For the very first time, as part of our Diverse voices initiative, we hosted a Focus Week for singers supported by the programme. Countertenor Joshua Elmore shares his experience:

"During the first Focus Week on the Diverse Voices programme, I learned invaluable tips and techniques that I have put into practice as I navigate the beginning of my opera career.

The week began with a movement session, which I was looking forward to the most as my technique can sometimes cause rigidity in my body. Bence Kalo led the sessions where he presented various scenarios and utilised techniques that allowed my body to become more relaxed and 'let go'. We also used nature and the 'seven levels of tension' to think about how the body moves and feels as any character in a performance will experience different emotional states. This has helped me to comfortably take an analytical look at the way my body is used when embodying a character, as well as becoming aware of the wide range of physicality available to engage with 'free', uninhibited singing and acting.

I was also very grateful to receive coaching sessions from Michael Harper, Florence Daguerre de Hureaux, Florent Mourier, and Allyson Devenish, with repetiteurs Alexander Ribiero de Lara and Satoshi Kubo. We worked on diction, interpretation, technique, and music stylisation. Through these sessions, I discovered that I sometimes stop the breath when singing a phrase. To help with this, I learned that the link between clear diction and an uninterrupted breath contributes to a more fluid and connected way of singing. I also began to realise that my technique toward singing only requires minimal adjustments to create the space required to free the voice.

In a masterclass led by Nadine Benjamin, I sang ‘Welcome Wanderer…I Know a Bank’ from A Midsummer Night's Dream by Benjamin Britten. Nadine recognised that I have a tendency to position my body in a way that is not conducive to singing without rigidity. As we worked on this, I became more confident and relaxed, which freed my voice and allowed me to focus on the character and interpretation of the piece. It was also very helpful to be able to watch other singers in the masterclass. Nadine was able to pinpoint specific areas and suggest techniques to further develop the way we think about our approach to characterisation together with singing.

The Meisner session with Kate Maravan was very interesting as I’ve never really considered acting in this way. The Meisner acting technique focused on truly being in the moment while on stage through listening and communicating with other performers. I often overthink when performing, which causes me to focus on myself and ‘being perfect’ rather than focusing on the story being told. I learned that if my focus can shift to actively communicating with other performers, the technique, correct notes, breath control, etc. will automatically follow, creating a more authentic, genuine, and relatable performance. It is no longer an ‘act’, but rather a true and real storytelling experience.

David Sulkin led a discussion on audition/role preparation, which was very helpful as I realised that preparation of any piece goes much further than the music itself. The correct notes, translation, characterisation, technique, etc. are very important; however, it would be advantageous to research the composer’s life as well as the time at which the piece was written, as this may inform decisions around how the music is performed and how a character moves or reacts. We also discussed being careful when choosing what roles to audition for, as well as how to consider what companies and colleagues to work with that will suit us best.

The Focus Week has equipped me with several tools to assist in advancing my opera career, which I am currently utilising. I’ve already had a couple of auditions where I have felt more confident than previously. I look forward to participating in further coaching sessions provided by the brilliant Diverse Voices programme at the National Opera Studio."

Photos by Julian Guidera