On the eve of her first visit to Australia for fifteen months, soprano Siobhan Stagg tells Deborah Humble she still calls Australia home, as she talks about about her forthcoming engagements, and the joys and challenges of a demanding performance schedule.
Growing up in Mildura as the middle child between two brothers, Siobhan credits her school teacher parents who had “no musical background whatsoever” with instilling in her a passion for learning and discovery.
She had always enjoyed singing but it was not until her Year 12 studies that she discovered it was possible to study music at tertiary level. She headed to the Conservatorium at Melbourne University and joined the Choir of Trinity College which is when, she says, “my musical world really began to open up.”
A scholarship from the Dame Nellie Melba Trust towards the end of her undergraduate degree finally allowed her to concentrate fully on her solo career. Hungry to learn as much as she could she began private training in New York, London and Europe. Various Young Artist contracts followed and she had the opportunity to learn and sing smaller roles in operas such as The Magic Flute, Ariadne auf Naxos, Don Carlos, Turandot and Elektra.
The past year has been full of amazing and rather diverse opportunities for the young soprano. It has seen her sing Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in front of an audience of more than ten thousand, spend a “life changing” two months at the Salzburg Festival and perform the Woodbird (Siegfried) in a sold out Ring Cycle at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin conducted by Simon Rattle. She made her debut at the Hamburg State opera singing Cordelia in Aribert Reimann’s Lear, a performance which was commercially recorded on DVD in the presence of the composer himself and went to Russia to perform with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.
She also reached the finals of both the Mozart and Belvedere Singing Competitions gaining second prize in the former and winning the Media-Jury Prize and the Engagement Prizes in the second. Securing the Engagement Prize means future appearances at the Salzburg Easter Festival and the Deutsche Opera am Rhein in Duesseldorf.
These opportunities, she says, have provided a “steep but enriching” learning curve. “I have come to appreciate the value of experience and how to take care of myself and my voice amidst a relentless schedule of performances and travel.”
She has learnt much about the German model of a repertoire house in Berlin and says that her contract at the Deutsche Oper has taught her how to focus, prioritise and above all how to be flexible. “The schedule has been challenging at times but the musical rewards are absolutely worth it.”
“I have discovered that being a successful opera singer involves a combination of many elements and contrasting temperaments which can be tricky to find in one person.” She explains that one needs the softness of heart to create special moments of vulnerability on stage whilst at the same time being equipped with the resilience needed to handle the constant criticism and rejections that all artists inevitably face.
She is adamant that a sense of perspective is also vital for a young singer. “It’s easy to get disheartened when we don’t land the first big audition and when it seems like all our peers are kicking goals. We also need to understand that each success represents a mammoth amount of work; we often forget the challenges, disappointments, conflicts and anxieties that are a normal part of career building.”
Asked about favoured roles and musical highlights she comments that it is too difficult to name just one. “It’s a bit like asking me to name a favourite family member – impossible! They all have their individual qualities to uncover and bring to light.” She will say that she enjoys playing characters who display the core values of truth and sincerity. “I would love to sing Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier, Micaela in Carmen, Gilda in Rigoletto and maybe one day Violetta or Mimi.
2013 also saw her CD Hymn a L’amour which she recorded with pianist Amir Farid nominated for Best Classical Album in the Australian and Independent Music Awards. They began working together in 2012 for the Mietta Song Competition and shortly afterwards were invited by MOVE records to record an album.
She found recording an interesting, sometimes challenging experience. “As a young singer one is constantly developing and changing things week to week. Therefore I simply think of this album as a snapshot of where I was at that stage. The nomination was a very sweet surprise for what started out as a truly humble project.”
Audience members shared no similar qualms, with two recitals at the Melbourne Recital Centre and one at the Mildura Arts Centre overwhelmingly supported.
Siobhan is very much looking forward to her engagements in Australia in July and August and says it is refreshing to get back to the concert repertoire after complete and absolute immersion in the opera world. “It will be my first time as soloist in cities like Perth, Adelaide and Auckland and I can’t wait!”
She says that her core goal is to continue connecting with people through music wherever it happens to be. “Different doors are opening and I don’t want to be too prescriptive about where I will end up. I am enjoying the European roller coaster ride but I hope I never lose my roots in Australia. I will always call Australia home.”
Classic Melbourne readers can hear Siobhan performing Bach’s Mass in B Minor at the Melbourne Recital Centre with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on August 7 and 9 and at Geelong’s Costa Hall on August 8.