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Eleanor Penfold - Soprano

Interview

1- You graduated from the Royal College of Music as a Ruth West Scholar. How do you recall those times and your mentors?

Studying at the RCM was a whirlwind experience. I learned and heard mountains of music and made some wonderful life-long friends. Any conservatoire study pushes you to explore your abilities as a performer and certainly comes with its challenges but also great rewards. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I received at the RCM, the biggest highlight being the chance to represent the opera school at the Paris Opera House. To this day I still work with lots of the brilliant coaches and performers I met during my studies including my teacher Tim Evans-Jones.

2- You are the winner of the Schubert Song Prize (London Song Festival). Can you tell us more of this moment and your feelings at the time?

Having auditioned for the London Song Festival competition I was thrilled for the chance to work with Dame Felicity Lott in a public masterclass on Schubert’s Lieder. After working with us all throughout the day, Dame Felicity then chose the winner of the Schubert prize and I was over the moon with the result. It was the cherry on top of the cake after a the amazing opportunity of working with Dame Felicity and the competition success has also led to other wonderful performance opportunities with the Festival and Schubert Society since.

3- Is your family musical?

All of my family definitely enjoy music and my earliest music memories are of singers like James Taylor, Carly Simons and Carol King which will always be close to my heart. My uncle is a wonderful musician and can play a several instruments but as far as I’m aware I’m the only Opera singer of the family. I’m always grateful to have such a supportive family which really helps in everything I do.

4- Later this year you will be performing a concert tour of contemporary works across the UK called Try Me, Good King with your newly founded ensemble Transposed. Can you tell us more about the thinking behind this project?

The project was inspired by a song cycle by American composer Libby Larsen which are settings of speeches and letters written to King Henry VIII by his first five wives. I first heard the work performed at RCM and was blown away by their drama and the visceral emotional that runs through the work. The idea of performing the work in a semi-staged setting, in tailored Tudor dress within Tudor settings, became an obsession and something I believe will enhance the work even more. I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful all female team who shared my vision and agreed to come on board including two fantastic Costume Makers/Designers Brontë McFadyean and Victoria Rodriguez and my wonderful Pianist Eleanor Kornas. The rest of the evening features an array of Shakespearean women including Lady Macbeth and Titania as well as a celebration of other well-known Shakespearean texts and anonymous Elizabethan love songs.

The idea of founding the ensemble Transposed came from a desire to broaden the appeal of Classical repertoire. This tour takes high quality Operatic and Classical music out of conventional concert halls and into exclusively Tudor and Elizabethan venues across York, Cambridge and London. With a fully costumed performance of Tudor and Elizabethan stories I hope to bring audiences the thrill of a period drama with the passion and beauty of this Classical music. To find out more and to purchase tickets online please visit our website:

5- What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?

One of the most inspiring concerts I’ve seen recently was at the Preservation Hall in New Orleans. This summer I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the Preservation Band, an incredible ensemble of Jazz musicians who aim to preserve and celebrate the New Orleans Jazz tradition. In terms of my own performances I would say that performing in Beethoven’s 9th at the proms conducted by Daniel Barenboim with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has to be one of my fondest memories. The entire hall was on their feet for a standing ovation and he gave a wonderful, heartfelt speech about the importance of unity and collaboration and later we saw him on our screens at home having run off straight after to the Olympic Opening ceremony as an official Flag carrier!

6- Would you consider teaching music in the future?

I already do a lot of teaching alongside my performance work as I think many musicians do. It’s something I fortunately enjoy and certainly something that has also taught me a lot about my craft as a performer as well.

7- How do you balance your time commitments in terms of study, research, performance? What are the biggest sacrifices?

Along with auditions and rejections, balancing your time is a constant struggle for performers. I have learned to make sure I see close friends and family regularly as it can often be an isolated profession. There are many times I’ve had to send my apologies for missing various social occasions due to clashes (or exhaustion!) but finding a balance for your mental and physical health is the most important and difficult thing to do. I’m very fortunate to have understanding friends who realise it isn’t personal and who will also tell me when to switch off and recharge my batteries.

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submission September 2019