Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?
My parents are pretty musical! Mum plays clarinet and recorder, and Dad plays guitar and ukulele. They brought me and my brother up on some fab 80s rock like Queen, Europe, and Bon Jovi. We would see musicals when they toured up to Liverpool and Manchester, and I fell madly in love with Musical Theatre. Oddly enough my brother went the other way, and our poor parents had to live with an odd medley of me singing Phantom of the Opera in my room, and my brother screaming along to heavy metal in his! But it was Phantom of the Opera that really sparked my interest in classical music, because I saw someone who sang like I could, and I thought “wow”, that could be me.
My wonderfully supportive parents offered me classical singing lessons when I was 15, and for a long time I kept it a secret from my friends. When I was 17 one of my teachers saw that I had won a competition in Alderley Edge near Manchester, and “outed” me to my friends at Priestley College in Warrington. My friends were amazed, and so happy for me! I have been very lucky to be so wonderfully encouraged.
I went to the University of Chichester and studied a Bachelor of Music. I was absolutely spoiled for performance opportunities there, I remember Crispin Ward asking me to step in for Catherine Bott at the last minute at the Chichester Assembly Rooms, and touring Guernsey, Romania, Budapest, Switzerland, Austria, and Rome!
The endless encouragement from my wonderful singing teacher Ian Baar fuelled my dreams. He inspired me to reach far higher than I ever thought possible, and encouraged me to see as much opera as I could.
I saw my first live operas ever during my time in Chichester; I got £5 student tickets for the WNO tours down in Southampton, and I somehow managed to get £25 box seats at the Royal Opera House on another student initiative. Suddenly opera houses were making opera and classical music accessible to all, and it made a huge difference to my interest. Opera became something obtainable, and not only for the very rich.
I then studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, where I was a Choral Scholar for the BBC National Chorus of Wales, and cast in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus with Opera’r Ddraig. It was wonderful to be a part of something greater than myself in both of these, and they introduced me to a lot of new music.
Likewise, in the final part of my education which was with the European Opera Academy at the Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini in Florence, the more musicians I met the more inspired I became and the more influence on my musical interests.
What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?
THE PANDEMIC. I remember vividly when all of my work was cancelled, I had a huge existential crisis. I am a singer – if I cannot sing, then what am I? What is my purpose? I know that sounds silly and dramatic, but that is truly how I felt, and I did a lot of crying.
It took some time for me to reconsider this; as a singer, my purpose is to share. I get to tell the stories of these great composers and librettists, I get reveal secrets and plot twists, impart knowledge and inspire. As a singer, my purpose and gifts are in communication and sharing.
While I couldn’t perform, I decided to use my communication and musical training to take up positions in schools teaching music, and used my knowledge of languages to teach French and Italian too. Alongside this I of course also taught singing lessons and piano online. I am glad that I used the time during the pandemic to continue sharing, communicating, and inspiring people – even if they weren’t my usual audience!
What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?
There is always something to learn from collaboration. As a singer I am melody-focussed in my practice, so working with pianists, chamber ensembles and orchestras gives me a whole new sound world of rich and lush harmony. Learning and hearing how the voice and harmony create a duet and weave together is one of my favourite parts of collaboration.
It is also important to note that singers are not able to hear themselves properly! If you would like to test this theory out, you can record yourself talking and listen back to it – I guarantee you will cringe! It is very different to how you think you sound, so it is important to have someone else’s ears listening for nuances and helping you.
Of course, my favourite part of any collaboration with other musicians, whether it be just me and an accompanist, or a whole opera company, is the sense of being a part of something much larger than myself.
Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity?
Oh, Mozart! For a while I avoided Mozart; those “in the know” had always expressed how Mozart’s music was perfect, and that really scared me off! It wasn’t until I was doing my Masters that I learned how playfully and mischievously he writes, and now singing Mozart’s operatic work is like laughing with an old friend. He really speaks to my objective of taking the elitism out of classical music by allowing the “lower class” characters so much beautiful music, and has so many clever plot twists!
I really enjoy singing Debussy; all the dreamy harmony and lyrical lines, everything about that era of music and art and poetry really appeals to me, and when all of this is over I hope to visit Paris for the first time and relish in my little French fantasie!
Which works do you think you are able to perform best, and why?
I love character, I love storytelling and human emotion. I think that anything with a great character that I can really get my teeth into is something I perform best.
Which works or performances are you most proud of?
During my Masters I wrote my own piece of Operatic Theatre with the sponsorship and help of the Cooper Hall Emerging Artists Award. It is called On A High Note, and it is an opera specifically designed to break down these barriers of elitism in classical music, and is perfect for opera buffs and newbies alike. I performed it for two weeks at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2019, and it received 5-star reviews!
