Posted 26 Apr
Helen Sherman, the talented Australian mezzo soprano, is about to appear with English Touring Opera in the lead role of Aurelio, in Donizetti's Siege of Calais at the Perth Festival of the Arts. Helen, who has already won rave reviews for her performance, spoke to Opera Scotland about the tour.
Opera Scotland How are you enjoying the tour?
Helen Sherman It's been wonderful. The audiences have been warm and appreciative so it's been great!
Opera Scotland Is this your first lengthy tour?
Helen Sherman I did a tour with Mid Wales Opera which had about thirty performances over a longer period of time. I quite enjoy touring, it is a lovely way of seeing the country as I'm Australian. I get to see lovely venues and explores the countryside as well while I'm doing my job.
Opera Scotland What was the first opera you saw and where?
Helen Sherman The first opera I saw would have been when I moved to Sydney to study when I was about seventeen. It was Madame Butterfly.
Opera Scotland Did you always want a singing career?
Helen Sherman I started singing quite young and had quite a strong voice. The teacher of my year one class had trained as a classical singer. Apparently I used to sing at my desk when I was colouring in or whatever! I remember she used to take me to the piano during class to check the key I was singing the piece in and she recognized I had good natural pitch. She rang my mother to say perhaps she should consider singing lessons for me as it could be an option one day. So I always wanted to sing. I made my mind up about the age of fifteen to give it a really good shot. I just wanted to sing, I didn't mind what I sang.
Opera Scotland When did you decide you wanted to sing in opera?
Helen Sherman I had finished my degree in classical voice, and I was in the chorus for Opera Australia's Suor Angelica. I was standing just a few metres away from Cheryl Barker who was playing Suor Angelica. It was at that moment I really thought I had to; I was so moved I felt I had to do that. I remember that very clearly, that was the moment that I really thought "I have to do that."
Opera Scotland Who are your operatic heroines?
Helen Sherman Oh, so many incredible ones. Anne Sofie von Otter, Alice Coote, Sarah Connolly, Dame Janet Baker as she had such an incredible career.
Opera Scotland What advice would give to anyone wondering whether to see an almost forgotten opera such as The Siege of Calais?
Helen Sherman It's a very human piece and a wonderful production. It's very clear what is going on. Not a lot happens, it is a siege. It is an incredibly moving study of what happens to the human psyche at a time of terrible developments. And the opera is not like a Butterfly or La bohème where you have lots of chances to see it. It's a really wonderful cast. The conductor Jeremy Silver and the director James Conway have done a wonderful job. They've omitted Act III and trimmed some parts, but they've done a lot of research. I believe it was done in Donizetti's day too.
Opera Scotland What roles have you got your eye on for the future?
Helen Sherman I'd love to do Charlotte in Werther, or Romeo in I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, I love bel canto. Also Rosenkavalier.
Opera Scotland What was your biggest surprise about making a career as an opera singer?
Helen Sherman As a young musician going out in the world you think your career will be one of steady progress. Actually you've got to figure it out for yourself. It's not about filling the diary, it is about working out who you are as an artist. It's a different pathway for everyone. Opportunities can sometimes come all at once and then there can be gaps. It's important to know it's a long road and you want a long career that spans decades.
Opera Scotland Is this your first visit to Scotland?
Helen Sherman I've only been once previously, when I sang at a lovely gala concert in Falkirk. My family on my mother's side has Scottish blood - and of course most Australians have a passion for the pipes and drums. By the way, my first singing teacher when I moved to the UK was Peter Alexander Wilson, a well - known Scot at the Royal Northern College of Music! Somehow for me Scotland is a fine place, and I'm looking forward to my visit!
Opera Scotland Well, many thanks Helen, and we wish you well for this visit and for your future career!
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