In Conversation: Catherine Carby — Rehearsal Magazine

Australian mezzo-soprano Catherine Carby on Rossini, self-love and music preparation.

You’re currently performing with the English Touring Opera in Rossini: Fireworks! Can you tell me about your first experience with Rossini – how it came about and how your relationship with the composer has grown since your career began?

My very first experience with Rossini was singing Rosina in a touring production for OzOpera (the touring arm of Opera Australia) in 1998. On alternate nights I sang the chorus and played percussion onstage in the overture!

I think I’ve always been quite wary of Rossini. I’ve done a lot of bel canto (like Donizetti and Bellini) but felt that Rossini was a bit too specialist for me – too hard, too many runs, too light and high. Returning to it now after spending the first part of this year singing Monteverdi, it feels about right. I’d never say it’s easy and this particular concert program is a big sing for me (some long arias and a big chunk of Elisabetta for the finale), but it feels more “doable” than it used to.

How do you prepare your repertoire for a concert performance like this one? Does it differ from when you get ready to play a staged role?

I guess the trick with preparing a concert is how to “sell” a piece when you won’t have the luxury of costumes and sets and lighting. Also, the biggest hurdle for me is literally singing the pieces. In an opera, you might have four weeks of rehearsals in which to work out any technical problems and learn how to get around the “corners” of a piece. Hopefully, by opening night you’ve sung the tricky bits so often – under lots of different circumstances – that you can’t help but get it right. Concerts are not like that; chances are you might have a week (if you’re lucky) of music calls with the conductor and a pianist and then later with the orchestra. It’s a fast, short learning curve. The only way you can be really well prepared is to in fact be really well prepared!

For developing artists, how important is learning concert work alongside full roles? Do the skills you need for both translate easily to one another, or must you practice in the different styles of working?

Concert work still forms a very valuable (and lucrative!) backbone to my opera work. Learn all the “standards” (Messiah, Elijah, Verdi Requiem), as they will crop up again and again throughout your performing life. I’ve paid many a school bill or mortgage payment with Easter Bach Passion fees!

Stylistically, opera and oratorio aren’t necessarily a million miles apart. They both desire to tell a story and make the listener think and feel something. As all good music does.

Your studies began in Canberra at the School of Music, before you moved to the United Kingdom to pursue further training at the Royal College of Music. Can you tell me about that move and what it meant to you as a young singer?

Moving to the UK early on was a massive step for me. It enabled me to be seen in London regularly, and after I joined the roster of a big UK agency (IMG), I basically studied and worked solidly for 4 years, before I came back home to work for Opera Australia. It was great to be exposed to so much music at such a high level; we regularly got coaching from the best people in the industry even before we got to work for them, so there was a level of familiarity that I wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed in Sydney or Canberra. I remember the first concert I ever went to in London was Anne Sofie von Otter singing Alceste at the Barbican – it really doesn’t get better than that!

Pursuing a career overseas is currently a goal for many young singers, but of course, a major move comes with both opportunities and difficulties. Do you have any advice to developing performers who wish to pursue further study outside of Australia?

Develop self-love! Seriously, this doesn’t mean having a big ego and thinking that you are awesome, but genuinely being kind to yourself and realising that you are human. It’s a very tough industry and there are a lot of knockbacks along the way. Even now I’m asked to audition for things and I may or may not get them. You have to learn to be happy in your own skin despite constant rejection. I’ve become a lot more philosophical about rejection as I’ve gotten older and learned that it’s not necessarily about me as a person or as a performer. Not everyone will love what you do and that’s ok.

You have performed roles all over the world, in houses from the Royal Opera House to Teatro Sao Carlos in Lisbon, and back home with Opera Australia. How do you look after yourself when you’re on the road and away from home for long periods? Do you have a moveable routine or do things change depending on your work and where you are?

When I’m away from home I try to maintain some semblance of normality. I take posh candles, pictures in frames and usually at least one baking tray with me! I walk a lot no matter where I am, so being in a new place just gives me new places to walk. I also do yoga either on my own or in a class, so this is often a way of meeting some “locals”.

Staying calm and focussed before performances and during preparation periods is much discussed for all musicians. Do you have ways of managing stress or “busy-ness” when things get hectic?

Definitely yoga and the meditative side that that involves. I’m a much calmer, happier, nicer person when I’m regularly going to a class.

I also need to be well prepared. I don’t like “winging it”, so I avoid ever having to live too dangerously in terms of the music. Preparation means less stress and less stuff that can go wrong. (That being said, I have done jump-ins and lived to tell the tale. Last year I was rung at very late notice to jump in for an ill colleague for the CBSO. Could I learn Juno and Ino from Semele in 3 days? Well, I did. But it did take several years off my life!)

Finally, if you could go back to the start of your career and give yourself a piece of advice about the industry you were about to join, what would it be?

