Update from Marlena Devoe
To All My Lovely Supporters, How are you!?? It's been a while since I last messaged you all. I sent an update after my time in Sicily but I believe some of you didn't receive my email so I've included bits of it below...hope you enjoy hearing what I've been up to! First of all, unfortunately I was unable to participate in the Belvedere Competition in Moscow. doing everything I could possibly think of, I withdrew from the competition when the Russian Visa Office in Milan told me that the only way I could obtain a visitors visa was if I flew back home to New Zealand and applied for an urgent visa from there. As much as I wanted to do the competition, there was no way I could afford to do this - I told myself "it just wasn't meant to be". I didn't let it bother me too much, because within a few weeks, I was off to Sicily to attend the Mediterranean Opera Studio and Festival. Thanks to the support of the Auckland Opera Studio, I was able to attend this fantastic five week course in Caltagirone, a little Sicilian town famous for its ceramics. The day consisted of Italian lessons at 8-9 in the mornings, with voice lessons starting at 10am and finishing at 6pm. We had approximately 3-4 sessions per day, and we were encouraged to sit through other students lesson when we were available. We also had to attend rehearsals for the operas we were cast in (I was singing Mimi in their production of La Boheme) and then for the operas we weren't involved in, we had to sing in the chorus...and all of this was done in the 43 degree Sicilian heat. It was intensive and it was incredible. This course ended up being just what I needed. I had the opportunity to work with Jack Livigni - the director of the programme and guest vocal coach for the singers at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. His style of teaching was very similar to Frances, especially his desire for and insistence on forward resonance. I also worked through my role in Boheme with Nelly Miricioiu, a beautiful Romanian soprano, of the old Bel Canto technique. She also directed our Boheme and had some excellent suggestions for interpretation and onstage movement - it was great fun! Other guest coaches were David Gowland (the Artistic Director of the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme at the Royal Opera House), Salvatore Fisichella, (a famous Bel Canto tenor, who made many singers cry when they couldn't sing quietly), Kamal Khan (an American conductor, now based in South Africa) and my personal favourite, Carlos Conde (a great teacher from Puerto Rico). Everyone had such positive things to say about my voice and I was selected to sing in a masterclass for Brian Dickie when he came to visit for a few days.
Luckily, it wasn't all work! We had Sundays off and Jack organised trips to the beach. We managed to visit Taormina, Syracusa, Catania and Gela and got as much beach time as we could fit in. We also visited the ruins in Agrigento, and I performed my Boheme under the stars in an outdoor venue, with the ruins as my backdrop. It was beautiful.
We ended the course with a concert at the local auditorium, followed by a typical Italian dinner, rich in carbs and wine. I was sad to leave after such an intensive and inspiring few weeks. I definitely won't miss our horrible dormitory breakfasts and lunches but I loved getting to know some of the other singers and I loved being able to experiment with my voice in a safe environment. I enjoyed myself immensely, and as I headed back to Milan, I was more confident in my technique and my abilities. Next on the schedule were a couple of competitions - one was in Portofino and the other was in Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands. Although I wasn't placed, I made it to the finals and was getting positive feedback...it just takes time. Finally, last month, I headed to beautiful Tuscany to participate in Patricia Hurleys Italian Masterclasses, which I was able to attend thanks to the Dame Malvina Major Foundation who sponsored my stay there. We stayed at the idyllic Villa Petrolo, in the heart of Tuscany, amongst the vineyards and the olive groves...too bad I was there alone - it was very romantic! During my time at the Villa, I had the opportunity to work with Maestro Peter Lockwood, a wonderful vocal coach, who works at Dutch National Opera in the Netherlands. We worked through several of my arias and prepared a wee programme for a concert at the Villa, a concert in the local performance hall in Montevarchi and finally, a concert at the New Zealand Embassy in Rome. There were three other NZ singers in attendance - mezzo soprano Bianca Andrew, soprano Natasha Wilson and baritone Jonathan Eyers, and then of course we had the "touristi", the guests of Patricia, who were opera enthusiasts and supporters. During the day, we had our Italian lessons in the morning, and sessions with Peter in the afternoon and the "touristi" would explore Tuscany by day and join us for a 3-course Italian dinner at the Villa by night. It was a very relaxing few weeks and once again, getting to know the other 3 singers was a big laugh. We worked and laughed and ate a lot...as expected haha We spent the last few days of the course in Rome. Patricia Hurley took us for a fascinating Tosca tour in Rome (as this is where the opera is set) and then we prepared for our final concert at the Embassy. We also managed to see an opera at Teatro del Roma (an opera called Fra Diavolo - a terrible production with projections which resulted in the singers having to be stationary for the majority of the opera). We had the reached the end of our course and working with Peter was definitely a highlight. He was very curious to know who my teacher was in New Zealand, because he said, "whoever it was did a fantastic job". When I told him it was Frances Wilson, he was very impressed. Yay! Finally, I returned home after an amazing few months singing and exploring Italy. A couple of weeks ago, I sent off my Tier 1 Exceptional Talents visa application to the Home Office in the U.K. I should have a response from them shortly - fingers crossed everything is approved once again. In the meantime, I am sending of applications to companies in the U.K. and begging for extensions from some of them (as their auditions are mainly at the beginning of November, and my visa definitely won't be approved by then). I've written to the Royal Opera House, Garsington, Opera Holland Park, to name a few...and while I'm still here in Italy, I'll audition for the Puccini Festival and the Rossini Festival and try my luck at one more competition - the Ottavio Ziino Competition in Rome, which is sponsored by the Pavarotti Foundation. I'll keep you all updated on the results of my visa. Hopefully next time I write to you, I will be writing from my apartment in London. Fingers and toes crossed for me! I am a little nervous... Also, just to share some amazing news with you all (in case you haven't already heard) ...I will be making my debut with New Zealand Opera next year, singing the role of Mimi in their production of La Boheme! YAY!! (Lucky, I had all that prep work in Sicily). Performances are in September and October in Auckland and Wellington - should be a great show so I hope to see you all there! Sending you all lots of love from Italia! I've attached some photos below of my experiences...try not to laugh at the silly faces. Tanti baci, xx Marlena