Growing up, which voices most inspired you?
Joan Sutherland was a great inspiration for me. I came across her singing completely by accident when I was very young and ever since then I have always been drawn to beautiful sounds. I was also addicted to Jane Powell movies growing up, so hers was a voice that influenced me in my early years, and made me crave a more classical sound for myself when I started private singing lessons.
When you did realise that opera was something you wanted to pursue?
I think I always wanted to pursue opera, but I didn’t think it was really an option. I intended to do a Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney after high school but, having a few doubts, I deferred for a year. I was living in Canberra, working to save up for university, but it wasn’t long before I wandered over to the Australian National University School of Music to look for a singing teacher. I obviously just couldn’t live without music being part of my life. I was very lucky to find Christina Wilson who became my singing teacher and Alan Hicks who became my vocal coach at the ANU. Both encouraged me to audition for a Bachelor of Music. Their belief in me made me realise for the first time that pursuing opera was a real possibility, and as soon as I thought there was a chance at a career in music I was hooked.
In 2017, you won the Joan Sutherland & Richard Bonynge Bel Canto Award and Lady Fairfax New York Scholarship. How have both awards helped your career?
Both made it possible to do an immense amount of study last year. I undertook seven months of private study in London, Italy, Germany, Zurich and New York. I learned so much, met some incredible teachers and artists and had the privilege of seeing many operas performed in some of the most esteemed houses around the world. It will inform my performance for the rest of my life and has given me so many tools to keep working towards becoming the artist that I aim to be.
As someone who has excelled in competitions, do you have any tips for other young singers
The best advice that I was ever given (and is especially relevant for competitions) is to make sure in your preparations that you analyse your strengths as well as your weaknesses. I think a lot of young musicians are prone to perfectionism and this means we have a tendency to always focus on our weaknesses. It is just as important in your practice to identify your strengths. When you are on stage you can’t fix that phrase that still isn’t exactly how you would like it to be, but you can definitely highlight what is great about you as a performer.
You’ll be performing with Sydney Philharmonia Choirs for the ChorusOz Ode to Joy. What’s special about the experience?
Beethoven is such a wonderful composer and to have the chance to perform this lush music is a real treat. It’s also my first solo performance at the Sydney Opera House, which is very exciting, and with such an enormous choir I’m sure it will be an amazing experience. I have performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony before but not on a scale such as this. The ChorusOz choir are traveling from all over Australia, and from overseas, to be there. It will be a unique experience with so many people.
Which opera roles would you love to perform in the future?
I would love to perform Charlotte from Massenet’s Werther. I love singing French music, Massenet in particular. I recently saw Opera Australia’s production of Werther and it only made me want to perform Charlotte more. Elena Maximova and Michael Fabiano as Charlotte and Werther were breathtaking. I was weeping by the end, it was so powerful and so tender.
I would also love to do Adalgisa from Bellini’s Norma. I am very passionate about bel canto repertoire and Norma is an opera I’ve listened to a lot over the years, it being one of Joan Sutherland’s signature roles. When I was in New York I studied the role of Adalgisa and I adored every minute of it. There is a lot of work and precision that goes into singing this kind of repertoire, but it is so rewarding!
Bronwyn Douglass performs in Sydney Philharmonia Choirs’ ChorusOz 2019: Ode to Joy at the Sydney Opera House, June 9