First, thank you for accepting our invite for this interview.
Just last month, you won the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. What was the range of feelings you experienced as a result of such remarkable prize? It didn't quite sink in for some time. Actually, I still don't think it's really sunk in. The realization of what I’ve achieved is working its way in slowly. I was in total shock when Dame Kiri announced ‘Scotland’ and I was very emotional when I accepted the trophy. I felt, and still feel, totally honored and humbled to have been awarded both prizes. As a British singer, this competition in particular is one which I've watched and enjoyed from a young age. When I found out I'd be among the twenty finalists, I felt incredibly lucky. To have gone through the complete process and come out the other side as the winner is really what dreams are made of. I'm still floating up in the clouds!
How did you prepare for the competition? I took a long time mulling over my programs for all four rounds. That was perhaps the toughest part of the preparation. Once I had that sorted, I spent time with my teacher, Prof. Siegfried Gohritz, and my coaches studying and preparing my repertoire. I tackled it like I would any other music I was learning; getting beneath the text and music to find my understanding of it, and working it in technically.
I was also invited back to my alma mater, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, to do a run of some of my program a month before the competition. The concert, open only to some of the students and staff, was truly an invaluable experience.
Who are the star singers/artists a young Scottish mezzo-soprano models her work after?
Dame Janet Baker inspired me from a young age. It was not only the beauty of her voice, but especially the effortless, natural and poised way she communicated with an audience. Coming from Edinburgh, I was lucky enough to grow up with the Edinburgh International Festival at my doorstep.
I have seen numerous recitals and performances from world renowned singers and orchestras. I remember being drawn in by Joyce DiDonato at a recital at the Usher Hall. The sincerity in her singing has always stayed with me. A bit closer to home, one Scottish singer who I've always looked up to is the mezzo soprano Karen Cargill. She has had a varied and high-profile career. She is a wonderful artist and communicator, and despite her many successes she is still so down to earth and good fun.
Have your summer and fall plans changed now that you have earned Singer of the World title?
Actually, nothing in the immediate future has changed. My summer plans have stayed the same. I'm at home in Scotland for a couple of weeks. Then off to a much-needed holiday where I'll be switching off from all things singing and recharging my body and mind.
Some small things have changed in the fall, but I've tried not to rush into anything. I’ll be embarking on a European tour of Mozart’s Requiem with Teodor Currentizis and MusicAeterna in August and September. Afterwards, I return to Wuppertal to sing Maddalena and Hänsel. These projects and productions have been planned for quite some time which has been good to focus on whilst longer term plans are being organized.
You have been praised for your perfect diction in beautiful selections you sing in a number of languages. What do you see as the number one factor in achieving these perfect results? The main goal in all of my singing is honesty. I believe that when you find an honest connection to the words, music and character of a piece, that's when an audience can really be let in to experience your world. When it comes to diction, good technique obviously helps, but I think the understanding of the words, the truth in them and how to color them are equally as important. What other qualities do you value in a great opera singer and classical musician? Open mindedness is very important, in my opinion. Any musician must be sure of the musical and artistic decisions they make and their reasons behind each step. But I think flexibility and being open to new ideas or approaches is crucial to building a partnership with a conductor, director, singer or instrumental colleagues. I also think sense of humour is a must have in this business! ;) At 31, you have reached the highest levels of critical acclaim in some of the best-regarded artistic circles. Where are you headed from here? Even though I've been working hard on my singing for years, I still feel like I'm just at the start of my career, and have many goals and dreams still to follow. I've been so lucky to have had some incredible opportunities along the way. Cardiff Singer is the latest and it is so wonderful and exciting. With this new title beside my name, everything seems to be much closer in reach. However, I'm determined to keep grounded and work like I always did in order to go as far as I can in this business. A lot of things around me have changed, but nothing within me has changed - I'm still the same Catriona I was before the competition. Do you put much thought in your own personal role in fostering connections between the opera world and younger audiences? I’ve done a few Kinderoper productions here in Germany in the last couple of years, and it’s always such a rewarding experience. Watching the kids join in and getting involved or seeing the reactions on their faces when I hit a high note is beautiful and sometimes amusing. Just this March I did a production which involved children performing on stage with us. Some of them sang, some danced, some played percussive instruments, but the main thing was they all experienced opera singing and classical music live and a few steps away from them. I was so happy to hear that some of the children then joined the children’s chorus at the theatre as a result of the production. Whilst at music college I studied a bit of music pedagogy and believe that music is imperative for all children. I do hope I can somehow be a positive influence for children, teenagers or young adults to dive into the world of opera. I truly believe there’s something for everyone in opera. What else do you invest your time and energy in outside of the classical music world? I love to cook and bake, especially with and for friends. I also really enjoy Scottish Country Dancing, and love a good ceilidh, which is a huge party with a ceilidh band playing traditional Scottish tunes and everyone dances a variety of set dances in couples or groups, for those who don't know. It is such fun, and people of all ages can do it! What are some of your favorite musical selections anytime of day or night? I listen to a huge mix of musical genres, I guess it really depends on my mood. I don't tend to listen to much classical music outside of work or studying time. I have a Spotify account and often just find a playlist that suits how I feel at the time.