12 January 2015 at 11.05am | 1 Comment
‘As soon as I could speak I was singing,’ says Jette Parker Young Artist Rachel Kelly. Beginning by singing anything and everything she enjoyed, from French folk songs to Disney, it wasn't until she began voice training at 14 that Rachel discovered her raison d'être: ‘When I went to my first opera, Tosca, with my mum I was utterly inspired to pursue an operatic career.’
Born in Ireland and completing her degree at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Rachel then moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music and the National Opera Studio before being accepted into The Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme.
Rachel had no hesitation about her desired path, ‘No matter where I was living in the world, I would have applied to be a Jette Parker Young Artist because it’s such an amazing, prestigious programme. Aside from offering coaching whenever you want it, you also get the opportunity to understudy main roles. I've just finished covering the role of Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, and I've also had the immense pleasure of singing some supporting roles of my own on the main stage. It's an amazing introduction for a young singer - I once spoke to Janet Baker, and she told me that it's so different now because people leaving educational institutions are expected to be perfect. But you can only really learn through experience.’
Now in her second year of the programme, Rachel has already performed in Parsifal, Carmen, Manon and I due Foscari on the Covent Garden main stage, alongside some of the world's most renowned and respected opera singers.
‘One of my favourite roles out of those I’ve performed was Mercedes in Carmen. It was the most involved thing I’d done here up to that point, and I got to sing alongside Roberto Alagna, which was a dream come true.’
Looking to the future, Rachel has her eyes firmly set on a number of exciting and challenging roles: ‘I'd love to sing Angelina from Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Rosina from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia. But my dream role is Mélisande from Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande – the music is absolutely divine and completely entrancing. I'd love to follow in the footsteps of another Irish mezzo – Ann Murray. She is an incredible artist and I feel I am similar to her in that she has that unusual soprano timbre in the upper register of her voice. She's a real inspiration.’
For now though, Rachel is preparing for her upcoming roles in the Royal Opera House, which include Flora in La traviata and Zaida in Il Turco in Italia, as well as understudying Jenny in Mahagonny. More pressingly, she's involved in Michael Boyd’s new staging of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, in which she will play Pluto's queen, Proserpina:
'It's a really interesting production to be working on. Michael ran the Royal Shakespeare Company, and it’s a rare opportunity to collaborate with an esteemed director who comes from a non-operatic background. As well as the principal cast, and also a chorus comprised of Guildhall School of Music and Drama students, the production features young dancers aged between 12 and 17. Their enthusiasm is infectious and it's wonderful to see them creating these amazing tableaux.’
The character of Proserpina is complex, offering Rachel a chance to exhibit her acting abilities:
'She was stolen from Earth by Pluto and enslaved by him, made to become his wife, and forced to spend half the of the year in the Underworld - a catalyst for the onset of winter. For obvious reasons the marriage is less than blissful for both parties, a fact that becomes a bargaining chip for Proserpina later in the opera when she pleads on Orfeo's behalf by offering to submit fully to Pluto's will in exchange for the freedom of Eurydice - Orfeo's new wife who has recently died. Proserpina is moved to pity by Orfeo's unfaltering devotion to both his music and his wife.
'From a historical and artistic perspective, since Orfeo is the earliest surviving opera that is still regularly performed, it is exciting and enriching to see and hear opera's early formation and to be involved in recreating that magic for a contemporary audience'.
The production is a new collaboration between the Roundhouse and The Royal Opera.