Two Internationally renowned sopranos on their journey as female Opera conductors in a male-dominant profession.
It was yet another poignant and mesmerising evening as internationally renowned vocalist soprano Sophie Bevan and mezzo-soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers presented varied recitals featuring arias, duets and trios. The ladies with their team performed at the Symphony Orchestra of India Spring 2019 season at NCPA. Hailing from musically inclined families, both had their first brush with the world of Opera at a very young age while performing in their own family concerts. “I was surrounded by musicians. The dream of being a professional singer as a child is of course very different from reality,” says Sophie, who is also a recipient of multiple awards as an Opera singer. Catherine who also started early, recalls a small snapshot of her journey saying, “I started learning the piano at the age of seven and it helped my musicianship and enabled me to sight-read.” Catherine became a concert singer just after her college and finally found her comfort when she played the lead at English National Opera. “Once I started, I continued to sing throughout my career and have loved being on stage,” she recalls.
Combined with theatre, narrative, music and the human voice in extravagant and paradoxical ways, western opera has produced this privileged art form for years. Often absurd in plots and unintelligible texts when sung, Operas undeniably provide an aesthetic and emotional experience. “I do love the fact that opera is a combination of so many art forms— visual, musical and dramatic, and the passion of telling a story through song,” explains the mezzo-soprano. Similarly, Sophie also feels that a lot of self-discipline, a strong technique and perseverance are required to be a soprano. “You need the combination of extreme artistic sensitivity and the hide of a rhinoceros to withstand the knocks of a singing career,” adds Catherine.
While Catherine has an experience of over three decades, Sophie, in a very small span of time, has won many hearts with her singing. “It was simpler when I started as marketing and social media considerations didn’t exist then. Young singers today need to have an eye for the business side of singing,” she avers, adding that choral singing has become less important in the UK in recent years as audiences have fallen away. Sophie being close to the millennial group interrupts, “It’s a wonderful feeling. You can’t believe that people noticed you in this world of hundreds of wonderful singers.” Though Sophie has been awarded many times, she isn’t sure if the awards are important and just wants to be happy doing her job, “I know a lot of fantastic singers who have never been given an award. I don’t have any particular aspirations as to which roles I sing— as long as I can afford to live a happy life through my work.”
As the two ladies take the centre stage to lead the performance, one wonders about their survival in the male dominating dais but both the performers deny this popular notion. “As a singer, it’s more a matter of taste than any kind of gender favouritism,” says Catherine. Sophie also agrees insisting, “Music shows use women and men alike. I suppose there are more male conductors but that seems to be changing.” Reminiscing on their journey, both admit that while the stage has been dominated by men mostly, times are changing. “Conductors were generally male when I first began my professional work and just as in many spheres, it was taken for granted for a long time that men would do those jobs. Nowadays, it’s far more equal with both sexes fairly represented,” assures Catherine.