I am really proud of the achievement; not only did I research and write this new piece of theatre, but I took it to this huge theatrical festival, performed it myself, and people loved it. That was huge for me. I have since taken this production touring, and locally I performed it for the Chichester Music Society, and at the Bognor Music Club. Before the pandemic, there was talk of it touring around America too! I would love to get it touring again, it is such a rush performing something I have given so much love to.
What are your most memorable experiences as a performer?
While on tour with the University of Chichester Chamber Choir in Rome, there was a complete power cut and a huge thunderstorm. A few of us walked to the colosseum during the storm and sang a few of our pieces while we watched the rain lashing down and the colosseum be lit up by lightning.
There are so many instances of me performing on big stages to lots of people and they’re of course memorable, but that one highlights music and friendship to me. The next day we performed in the Vatican, and enjoyed some lovely chianti afterwards!
One of my more memorable performances has to be singing as the soloist in The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins at Chichester Cathedral in my first year of University – I wore a big gold dress and felt so at home.
What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?
You are a person first, and your music is a facet of who you are. Nurture yourself, and your music will benefit from that.
How would you define success as a musician?
If you are improving in your practising, I would say that you are succeeding as a musician.
How are you keeping yourself usefully occupied and sane under lockdown?
I moved to London! Now that things are opening up again, I no longer teach French in schools, but I will be starting as a part-time music teacher and choir director at the Merlin School in Putney in September. I am also very interested in herbalism, and you can quite often find me foraging in forests for edible or medicinal herbs and plants!
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Firstly, I would like to feel like I had in some way made a difference to the elitism around opera and classical music, and somehow made it more accessible to the masses. That could mean I will write another operatic theatre piece, or it could mean developing outreach projects in schools. Currently I am working with Champagne Opera on a Mini Magic Flute that will give choirs the opportunity to sing opera choruses, and school children a playful and encouraging introduction to operatic music.
Secondly, since my studies in Florence my wanderlust has burned intensely! Within the next ten years I would like to have performed on every continent. With On A High Note tours possibly going to America, who knows where it might go next? The possibilities are endless!
Lastly, I would also very much like to adopt a kitten, so if you know any that are going or if you would like to get in touch with me, please go to my website at www.erin-alexander.com.
Alternatively, you can see me on 15th September when I will be performing with the Champagne Quartet for the Chichester Music Society a programme of Operatic Favourites at the University of Chichester Chapel. There will be snippets from La Boheme, Magic Flute, Lakme, and more!
If people would like to get in touch with me to go to my website www.erin-alexander.com
Here are some videos of me performing:
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta – La Rondine, Puccini
Una Voce Poco Fa from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Award-winning soprano Erin Alexander did her training on a full scholarship at the European Opera Academy at the Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini in Florence, Italy. While there, she performed the roles of Despina (Cosi fan Tutte), Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro), and Rosina (Il Barbiere di Siviglia).
Prior to this, Erin read music at the University of Chichester under Ian Baar, graduating with First Class Honours, the Chichester Music Group Robert Headley Music Prize, the Tosti Italian Art Song Prize, and the Sondheim Song Prize. In 2018, she graduated with a Master of Music from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama under Gail Pearson, after having received a scholarship from the RWCMD and the BBC National Chorus as Wales, where she performed as a choral scholar. While in Wales, Erin performed the operatic roles of Adele (Die Fledermaus), Mrs Fiorentino (Street Scene), and Gretel (Hansel & Gretel).
As the first-ever recipient of the Cooper Hall Emerging Artists Bursary Award, Erin has performed the roles of Zerlina (Don Giovanni) with assistant director at Royal Opera House, Greg Eldridge, and Mimi (La Boheme) for the editor of Opera Now. Cooper Hall commissioned Erin to write and perform a new one-woman piece of operatic theatre, called On a High Note. It has been touring around the UK, and Cooper Hall was thrilled to learn of On a High Note’s 5* reviews and successes at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2019.
In Oratorio, Erin made her debut deputising for Catherine Bott performing Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. She has performed the soprano solos in Mozart’s virtuosic Mass in C Minor, Haydn’s Nelson Mass, Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise, and recently sang the world premiere of Ian Lawson’s One World Cantata. Erin’s Oratorio highlights include performing Palestrina at the Museo San Columbano in Bologna and Byrd at the Vatican in Rome.
Erin also thrives on the concert stage; she has performed at the British Embassy in Romania for Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebrations, The Virginia McKenna Born Free Foundation at Goodwood House, and The Savoy Hotel in London. When Erin is not singing, you can find her dabbling in herbalism or napping with her cat!
Read about Erin as featured on Music in Portsmouth.