Profile: Elizabeth Pow, soprano, teacher and composer

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

Unlike many other people gracing the pages of Music in Portsmouth, I don’t come from a musical background. Although my parents were more into Rock music, they encouraged me to take up the violin at an early age as something useful to do at school. Once I was given a guitar as a teenager by a cousin, and recognising my own vocal talent, all I wanted to do was to front up symphonic metal bands, which I began doing, taking inspiration from bands such as Nightwish and Within Temptation.

The head of music at my school, Nick Ridout encouraged me to join the choir under the Tutor Kerry Watson. I loved choir but blending wasn’t my thing: I wanted to sing bigger and louder, so took formal classical singing lessons. After music A level I chose Chichester University as it had a small and friendly music department. It’s still friendly but it has one of the largest music departments in the UK these days and I’m now fortunate to work there too!

The choreographer Matthew Bourne piqued my interest in performing: for me, he changed the mould by re-interpreting the well-known ballets such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, making them truly spectacular. And I became transfixed by the voice of Renee Fleming – so kaleidoscopic and versatile.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

Managing my time – I’m one of those people who likes to be busy, but at one point in time I was doing my masters at the LCM at the same time as teaching, performing and conducting, which was quite a stretch. I got a good grade, so it shows you can find a way if you are determined.

What are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

From a collaborative perspective, or when I am assessing a student for an up-and-coming performance, it’s a joy to be with them to find out their naturally suited repertoire. Most can play or sing the notes in the correct order, but it’s great when you find a piece, genre or style that allows them to truly perform.

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity? 

At college and university, I used to do a lot of French Romantic repertoire – for example, Fauré, Bizet and Poulenc. I have a great love of music written in the French language: it has such a wide colour palette.

I’m completely fascinated by Richard Strauss, about whom I’ve completed 2 theses. He was a controversial figure: Salomé was widely censored in several countries after it premiered. I was very fortunate to have won the Funtington Music Group’s Bursary which allowed me to spend time in Germany appreciating how well he writes for the voice. I absolutely love the breadth of his work, from the mighty Rosenkavalier through to the placid Lieder, such as Morgen.

Which works do you think you are able to perform best, and why? 

The expressiveness of French chansons and opera suit my voice well, and my studies have focused on these.

Which performances are you most proud of?

I’m proud of having put performances of Handel’s Dido & Aeneas and Acis & Galatea on tour with City Wall Productions. Our re-imaginings of these famous works won us a significant prize.

I had the great fortune to have collaborated with Carl Davis on his Oratorio The Last Train to Tomorrow at Chichester Cathedral. Fellow colleague at Chichester University Crispin Ward asked me to assist with rehearsing the children’s choirs and coordinating the logistics for it. At the last minute, Davis asked me to co-conduct, since his baton could not be seen by the children.

I also appeared in the premiere of Davis’ tribute to Leonard Bernstein, Sing God a Simple Song, a collaboration with Pamela Howard OBE for ‘Bernstein at 100’.

What are your most memorable experiences, either as a performer, composer or listener?

As a performer, when I was an undergraduate it was exciting to have put on Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro in Italian with Crispin Ward at the Alexandra Theatre in Bognor in Italian, at a time when there was no Italian teaching at the University. It was a baptism of fire to have played the part of Susanna in a production that lasted more than 4 hours, and it was a huge effort with many late nights and long cast meetings. This confirmed my interest in performing in opera.

As a listener, in my teens I had the opportunity to see the soprano Angela Gheorghiu in Tosca at the Royal Opera House. This was greatly influential on my choice of degree.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?     

Take every opportunity, no matter how small. Out of the work that I did on a minor production with Pamela Howard and Carl Davis I was able to move on to bigger things. You may feel that your career is somewhere on a long and winding road, but then by being flexible you suddenly discover there’s a shortcut. And if possible identify the kind of music you enjoy and that interests you, not necessarily the simply kind that you think other people will enjoy.

How would you define success as a musician?

The past two years of the pandemic have been quite dark. I’d been asking myself if I was helpful or useful to society. But it’s actually been quite cathartic: my musings have confirmed my belief that I’ve made the correct career choice.

For me, success can be defined as doing something healthy which brings about a reward as well as joy to others; by doing something gladly and regularly, and not under pressure.

What are you currently working on?

During lockdown it’s been great composing Festive Bells, 10 new pieces with a Yuletide theme for young piano players. I’ve been collaborating with an up-and-coming illustrator. I’ll be self-publishing in 2022 via Amazon.

Some links

Il Est Doux, Il Est Bon – Herodiade (National Opera Studio, July 2018) Elizabeth Pow Soprano – YouTube

Quando M’en Vo’ – La Boheme (G Puccini) – YouTube

So Pretty – Leonard Bernstein – Elizabeth Pow Soprano – YouTube

About Lisa

Soprano Elizabeth “Lisa” Pow completed her BA Hons in Music at Chichester University, delivering a first class dissertative performance of Exoticism in French Romantic Opera and Chanson, before taking an undergraduate performance course during which she was inspired to develop a more hands-on approach to staging and performing opera.

She completed her MMus in Performance at the London College of Music whilst continuing to work as a professional vocalist and vocal tutor in Hampshire and West Sussex.

Elizabeth co-founded the Sussex Opera Company City Wall Productions, whose re-imagining of Dido & Aeneas toured from 2011 to 2014, and Elizabeth, with City Wall Productions, was awarded the Dome Enterprise Business Centre Award.

During her time in Sussex Elizabeth also received first prize for the Clifford-Benson Award, 2010, for a recital of Chanson. She has also studied courses at the National Opera Studio, London, and Berlin Opera Academy.

Elizabeth is multi-disciplined, and trained classically as a ballerina and stage-actress, as well as a violinist and pianist.

Elizabeth holds a position as Associate Lecturer at the University of Chichester and visiting professor of Piano at The Prebendal School.

As an involved director, she collaborated with Carl Davis on his Oratorio The Last Train to Tomorrow at Chichester Cathedral, and appeared in the premiere of his tribute to Leonard Bernstein, Sing God a Simple Song, a collaboration with Pamela Howard OBE for Bernstein at 100. She also appears annually in productions for award-winning playwright, Gillian Plowman.

Elizabeth has enjoyed a variety of fully produced roles including: Susanna, (Le Nozze Di Figaro), Eurydice (Orpheé Aux Enfers), Lucy Lockett (The Beggar’s Opera) and has toured around West Sussex and Hampshire appearing as Belinda/Sorceress (Dido & Aeneas) Coridon/Damon (Acis and Galatea) and Venus (Venus and Adonis).

She was deemed “The Highlight of The Festival” for her appearance as Marguerite (Faust) at the 2012 Annual New Park Cinema International Film Festival. She has also appeared as Zerlina and Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), Sarah Good and Martha Sheldon (The Crucible), Moll (Dorian Grey) The Lover (Darling – One of us Whitechapel) Nikki Pignatelli (Sweet Charity), and Alice (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland).

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