By Lorena Paz Nieto, 2017/18 alumna


It's not everyday you get to work with one of your idols.

As part of the National Opera Studio's collaboration with the Royal Opera House's Insights programme, each year, the Young Artists have the opportunity to work with some of the industry's leading professionals. 

One such masterclass in May 2018 was with the incredible Barbara Hannigan, a soprano I have admired for a long time for the work she does with contemporary repertoire, her remarkable musicianship, her versatility as a performer, and the way she is constantly challenging stereotypical views of both singers and women in the musical world. 

Just before the masterclass, Barbara spoke to the four singers taking part (Carly Owen, Edmund Danon, Satriya Krisna and myself), and explained that she wanted the process to be very collaborative, encouraging us to ask any questions we might have as the evening unfolded. She clearly valued an open dialogue, introducing us to the audience as 'colleagues,' and was keen to maintain an atmosphere where we could all learn from each other. She spoke with exceptional honesty and clarity, particularly for someone with so much experience at the highest level, and although her advice was focused on the individual needs of each singer, it was all universally applicable.

It was interesting to hear her talk about different perspectives from the various strands of her interdisciplinary career (singer, actor, conductor, casting director). From this it was clear to see that her flexibility in the working environment has played a huge part in her varied career - of course we must come to the process with our own strong opinions and decisions, but it is equally important to be adaptable, and to always be aware of the reasons behind these decisions. 

She spoke in detail about various elements of singing technique, always marrying them to musical and emotional colours - an approach which perhaps gives some insight into the process and work ethic behind such intensely gripping and memorable performances. After being asked how she prepares for a new role that has never been performed before, her face lit up and she rushed to her handbag and produced a notebook full of words, symbols, drawings, colours, and mind maps. We were all fascinated by this vivid representation of her discipline and imagination. 

On a personal note, it was thrilling to sing some of George Benjamin's 'Written on Skin' at this masterclass. This is a role that Barbara created, and although that could at times seem slightly daunting, I knew from the moment I found out about the masterclass that this was the piece to sing to her. To hear her thoughts on shaping the character, the challenges of performing the piece, and to sing it to her was an experience that I will never forget.


Cover image: Lorena Paz Nieto and Barbara Hannigan © 2018 ROH / NOS. Photographed by Roger Way.