Mezzo-soprano Sally Bruce-Payne joins La Serenissima to kick off our Winter Festival with an evening of dramatic arias by Vivaldi in A Tale of Two Seasons. We spoke to Sally about her career as a singer and her tips for those wanting to pursue a career in performance.
Before you were a singer, you were a cellist. Was singing something that you were always interested in or did something happen in the transition from Bristol University to the Royal College of Music which spurred your interest in vocal studies?
I sang in a church choir from the age of eight and was fortunate that my father was the choir master and was trained in all aspects of church choral repertoire. I sang at school and was encouraged to form my own choral groups. I remember winning the music cup at school with a Barber Shop group I prepared for the occasion. I began singing lessons at the age of 16.
Whilst at school I attended the Eton Choral Courses under Ralph Allwood and later sung in his selected choir Rodolfus where I began to tour abroad. I remember staying with Ralph whilst in rehearsal for a project and waking to see hundreds of incredibly smart Etonians hurrying off to lessons!
Whilst at Bristol University I found myself being offered paid singing work with various local choral societies which was quite a surprise to me! There were also many opportunities to perform opera and operetta at the university. These were always enormous fun and gave me a very different perspective on vocal performance.
I have loved the opportunity of taking on every part I have played, from the highs of a great performance to the frustrations of a performance where I’ve really had to dig deep. Each and every experience has been important in understanding what I do and how I tick!
You’re singing with La Serenissima on Friday 6 December. When did you first meet the group and how did the collaboration come about? Can you talk us through the programme?
I first met Adrian Chandler when we were studying at the Royal College of Music. I remember meeting Adrian and him telling me that Vivaldi was the best thing ever! I happened to be passionate about the early music repertoire and was delighted to perform numerous Vivaldi works with him at the RCM in the early days of La Serenissima. Obviously Adrian’s group has achieved enormous success over the years. How lucky I am to be continually invited to work with them. Adrian never fails to inspire!
In terms of the programme from a singer’s point of view, as much as the two sets of arias differ in maturity, one can never underestimate the technical demands of each individual aria. Each brings its own challenges from the most exquisite, controlled legatos to the fiendish and precise coloraturas.
And finally, what advice would you give a music student who was thinking about pursuing a career in solo vocal performance?
I teach a handful of students who are in this exact situation so see the challenges they are faced with. It is a complicated business and one person’s path is not necessarily another’s. Equally one person’s ambition is not always another’s either. Make your career your own. Not someone else’s!
With this in mind I would suggest that firstly a singer makes it their responsibility to strive for a great technique. It can be a long journey of varied pedagogies. Some methods you will use and some you won’t!
I would strongly recommend that a singer prepares, prepares and prepares some more! Do your job as well as you possibly can EVERY time. You never know what might come of even the most seemingly small engagement.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, enjoy your singing! No one knows it all. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences and learn from your colleagues. It can be fascinating what you discover.
Sally will be performing with La Serenissima on Friday 6 December at Shoreditch Church (St Leonard’s). Book tickets via our website.