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Alexandra Stenson - Soprano


1. Is your family musical?

Not really, we don’t have any other professional musicians in the family but a few of us sing in church choirs, play a little piano etc. I think it’s the Irish blood!

2. Who was your first music teacher and when did you start your musical development playing and instrument?

My first singing teacher was David Wilson, the choir master at my secondary school. He was wonderful and the first person who told me that they thought I had a special gift. He taught me to push myself further than I thought I could go and gave me a lot of encouragement which helped me believe in myself. He conducted wonderful concerts in lovely churches in and around Nottingham including Nottingham Cathedral and I got to learn a lot of the key oratorios very well at a young age thanks to him. I had my first proper singing lesson with him at the age of 11 after starting piano lessons and learning to read music at age 7.

3. What was the trigger that started you on the route of singing?

I honestly can’t remember a trigger, I just always remember singing. I don’t think anyone knows how it started, my own mother testifys to me oooing as a baby for attention a few days after being born! I think I’m just a natural diva ☺

4. You are currently training with the English National Opera on their prestigious Opera-Works programme 2014-2015. Can you tell us more what this involves and what you are getting out of it?

It’s a wonderful professional development program for young opera singers, which aims to nurture you with all the skills you require for the opera world. You have coachings with various ENO coaches and receive casting and audition advice from head of casting; John McMurray and Harewood Artists Manager; Sophie Joyce. These sessions are all backed up by a number of professional development weekends ranging from movement skills, comedy, tragedy, workshop skills, charisma training and confidence building etc. The course culminates in a showcase of opera scenes at a public theatre and you get tickets for all of the ENO dress rehearsals! It has been a wonderful learning experience so far and was exactly what I needed at this stage in my development.

5. You graduated from The Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2014 with a BMus (Hons) under the tuition of singing teacher John Evans. How was it like to be instructed by this master in this prestigious institution?

Guildhall is a great music college but your singing teacher is the backbone of all of your learning. John is a wonderful teacher, he helped me get out of quite a few bad singing habits when I was younger which saved me a lot of time development wise and he really encourages the individuality of each person’s voice to come through. I am still continuing my studies with him.

6. Part of your training was with British Youth Opera Summer Opera Scenes with David Gowland 2014. What was this experience like?

The British Youth Opera Workshops in 2014 were with David Gowland and director; Ashley Dean, we worked on a number of opera scenes in which I played Susanna, Le Nozze di Figaro. It was great to have the combination of stagecraft and vocal tips at the same time, which really helped to bring the scenes to life. David also ran a practice audition session on the final day, with lots of helpful advice about audition repertoire and how to audition successfully.

7. When and where was your stage debut and how were feelings at the time?

I was dancing in shows from the age of 5 so the stage has never been a scary place to be, I always loved to perform right from being a tiny toddler, starting dance class, followed by theatre group before reaching formal singing training. My singing debut was in the chorus of children in Evita with the Nottingham Operatic Society. I was 9 years old and we were performing at Nottingham Theatre Royal, which felt huge at the time. It was a lot of hard work and long days but I absolutely loved it and I think that was where I got the singing bug from in terms of wanting to be a stage performer.

8. You used to be a member and lead soloist with the Cantamus Girls Choir. Do you miss the environment of that prestigious group?

Cantamus was a fantastic thing to do as a young singer, we made albums, toured the world and performed regularly visiting incredible venues like the Royal Albert Hall at 16! It was difficult at times balancing exams, work and a social life as a teenager with weekly Friday night and Sunday afternoon rehearsals plus Saturday concerts as well! But I wouldn’t have changed it for the world, you learn so much about how to be a professional; being punctual, learning your music well, being a good team player, stagecraft and movement etc. After 4 years solo training at Guildhall I did really miss singing in a group alongside my solo singing so I auditioned for the Philharmonia Chorus last year of which I am now a proud member and we are going on tour very soon!

9. You have already received many awards, do any particularly stand out?

The most special one so far would have to be the Junior John Ogden Award. This was my first proper competition and I had worked so hard. I was so nervous but I managed to stay in character and really immerse myself in the music instead of letting nerves win. It was the first time I realised if you work as hard as you possibly can before a big performance you have no need to be afraid as you know whatever happens you have done the best that you can do. The rest is out of your hands. Thankfully on this occasion it went my way!

10. Which musician do you admire and why?

There are many singers whose voices I adore; Maria Callas, Renata Scotto, Dietrich Fischer Diskeau, Anna Netrbko, Jonas Kaufman to name but a few! However, Joyce di Donato has a special place in my heart because her work and her personality really reach me. Her performances are so realistic and natural and her masterclasses/blogs on the opera world and life in general are so inspiring. She works extremely hard, with great attention to detail whilst remaining an utterly fun person and it took her a long time to get where she is. She is so talented but she is a great case for proving that it is persistence and hard work that will win in the end, if you just keep going!

11. What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?

This is going to sound silly but, those “magic moments”. The moments when you and the pianist/orchestra are perfectly as one, expressing the same shapes and sentiments, when you can’t hear a pin drop in the room and your chest feels it is about to burst with emotion and you really lose yourself in the music. The greatest reward is afterwards, when you see people’s faces in the audience, knowing that they were there with you. That is the greatest gift a musician can ever give or posses and I love those special moments when that happens!

12. If you could do a duet with anybody alive or dead, who would that dream partner be?

It would have to be Maria Callas, her wild, communicative performances are incredible and she had such a strong and capable voice. I’d hope some of her Greek fire would catch on and inspire my performance!

13. How often and for how long do you practice?

I try to stick to 5 days a week for between 1 – 2 hours singing and obviously lots of mental and silent work around that. There is always the next piece to learn, language to improve, different meanings in the text to find etc.

14. You currently do voice coaching in your spare time. Do you feel you also gain lessons for yourself in the whole process of fine tuning the young talent?

I haven’t been teaching as much recently as singing work as taken over of late. But I do love to teach. It is amazing how much teaching others reminds you of everything you have to think about as a singer and it’s lovely to help young singers with the things that you wished that you had been told at their age! It is definitely something I want to continue to do.

15. How do you balance your music with other obligations? What are the biggest sacrifices?

Generally quite well, I am a very organised person so I always try to plan ahead as much as possible in order to fit everything and everyone in. The paid work/singing practice balance is often difficult. I have often found myself in the situation where I am out at work so much I have no time to practice or your singing really improves but you are poor! I’m trying to even out the balance! The biggest sacrifices are letting friends and family down. When you have singing commitments and you have to miss weddings, birthdays etc or just being away from friends and family for a long time when you’re on tour.

16. You have Irish roots, a country with deep traditions of folk music and musical culture. Would you like to immerse yourself more in that realm in the future with a dedicated project?

Yes, very much so. I love singing in different genres of music as well as opera and irish folk song is very dear to my heart. I have recorded a couple of folk songs but would love to work more in this field of music, it would be brilliant to perform some of it with fiddle, flute, harp etc.

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submission May 2015