Today I have invited the brilliant soprano Charlotte Hoather for tea. She’s British, so I know she likes tea. Me, I’ll stick with coffee. I somehow got directed to Charlotte’s blog a number of years ago, when she was first enrolled in the Royal College of Music in the Master’s Program. It was a wonderful blunder because I’ve been enjoying her voice and her professional growth ever since.
by Frank Dresch
Since she is the first profession singer I’ve ever met, I have a lot of questions for her!
Charlotte, when did you start singing?
My older brother and I used to watch Disney Sing-a-Long videos from about the age of two, and I started singing when I was about two, at least that’s what I used to call it, I would watch Disney Sing-a-Long and Barney with my brother. But I started singing on stage from the age of 6, my first role was Thumbelina in a stage-school production. When I was 12, I started taking 30-minute private singing lessons and it has built up from there, culminating with my Master’s Degree at the Royal College of Music, London.
I’m most familiar with your classical singing, but what were the first things you sang?
Disney songs, Spice Girls, Steps and Britney Spears. This then progressed into Musical Theatre songs, then folk songs, then classical songs and arias in a range of languages.
I know you still sing Disney songs. I heard Let It Go which you sang from your balcony. It probably made a lot of little girls happy! When did you first sing in public?
I won a competition held by Oasis Holiday Resort in the UK at the age of three when I sang 5,6,7,8 by Steps, completely unrehearsed. The prize was a free meal for all my family and free cinema tickets, much to the despair of my big brother who had also entered with a practiced routine.
I would have liked to see that! When did you decide you wanted to become a professional singer?
If you asked me at 11, I would have told you I was going to be a dancer. I studied ballet, tap, Latin, ballroom, contemporary and jazz dancing with a real passion. However, from about the age of 15, I began to explore operatic singing and fell in love with the flamboyance and difficulty of this genre. I could use the dancing and stagecraft skills towards this but potentially have a longer performing career.
That was a pretty momentous decision. How did it change your life?
I went to a state school with very few opportunities for training in classical music. I was lucky that I had a very supportive family, who traveled the northwest of England with me so that I could participate in music federation competitions. At these events, I could learn from other singers for the first time and get intensive feedback from experts in the genre. These opportunities made me realize how much I wanted to follow this passion into a career.
I was aware of how big a part of your life your family is from your blogs during your days at the Royal Academy of Music. Even though your secondary education did not support musical training, was there some important thing you learned during those years?
Secondary education in the UK is from 11-18. The most important thing that I learned from High School was to do what you love and seek out your own opportunities to achieve it. I found external teachers, educational programs, competitions and I studied hard to complete my compulsory subjects alongside my music passions. I learnt to be educationally independent and this skill has helped me tremendously throughout my degree and now as I embark a career in opera.
I doubt many of my followers know a classically trained singer. Is your chosen profession difficult to break into?
Yes, because it is extremely competitive. I am a trained soprano, there are more sopranos than any other voice type. For example in ‘By Voice Alone’, a 2019 competition in London, their statistics showed that 61% of the competitors were sopranos! And that’s lower than normal. In international competitions, 85% of competitors are sopranos, with the remaining 15% making up the other 5 voice types.
Charlotte Hoather, winning the prestigious Pendine International Voice of the Future competition at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod
So you are facing the biggest challenge because of your range! I’ve often wondered if singing professionally is like acting. Are you nervous before a performance? How do you calm your nerves?
I do always get some butterflies before walking on stage, but once I begin, they start to settle, and I can release into the performance. Here are some coping mechanisms I use:
Acknowledge your preparation. You have put the hours in, you know your music, you know your character – trust that you will deliver.
Try not to focus on external judgement, when you are singing/speaking in public, you can only hear your own thoughts so be kind to yourself and accept mistakes with a smile and aim to tell the story.
Breathing exercises. I close my eyes and breathe in for 4 counts and out for 4 counts. I will repeat this until I feel calm.
Great advice! I used to do the same thing when I gave guest lectures and lectures at international meetings. Except maybe for the breathing. 🙂 What do you do each day to exercise your voice?
Every day I try to do technical exercises for 30 minutes. These consist of lip trills, a variety of scales and arpeggios. Each exercise builds on from the previous, I will extend the range sung or change the speed. Usually, I will sing these exercises to pure vowels (i, e, a, o, u) and then introduce consonants to warm up the tongue. I aim to sing for at least 2 hours per day. But there is lots of work to be done away from the piano too.
