Posted 15 Aug
Recently Siobhan spoke with Stephen Fraser about her work before appearing as Diana in Ayrshire Opera's Actaeon.
Siobhan McAuley has been immersed in musical performance from an early age. At the age of five she joined the Glasgow Youth Choir singing as a soloist and touring throughout Europe. Since graduating from the RSAMD (now Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) Siobhan has continued to perform solo in operas, recitals and nationwide competitions. Highlights she recalls include playing principal cast roles in Mozart's Magic Flute and Marriage of Figaro, Puccini's La Bohème, Berlioz's Nativity and Faure's Requiem. More recently Siobhan has led the cast of London's West End hit show The Lion King building up a reputation as one of the UK's leading vocal coaches. Siobhan is the founder and creative director of the Ayrshire Infinity Choir.
What was your introduction to opera?
I was taken to Magic Flute -when I heard the Queen of the Night sing her aria I wanted to be her. But as time went on, I found I wasn't that voice type! Gutted! (laughs). I went to the Conservatoire which was RSAMD when I was there. My musical background was very mixed – I was a singer of folk music [as well as classical.] As I've got older I'm doing more coaching.
That would mean you are working equally with and without amplification?
Yes, I can perform in both ways. I think having that classical approach is a fantastic foundation because I am able to help others. A lot of musical theatre pop stars are not used to performing without amplification, so I think that knowledge has been really good for my career and has helped my teaching too.
In terms of opera, have you any particular likes - what about French baroque, for example?
French baroque would not be my first choice - I'm a lyrical singer. But I've enjoyed it immensely, and you want to be creative with the music that suits you personally. I sit quite comfortably in Italian opera, for example Puccini and Mozart.
You have a good understanding of Italian?
I can read Italian, French and German very well, but I cannot speak it fluently, so I need to research it. I'm used to the vowel sounds - you start to learn a lot of the words, but not all, and that's a standing joke. The good thing about studying at the Academy was [that] we could get language lessons... At the Academy there were trained French and German coaches. I particularly remember we had this French teacher (you don't quite know what the sound is like) who gave me a lot of work and also support over pronunciation. We got a lot of support for that. Now [when I need help] I go to my friends who are fluent in French, German or Italian. If you're singing Russian you can't read it, so you go for help and advice from friendly fellow musicians.
Do particular languages cause difficulty in terms of singing, for example getting words across?
It depends on your voice type I think. For me, I'm very comfy singing Italian or French. I think a lot of singers struggle with English, not so much German, but I think English is tricky at times because it's so close to how you are speaking yourself. Obviously [there are] different vowel positions and you need to be free and open... Your soft palate is lifted which is what we find from the Scots - you want to make sure the Scots can hear the words. There is the constant battle between being true to the words and being true to the story you're putting across and also true to yourself as a performer. So all the performers need to take care you're not damaging voice and its well-placed - so ... all of the performers' struggle with Actéon has been in balancing technique.
What are your plans for the future?
We're going to be doing Orpheus, which is going to be great. I run a choir, they're doing great. I'll continue as a musician and a singer. I was really away from performing classical music for a while... I'm just getting back into it and I'm enjoying it, and certainly something I don't want to leave behind as much as I have done recently.
But, again, from the sound of it, you're able to pick the pieces from the shows, pick and mix?
Yes, you'll probably notice that yourself tonight, there's a lot of different techniques not quite as classical at times.
Thank you, Siobhan!
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