The first day of a new course is always slightly daunting, especially if it is in the 'death by aria' format. What that means is that all participants have to stand up and sing in front of one another and the course leaders. Those who follow my own blog or know me personally will know that I, like many singers, find singing to my peers one of the most trying ordeals. This is why Day One of ENO Opera Works came as a positive surprise. It was an atmosphere that wasn't nearly as harrowing as I expected.
ENO Opera Works is unique, in that it doesn't try to place itself on a specific rung of the 'career progression ladder'. The people on it are a select few (twenty singers out of hundreds of applicants) who the panel think stand to benefit the most from the course, while creating a company that allows for every person in it to learn not only for themselves, but also to support one another and learn from each other. This season’s students are quite diverse, with ages ranging from 23 to 34, and with everyone having taken a different journey to end up in that room on Friday. These diverse backgrounds made me relax when it was my turn to sing. The course's vocal director Jane Robinson introduced each singer, giving the whole group an insight into where they came from and also where Jane thinks they may be going. I don't know what effect these introductions had on the others, but they made me think 'Ah, ok! We're all different, so I can be myself without trying to prove too much or compare myself to anyone'. Not that it was a completely relaxed performance, but it is an indicator of what I think this course is going to be about for me.
Hearing Jane and Martin (course director) talk about what was in store I got the impression that the coming months are going to be a great opportunity to figure out who I am as a singer and explore and solidify that identity. From the musical aspect of getting feedback from Jane and John McMurray (ENO Head of Casting) as to what they think my vocal strengths are and how to best show them to the people who will end up employing me, down to the comprehensive training we'll get in all the other aspects of the profession: performance psychology, professional development sessions, drama workshops exploring how to apply various acting techniques and approaches to the world of opera, and the list goes on...
From all of this input, each of us will assemble our own toolbox (as Martin calls it) of things that work best for us. This is, I think, what training artists should be all about, but it's somehow difficult to achieve in a music college environment, where the constant assessment and grading tends to interrupt people's journeys. This is why I'm excited to have this course all to myself. On one hand, I’m learning what I can and taking what I need from every session without the pressure of being judged (the only assessment I foresee here is self-assessment), but on the other I can share it all with a talented group of lovely people who are on the same path. It's going to be a good year!
Jan Capinski, ENO Opera Works baritone
You can follow the progress of this year's students over on the Opera Works blog.