scholarships from the Dame Joan Sutherland Fund, the Australian Music Foundation and the Royal Schools of Music Club.
As well as taking out a finalist place in the Fremantle Eisteddfod Open Aria competition, Paull-Anthony won first place at the North of Perth Eisteddfod, the Royal Over-Seas League Singing Competition, the Christine Leaves Award, and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra Prize.
(What a legend.)
Paull-Anthony, how do you feel scoring a place in the Wesfarmers Young Artist Program?
Thank you very much! I am delighted to be invited back for a second year as a West Australian Opera’s Wesfarmers Young Artist. In 2016, I was the sole member of the program, and am very much looking forward to sharing this year with Rebecca and Fleuranne, who are joining the program in 2017.
As a young singer, what do you hope these sorts of programs will offer you?
There are so many skills that need developing in order to work as an opera singer. For me, it is a list that is forever changing and growing. Firstly, vocal lessons and coachings are imperative for the continued exploration of sound production and interpretation.
WAO has allowed me access to Gregory Yurisich AM as my teacher, the company’s Head of Music Thomas Johnson as my primary coach, and the company’s Artist Director and Conductor Brad Cohen. These men have become important mentors of mine, sharing their knowledge and experiences willingly.
The opportunity to observe rehearsals and cover appropriate roles is invaluable. So much can be learned from watching your colleagues and identifying what each individual brings to the table as an artist and as a person. And as scary as it may seem, if you have questions for your more established colleagues, don’t be afraid to ask! Everyone was young once, and nine times out of ten they will happily answer the questions you have. And who knows – you might even make a new friend!
You may be involved in a program that aims to promote your career success as an emerging artist – but you’ve also achieved quite a great deal of success so far. What have you learnt in the years since graduating, as you’ve appeared in more and more roles?
The realities of working as an opera singer are quite different to what I imagined while I was studying. The education is infinite and the challenges are constant, so I am constantly reminded that ‘the more you know, the more you realise how little you know’.
What qualities do you think a singer needs to possess to make it in this industry?
A keen desire to learn, a brave attitude to hard work, the ability to be self-aware and, most importantly, a good sense of humour. These are the attributes I admire most in my colleagues.
What new skills, inspirations, or other enlightening knowledge have you gained in preparation for your upcoming performance?
I [recently] sang as a finalist in the IFAC Handa Australian Singing Competition, which was a wonderfully overwhelming experience. The preparation was gruelling and challenging, mainly for my mind. Yet, leading up to the final concert of the competition, my closest friends reminded me to have fun and enjoy making music. These are the important things!
Where do you hope the future will take you as a singer in Australia?
I would love to establish a career singing overseas and in Australia. But the way to get there is completely different for each singer. In the meantime, I hope to continue making music with wonderful friends and colleagues.
See Paull-Anthony Keightley perform in The Merry Widow with WAO until July 22.