Over the course of this year, Opera Works mezzo-soprano Lila Palmer will talk to various Opera Works alumni about their experiences on the Opera Works course, their performance background and their future performances. First, she speaks to soprano Alexandra Schoeny, who took part in the second Opera Works course (2008-9).
With a voice described as “Hauntingly beautiful” by Opera News, American Soprano Alexandra Schoeny is garnering a reputation in Europe and the U.S. for her ‘smooth voice, elegance of phrasing, musicality and interpretive skills…” She is also an alumni of ENO Opera Works. This week for the Opera Works blog, she winds back the clock to give Mezzo Soprano and current Opera Works singer Lila Palmer the dish on how the program helped her move a step closer to achieving an operatic career.
LP: So how long has it been since you completed the Opera Works programme?
AS: I was a member of the Opera Works programme in the 2008-2009 season.
LP: What was your background before beginning Opera Works?
AS: Before beginning Opera Works, I had received my B.Mus from Northwestern University, Chicago, USA. During my time in Opera Works, I was also completing my 2nd year of study as an MMus candidate at the Royal Academy of Music.
LP: What are you up to right now?
AS: I am now a freelance artist. I have lived in the Netherlands since 2009, where I went to participate in the Dutch National Opera Academy. Most recently I was engaged as Artist-In-Residence for Cincinnati Opera’s 2013 season.
LP: How did Opera Works help you to grow as an artist?
AS: The work we did in OW was incredibly valuable to me as an artist, particularly in applying the principles I had learned at university, conservatory, and in the workshops put on by OW to repertoire. Particularly our work using the Stanislavski method has been of great use to me. I also was encouraged to take risks in the choices I made as a singing actor, and to push to the limits of what is possible in an aria from both a dramatic and musical standpoint.
LP: So do you have a dream role, if any casting people are listening?
AS: Susanna - Le nozze di Figaro. I have been chasing this one for quite some time!
LP: Having completed a fair number of opera education and training programmes, what would you say makes Opera Works unique?
AS: I found that the makeup of the course participants was one of the most diverse, as far as career and life experience went. Certainly much more diverse on that count than any conservatory program. I also was very glad that we had a period to reflect between each weekend intensive.
LP: What was your next move after Opera Works?
AS: After OW, I moved to the Netherlands to participate in the Dutch National Opera Academy.
LP: Did you find Opera Works gave you skills to succeed beyond the UK?
AS: It’s impossible to draw a straight line between one program and one’s later successes, but I did find that I gained a tremendous amount of confidence from my time at OW.
LP: You’re an American. Did you consciously have to adapt your diction to sing in Received Pronunciation (RP), or did that happen in an organic way? What was the biggest adjustment you made musically or personally to work over here?
AS: I didn’t worry too terribly much about singing in RP - If my r’s became a little too Amuuuurrrrrican, I was always happy to correct it, but I don’t recall it being too much of an issue. I have always had a decent ear for accent and language, which did come to my aid.
LP: Mark Twain famously said that the UK and US are two countries separated by a common language. Any funny stories for us about things being lost in (musical) translation?
AS: Nothing hilarious, but I have never been able to lose that pause that comes after someone says “hemidemisemiquaver.” “Sixty-fourth note” is so much more efficient!
LP: What’s next?
AS: After a series of auditions in NYC, I am returning to the Netherlands to sing Dircé in Cherubini’s Médée, and then to sing Mrs. Julian in Britten’s Owen Wingrave.
LP: Sounds wonderful! Toi toi with those performances, and thank you.
Interested blog readers can find Alexandra’s information and upcoming performances at http://alexandraschoeny.com/ and Lila Palmer’s blog on singing, style, and storytelling at http://songstorystyle.wordpress.com/.
Mezzo-soprano, Opera Works 2013-14