Yeoman of the Month March 2016 – Louise Kemeny

There is nothing like singing. It’s such an immediate yet wonderfully intangible way of connecting with people. I would know;, as an undergraduate student I’ve done most jobs, from lifeguarding to busking. The latter was a particular revelation, and my hours spent singing on London’s Southbank (and earning my rent at the same time) have stood me in very good stead as a performer, teaching me the hard way how to connect and communicate with the trickiest of audiences. My school wasn’t well equipped for music education, and it was my godmother who got me into opera. I studied English Literature at UCL and went to as many live performances as possible as a student in London, of all kinds. I found though, that everything had always led back to music for me, and especially to opera; I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the relationship between opera and literature in England after the Restoration. As an MPhil student at Cambridge, I focused on sensory perception in Renaissance theatre, and especially on the relationship between sight and sound, eyes and ears.

I have been very fortunate in my studies and early career to have the support of several bodies and companies. At Cambridge I was fully funded by the AHRC, which allowed me both to sharpen my interest in performance texts, and exposed me to the vibrant music scene in Cambridge, where I sang the title roles in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Dove’s Siren Song, and met many musicians who would become my future colleagues and friends. Whilst my MPhil status prevented me from studying singing at a post-graduate level in England, I was delighted to attend the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where I studied for three fantastic, too-fast years gaining Master of Music degrees in vocal performance and opera. I relished in particular a number of chamber music opportunities I had whilst there, including performances of Ravel’s Trois Poemes de Mallarmé, Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Stravinksy’s Les Noces, with MusicLab Ensemble and members of the RSNO. I also had the opportunity to sing at Scottish Opera and with British Youth Opera, and was supported in my studies by numerous trusts and awards including the Joaninha Trust Award, the Ian Smith of Stornoway Prize for Opera, the Basil A. Turner Prize, the South Square and RCS Trusts, and of course the Worshipful Company of Musicians. Amongst the many opportunities afforded me by WCOM was the chance to bid for my debut St John’s Smith Square recital last October. As an RCS student I auditioned for Glyndebourne, which allowed me to understudy the role of Serpetta La Finta Giardiniera in the 2014 season as part of my final year on the RCS MMus Opera course; it was the casting director at Glyndebourne who recommended me for my debut international role, which I will undertake later this year.

As a singer I am at a pivotal stage in my career; a year and a half out of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland I have performed principal operatic roles with major UK companies such as Glyndebourne, Scottish Opera and English Touring Opera, and have been fortunate to sing at renowned concert venues such as St John’s Smith Square, King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, Cadogan Hall and St George’s, Hanover Square. I am just starting to work at an international level – I sang recently in Bergen, have concerts in the coming months in Singapore and Belgium, and I will sing Barbarina Le nozze di Figaro for Dutch National Opera.

I feel I’ve learned a lot in a very short space of time; for me, it’s still about the immense privilege and joy of communicating with people through sung music, though it’s also about the joy of the process. Learning music and rehearsing music also gives me great joy. For my St John’s Smith Square recital I had an amazing opportunity to tailor my own programme, the subject was ‘Nacht und Träume’; night and its incumbent dreams, the way it captivates poets and composers. From the soporific to the fantastical, we explored all that takes place at night: from the beguiling beauty of dreams to the terror of nightmares; from lovemaking to sleepless reminiscence; from the nightingale’s song to the moon and starry firmament; Rameau, Schubert, Debussy, Strauss, Berg, Marx, Britten. It was such a joy. I spent a lot of time working on the texts (writing out, translating, memorising), rehearsing (recording and listening back to the work), and organised a dry-run (through Bob Boas at 22 Mansfield Street). The process was a long and extremely rewarding one. I’m planning my next solo recital around the theme of gardens.

It’s not always an easy job, and I’m thankful for the support of my family, friends and amazing partner; but I’m also constantly dazzled by the great privilege of singing wonderful music, and constantly inspired by the amazing people I meet in my work. It’s a wonderful life.

You can find out more about Louise and forthcoming events at louisekemeny.co.uk .