I remember your posts on learning different languages and emotional expression. Tell me, do you have to try out for parts in an opera? How do you learn of these roles?
Yes, every job I have had to date has involved an audition. This process is similar to an interview, except at this interview I have to present my skills straight away. Usually, I will prepare for the audition 3-5 Arias. I try to select pieces which are relevant to the production so the casting director can see that I would be a good fit. For example, if I am auditioning for Sophie in Werther, I would try to present her aria and another aria from a character in different opera with similar traits (young, positive and carefree).
Learning an opera role is a huge task! But a very fun and rewarding one. I begin by reading the full libretto (all the text in the opera). This way I can understand the story. If it is in another language, I will try to find a translation. I will then highlight my part and divide it into categories: arias, duets, trio, small ensemble (4-5 singers), large ensemble (6+), finales, recitative and spoken dialogue. This helps to break up the project into manageable tasks. I find larger ensembles and recitatives trickier to learn so I begin with those. If it is Bel Canto, I will scour the score for coloratura passages that will need regular practice. I will also decide if I need to ornament the repeated melodies. I listen and watch previous productions to learn the score, for enjoyment and to build a profile for my character. Then learn, repeat and play! I find that if I inject a bit of fun into the learning it is always more successful. For example, dressing up like the character whilst learning the words or listening to the music whilst looking at a storyboard of the lyrics helps the text and music to sink in.
I had no idea your preparation was so labor intensive, but I like the idea that you can put some fun into it. You’ve sung in a fair number of operas. Which was your favourite?
I adored singing Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for Arcadian Opera last year. I studied the play a lot during high school, so I was excited to be able to take on the challenge of presenting Juliet. The music changes throughout the opera to follow her journey from innocent child excited by extravagant parties to a young woman, who has to make heart-wrenching decisions in the name of love.
Some scenes from Romeo and Juliet
Charlotte in Mansfield Part Charlotte in a Pop-Up Opera
You must learn the music of many different composers, Who is your favourite?
My favourite composer is Richard Strauss. When I listen to his music, the melodies sparkle and twinkle throughout the vocal range. I enjoy that he plays with extremes of emotions and images, such as in ‘Schlechtes Wetter’ (Bad Weather) where the music bounces across the piano keys like roaring rain on the pavement or in Muttertändelei, (Mothers song). At the start of this song I sing a string of fast-changing notes, to depict a mother’s overjoyed squeal of admiration for her baby.
Richard Strauss is one of my favorites, too! I know you have been quarantined in your apartment with your partner, certainly better than being apart! How did you meet him?
My Partner in life and music is George Todica, who can perform Rachmaninoff with a flourish and also make a wonderful cup of tea! We first met in 2013, when I was nominated to represent the RCS at the Kathleen Ferrier Annual Bursary for Young Singers competition. A few weeks before the competition my accompanist withdrew, and I was introduced to George by Aaron Shorr, ‘Head of Keyboard’ for the RCS. George kindly accepted to play, and we worked extremely hard together in a limited time. On 27th October we managed to win the Audience Prize, which commemorated the 60th Anniversary of the death of Kathleen Ferrier. We have been singing songs together ever since, and I am happy to say we will get married on 31st October this year (fingers crossed).
Congratulations! I think surviving all this time together in an apartment is a good indication that your marriage will be a strong one. I won’t ask you if there have ever been some tough days! But my followers should know that you and George have been performing for you neighbors from your balcony. If you go to Charlotte’s website: https://charlottehoatherblog.com/ you can listen to some of their performances.
What are your plans for the future?
At the moment I am planning to record another CD with George. We are thinking outside the box and exploring different recording methods to see if we can record whilst we are working from home in lockdown.
My ambition in a post-COVID-19 world is to sing a role at a National Opera house in the UK or abroad.
I predict that will happen, Charlotte. Thanks so much for sharing your life with my followers!
I can’t end this without letting my readers hear Charlotte sing! Here are three selections she sent me.
This is a YouTube link for ‘O Luce Di Quest’Anima’
This is a YouTube link to ‘Interlude’ written by Ben Moore who is an American Composer
Baby Shark from Balcony Concert
and here are Charlotte’s CDs: