BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
This month, four young singers will join the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs to present Vaughan Williams’ Five Tudor Portraits. We touch base with each soloist ahead of the gig to learn about their passions.
Soprano Morgan Balfour holds a Bachelor of Music from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. She is currently undertaking a Masters Degree at the San Francisco Conservatory.
On the operatic stage, Morgan has performed the roles of Cephise in Pigmalion (Pinchgut Opera), Meleago in Atalanta and Governess in Turn of the Screw (SFCM), Pamina in Die Zauberflöte (Hawaii
Performing Arts Festival), Frasquita in Carmen (Opera New England), Honour in King Arthur (Brisbane Baroque), Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, and Nella in Gianni Schicchi (Queensland Conservatorium). Morgan has appeared as a soloist at Brisbane Baroque Festival, Coriole Music Festival and Port Fairy Music Festival.
Why I am passionate about choral singing
I love the immenseness of choral singing. The overwhelming sound of multiple voices joining together for one purpose.
Singing in choirs made up a lot of my early music experiences. My first time on stage was with my Primary School Choir in the 1998 Road Safety Song Competition at the Brisbane Town Hall. Sadly, we didn’t win (sigh) but having that opportunity to perform with my friends as my first time on stage took away any nerves I might have had.
I also remember singing in Opera Queensland’s Children’s Chorus for their 2008 production of Turandot. It features one of the biggest choruses in the operatic repertoire and, standing amongst the older chorus members during the final scene, I could literally feel the sound vibrating through me.
How I prepare to perform a solo part
I tend to be reasonably methodical when I prepare any music. I like to research the piece that I am working on to have a look at its background, what it may have been composed for, what was happening at that time for the composer, etc. I mark up my score and write in phonetics and translations if the piece isn’t in English. Then I will usually listen to a couple of different recordings before I settle in to work through it vocally. I do several different vocal exercises like singing through the music on a lip trill, then on a single vowel. This helps me isolate any problem areas which I like to focus on technically before adding in the text.
Working through the music this way helps me prepare mentally as well; it takes away the pressure I might put on myself by thinking: ‘What if you forget a section?’, or ‘This part is tricky!’. If you’ve sorted through it at home and worked on it multiple times, those irrational and nasty little voices in your head tend to drop away. The final and most important layer is the interpretation and that comes out from all the work put in prior.
How I would like to see the Australian arts industry supporting young singers
This is such a tricky question, because if there was a straight forward answer then the people at the top of the industry would be taking steps to ensure young performers have the opportunity to develop at home. As a young singer, I think the hardest part of growing up in Australia was the constant advice from mentors and teachers that we have to go overseas to further our careers. Not that it’s advisable or would be nice if we can afford it: that we have to. That advice I believe is correct, you are at an advantage if you go overseas. It’s one of the reasons I’m completing my Masters Degree in San Francisco. Overseas, we can audition for more companies, see more performances and receive feedback from more people who work on a global scale. It’s at times mentally stressful and financially exhausting. So wouldn’t it be wonderful if that wasn’t the case? If there were multiple, full time Young Artist Programs here that we could apply to when attempting to bridge the huge gap between university and a career. If performance opportunities for students or those just leaving school were more readily available.
Obviously, it all comes down to funding; from the government, from patrons and from ticket sales. So of course the people who have to deal with the budgeting make the difficult decisions and do what they think will bring in the most resources for their companies. There are definitely smaller companies creating opportunities for young, Australian singers; some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I really don’t know how to make it happen on a large scale. Perhaps more collaboration between the conservatories and the state and national opera companies? All I can say is that I certainly would have loved the opportunity to audition for Young Artist Programs here when I graduated.
Advice I have for other young and emerging singers
I still consider myself a young, emerging singer so this can be taken with a grain of salt. However, my advice would be to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, then turn up early, with your music prepared and a smile on your face. Whenever anyone you are working with asks you to do something, do it. I honestly believe that many missed opportunities can come from a bad attitude. There are so many incredibly talented musicians vying for work; if two singers have equal abilities then the person easiest to get along with will be chosen. Be a hard worker, have fun and make people choose you.