We chatted to soprano Sophie Bevan, soloist with The English Concert in Aci, Galatea e Polifemo about her career, her favourite reportoire and her role as Aci in Handel’s Opera:
You grew up in a family of musicians, surrounded by people passionate about music. Have you ever seen yourself doing something else for living instead of embracing a singing career?
As a young girl I played the piano and cello and was made to practice everyday. I think my parents imagined that I would be a pianist but as I grew older and my voice began to develop quickly and naturally it became obvious that this was what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. I have, however, always secretly imagined that if I lost my voice then I would become an archeologist or even a gardener. I’d love to work somewhere exotic digging up bits of ancient flint or work in the garden of a beautiful grand house!
A lot of people dream about being singers when they grow up, what made you choose to embark on a journey towards opera in particular?
I didn’t choose to embark on a journey towards opera in particular. I started singing at the church my father is director of music at as a child, singing mostly 16th century polyphony which I loved and still love to sing on Sunday mornings. I then joined Berkshire Youth Choir and was picked out for solos, subsequently getting noticed at concerts and booked for local choral societies singing a lot of Oratorio. My family set up a mini opera group most involving family members which was where I first got a taste of singing Opera but during my time at the RCM I was still mostly singing Oratorio until I joined the Benjamin Britten Opera School. Now I like to sing a wide range of repertoire, both on the concert platform and on stage. I think it’s healthy for my voice to sing in a wide variety of styles.
Is there a particular moment in time that you associate with your breakthrough moment? How smooth was the transition from a talented student to a successful professional?
I don’t think I had a particular breakthrough moment. I was very lucky in that I started working professionally both chorally and as a soloist from about the age of 13 and all the way through school and college I was gradually getting more and more work apart from my studies. I suppose it was when ENO first asked me to cover Kate Royal as Poppea and sing the role of Love in their production of The Coronation of Poppea in my first year of opera school that I really started to get noticed. If I hadn’t sung for Kate for a few big rehearsals I might not have been offered the roles I was over the next few years.
You’ve been praised by audiences and critics for your powerful lyric-soprano voice and your thoughtful interpretations. What crosses your mind in the last 5 minutes before a performance starts?
I’m normally going through my words if it’s a recital from memory. If it’s a concert or opera performance I like to imagine my friends and family out there smiling at me and supporting me because it always fills me with confidence. Also, I sometimes imagine myself singing the best that I can and tell myself that I can’t wait to get out there and sing beautiful music to people who might never have heard it before. You always want people to leave having had a really memorable experience.
Is there a soundtrack that plays in your mind whenever you’re finding yourself in a stressful situation?
No! I normally have the music that I’m currently working on going round and around inside my head and I wish it would go away!
Does a favourite piece or repertoire relate to how well it matches your personality? Or is it more challenging to give a performance of a role totally opposed to the way you would describe yourself?
I love to play roles that are very different to the person I am. I’ve always loved a challenge plus it’s more fun to pretend to be someone else. Having said that, I love playing Susanna in Figaro both because she’s busy onstage most of the time singing beautiful music but also because I feel I can really relate to her and I think I would probably react just like her in her situations.
Have you ever performed with The English Concert before? What are you expecting/anticipating from this experience?
This is my first performance with The English Concert and I’m really looking forward to working with an ensemble that I’ve heard recordings of since I was a child and who have such a fantastic reputation for playing baroque music so beautifully and virtuosically. I hope to learn a lot more about the style of this kind of repertoire from experts and come away feeling as though I’ve made some wonderful music with some great world-class musicians.
How would you describe your Aci role in Handel’s dramatic Aci Galatea e Polifemo?
Despite being sung by a soprano, Aci is an earnest shepherd boy besotted by Galatea. He will do anything for her love. He will fight big giant monsters and kill himself to protect her! I imagine him as being courageous and strong but with a soft, poetic, loving heart. He shows a lot of character; he shows anger and hatred towards Polifemo and then love and sweetness to Galatea. It is a very dramatic role and one that needs a lot of control vocally; testing the range of the soprano voice, the agility, and also the ability to sustain long beautiful phrases.
What would you most like the audiences to take away from your performance at Spitalfields Music Summer Festival?
I hope the audience comes away feeling elated and wanting to hear more! I’d like each person to have felt personally touched by the story and interpretation and moved by our performances.
See Sophie as Aci in Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo
Thursday 23 June 7.00pm
Christ Church Spitalfields