Written by Deborah Humble
Graduating from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 2014, 28 year old Australian Soprano Michelle Ryan is taking the right steps towards a career in Europe and at home.
Earlier this year she won the German Australia Opera Grant. The award promotes emerging Australian opera singers in the early stages of their development and professional life, providing a one-year employment contract at the Hessisches Staatstheater, Wiesbaden. After a period of work experience at the theatre in order to gain some insight into the procedures and workings of a German house, Michelle will begin work in the summer of 2020. Many esteemed Australian singers have used this generous award as a stepping stone to European and international careers, and Michelle is excited about the challenges and opportunities she knows lie ahead.
‘I’ve always been encouraged by my teachers to study and train abroad and immerse myself in the musical culture of other countries,’ says Michelle. ‘There is so much to learn about the industry and how it differs overseas. What now lies ahead is a big step, commencing my first ever contract in an ensemble position and having the opportunity to focus as a solo artist. It’s also so important to be aware of as much of what is out there in our current opera world today.’
The competition itself is a public process designed to help educate and prepare the singers for the complexities of the profession and the range of skills required for stage success.
‘It was an incredible experience,’ Michelle comments. ‘It’s different from other competitions in that the finalists have to participate in a group acting workshop and must also stage recitatives and dialogues before being interviewed by the panel and singing the prepared arias. The finalists also sing in a public recital, which, despite my endless nerves, I really enjoyed.’
The German Australia Opera Grant was not Michelle’s only competition success in 2019. She also took part in the Sydney Eisteddfod Finals and the Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Bel Canto Award Finals at which she received the DECCA Award and the Tait Memorial Trust Award.
‘I am so grateful for the experiences that I have taken part in this year and for the support that will be really beneficial next year. These kinds of opportunities help us understand some of the personal qualities that are important for a career; not making it all about yourself for example. At the end of the day we are sharing an incredible art form with those that come and pay money to hear us. It is a big responsibility that singers have but also a great honour.’
Michelle has been gaining invaluable performance experience since leaving formal education having participated in the Lisa Gasteen National Opera School, Pacific Opera, the Adam Chamber Music Festival in New Zealand, and, further afield, the Berlin Academy, the Lyric Opera Studio in Weimar and the Bel Canto Summer Voice Programme in Munich. Narelle Martinez, the Australian singer who founded the programme after moving to Munich in 2005, recently acknowledged the soprano’s successes and appointed her an Ambassador for the school.
Excited by her new role, Michelle has a message she would like to encourage other young, aspiring singers who have the desire and the intent to pursue a career in Germany.
‘The Bel Canto Summer School was both my first experience in Europe and first experience in a summer school abroad. It was a truly life changing experience for me and a great opportunity to have in my first year out of University. Going to Germany to learn from industry professionals who helped me understand the specific requirements needed for foreign auditions is something I’ll always be grateful for. Upon completion of the audition training I felt confident in understanding my Fach, had a well prepared German CV and knowledge of appropriate etiquette.’
The course offers a focus on German language and diction which is an area where singers from English speaking countries often lag behind. ‘I got to stage German opera scenes and perform them to a German audience,’ says Michelle. ‘If it works out that one can study a language while training in the country where that language is used, that is a real bonus,’ says Michelle. ‘Having a “can do” attitude also helps, as well as not being too negative, although that can be really tricky as we are all our own worst critics.’
Looking towards the future Michelle has a long list of dream roles she’d like to prepare: Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier), Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro) and Adina (L’elisir d’amore) are just some of the characters she hopes to sing on the world’s opera stages, including the one closest to home. ‘One day I hope to sing a principle role in the Sydney Opera House.’
Applications for singers and pianists who wish to participate in the 2020 Bel Canto Summer Voice Programme in Munich from July 27 to August 15 close at the beginning of December. A Lieder Programme will be offered alongside the Opera Programme for the first time.
Deborah Humble for SoundsLikeSydney©
Deborah Humble is one of Australia’s best-known Mezzo-Sopranos. Holding a Bachelor of Music Performance from the University of Adelaide and a Masters Degree from the Australian Catholic University, Deborah joined the Victoria State Opera Young Artists Programme. A Principle Artist for both Opera Australia and The State Opera of Hamburg, her present freelance career takes her all over the world. Recognised internationally for her performances of Verdi and Wagner, her roles include Mary in Der Fliegender Holländer for Opera de Lille, Erda in Das Rheingold and Siegfried with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Brangaene in Tristan and Isolde with the Mexico City Symphony, Amneris in Aida for Opera Australia, Alisa in Lucia di Lamermoor for the Theatro Mario del Monaco in Treviso, Erda in Siegfried at the Boston Symphony Hall, Verdi’s Requiem at the Sage Concert Hall, UK, and for Orchestra Wellington, New Zealand, Mahler’s Symphony No 8 at the Esplanade Theatre in Singapore, Pauline in The Queen of Spades for Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Elgar’s The Kingdom for the Melbourne Bach Choir and Ring Cycles in Hamburg, Halle, Bari, Ludwigshafen and Melbourne. She recently sang Waltraute in Die Götterdämmerung at the Saffron Hall, UK, Klytamnestra in Elektra and Erda in Das Rheingold for the Edinburgh Players, sang solo concerts in Auckland, Newcastle and Perth and had much success as Auntie in Peter Grimes with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Recordings include Clarissa in The Love for Three Oranges with Opera Australia for Chandos, Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Hamburg State Opera on the Oehms label and with the Hong Kong Symphony for Naxos, Offenbach’s La Belle Helene with the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris for Deutsche Gramophone and Mozart’s Il Sogno di Scipione for EMI. Deborah was awarded Australia’s prestigious Dame Joan Sutherland Scholarship, was a finalist in the International Wagner Competition in Seattle, and has been included in the Who’s Who of Australian Women since 2010. Deborah is a mentor for The Dame Nellie Melba Trust Programme for young opera singers and is on the Music Board of the Tait Music Trust in London. For the past three years she has also been an adjudicator for the Joan Sutherland/Richard Bonynge Song Competition. She was recently appointed Associate Guest Lecturer at the University of Newcastle. Her 2020 engagements include Elijah for the Sydney Philharmonia Choir, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony under the direction of Simone Young, Bruni’s Symphony No. 1 Ringparabel at the Teatro Olympico in Vicenza and Waltraute in the 2020 Australian Ring Cycle in Brisbane.