Ahead of Queensland Conservatorium’s The Magic Flute this week, Head of Opera Nicholas Cleobury gives insight into training opera singers.

In January this year I became Head of Opera at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. This week we present our Val Machin Opera Scenes (The Magic Flute) directed by our Movement Director, the renowned Anna Sweeny. It’s been an exciting start at this vibrant music school, surrounded by wonderful colleagues and motivated students; I am thoroughly relishing the experience.

My new job in Brisbane brings together many strands of my work, from opera conducting, in particular recently at Mid Wales Opera with its emphasis on young singers, the Jette Parker programme at the Royal Opera House and the National Opera Studio in London. Training singers to be the finished article takes time and has many facets. The Con is well set to build on its valued reputation and offer a real journey for students from Day 1 to their launch into this rewarding, exciting but difficult profession. Just having a voice is only the start, there is so much more to it!

It takes time and there are no shortcuts. Foremost in our minds here at the moment is The Magic Flute. As well as being demanding vocally (I once did hear a singing teacher, not here, say not to worry with contemporary music but to sing something easy like Mozart!) and for stagecraft, it has the demands of the Classical style (so important in these days of historically-aware performance) and the German language. Its purity and apparent simplicity belie its huge demands of clarity, beauty of expression and accuracy. Most of our singers are involved, some are nearing the end of their time with us, but for others this is their first operatic experience.

The good training of opera singers is vital for the future of this wonderful art form. My work here, with colleagues back in Wales and the rest of the UK (where I am contributing to a major revue of opera training) and internationally, involves researching and analysing all the constituent parts of a complete training programme. With such expertise here in the Con, Opera Queensland, Queensland Symphony and the Lisa Gasteen National Opera School (and a thriving Musical Theatre department), we have every chance to make a very special offer to our students.

Vocal training, stagecraft, languages and interpretation are at the heart of this, making sure that voice and stage techniques are so secure, that singers can act and portray characters with the voice the servant not the master of the drama, with impeccable pronunciation and a real feel for the style and historical perspectives of the work. Study should also involve seeing opera in all its contexts – literary, political, social – and in relationship to all the other arts. Baroque and contemporary work are also essential to the rounded artist, and also offer many performing opportunities these days. In addition, we look at continuing to get out into the community in all sorts of ways, so the Opera at the Con has a real place beyond our four walls.

Student and teacher exchanges and visits are important, as is study here for foreign students. The University policy is to nurture such connections, with the Far East in particular, which is particularly appropriate for an International activity as such Opera. Our next major production is Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring (September 9-17), directed by Bruce Beresford. I look forward to introducing you to future events and building our work here in this exciting and forward looking Conservatorium!

Queensland Conservatorium presents The Magic Flute May 21-22