My best advice would be to just go for it! Ask that person for a coaching, thrust your business card into that person’s hand. You only have one life and one shot at a career, so do it!

Catherine performing the title role of Iphigénie en Tauride for English Touring Opera. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

Source: In Conversation: Catherine Carby — Rehearsal Magazine

Message from Sky Ingram, Soprano


Dear Friends,

I hope you’ve all had a lovely start to your autumn/spring (depending on hemisphere!) – I certainly have! Most especially the start of rehearsals for my debut with the Royal Opera House world premiere of Glare in the role of Lea. Very exciting!! Helping develop a new opera and new story line has been such a creative and different rehearsal experience. I hope that if you’re in London you might be able to come!

Am I am robot?… am I a woman?… am I ‘perfect’?… ’imperfect’?… who knows?! – Come and find out!

Please see the trailer attached and performance dates below…

There’s also lots of exciting stuff in the pipeline for 2015. In particular, (and what I’m currently allowed to reveal), is that I have accepted a La Bohème contract for my debut with English Touring Opera. We will be travelling all around the UK. I can’t wait to visit all the towns that I haven’t had the opportunity to go to yet. I am also excited to be performing in this opera with two fellow Adelaidians; Grant Doyle and Nicholas Lester.

2015 also marks my debut in the beautiful Royal Albert Hall with Raymond Gubbay in their Grand Organ Gala as their guest soloist.

Well, that’s just a little info for now.  As always, please let me know what you’ve been up to – I always love to hear!

Lots of love,



Upcoming performance dates:

Glare, Royal Opera House            

14, 15. 18, 18, 19, 21 November 2014 at 7.45pm
 & Saturday 22 November 2014 at 6.00pm

Lea, Glare, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.

Danish-German composer Søren Nils Eichberg presents a taut operatic thriller about trust and reality.


Haydn Nelson Mass

Friday 5 December 2014 at 7:30pm, Guest Soprano, Victoria Law Courts

Corporation Street, Birmingham, West Midlands, B4 6QA, United Kingdom


La Bohème, Musetta, English Touring Opera

Friday 13 March & Saturday 14 March 2015 at 7.30pm

Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, Hackney, E8 1EJ


Tuesday 17 March 2015 at 7.30pm

Hall for Cornwall, Back Quay, Truro, TR1 2LL


Friday 20 March 2015 at 7.30pm

Lighthouse, Kingland Road, Poole, BH15 1UG


Monday 23 March 2015 at 7.30pm

Norwich Theatre Royal, Theatre Street, Norwich, NR2 1RL


Tuesday 24 March 2015 at 7.30pm

Norwich Theatre Royal, Theatre Street, Norwich, NR2 1RL


Monday 30 March 2015 at 7.45pm

Lyceum Theatre, 55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 1DA


Friday 10 April 2015 at 7.30pm

Everyman Theatre, Regent Street, Cheltenham, GL50 1HQ


Saturday 11 April 2015 at 7.30pm

Everyman Theatre, Regent Street, Cheltenham, GL50 1HQ


Monday 13 April 2015 at 7.30pm

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Lichfield Street,
Wolverhampton, WV1 1DE


Friday 17 April 2015 at 7.30pm

Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Aldeburgh Music, Snape
Suffolk, IP17 1SP


Monday 20 April 2015 at 7.30pm

Curve, Rutland Street, Leicester, LE1 1SB


Friday 24 April 2015 at 7.30pm

Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL


Saturday 25 April 2015 at 7.30pm

Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL


Tuesday 28 April 2015 at 7.30pm

Exeter Northcott Theatre, Exeter Northcott, Stocker Road
Exeter, EX4 4QB


Thursday 30 April 2015 at 7.30pm

Exeter Northcott Theatre, Exeter Northcott, Stocker Road
Exeter, EX4 4QB


Wednesday 6 May 2015 at 7.30pm

The Hawth, Crawley, Hawth Avenue, Crawley, RH10 6YZ


Friday 8 May 2015 at 7.30pm

The Marlowe Theatre, The Friars, Canterbury, CT1 2AS


Monday 11 May 2015 at 7.30pm

Grand Theatre Blackpool, 33 Church Street, Blackpool, FY1 1HT


Thursday 14 May 2015 at 7.30pm

Buxton Opera House, Water Street, SK17 6XN


Saturday 16 May 2015 at 7.30pm

Buxton Opera House, Water Street, SK17 6XN


Monday 18 May 2015 at 7.30pm

Gala Theatre, Durham, 1 Millennium Place, Town Centre
Durham, DH1 1WA


Thursday 21 May 2015 at 7.30pm
Musetta, La Bohème
English Touring Opera

Perth Festival, Perth Concert Hall, Mill Street, Perth, PH1 5HZ


** 3 more possible dates in May yet to be confirmed…  J


Grand Organ Gala, Raymond Gubbay

Sunday 4 October 2015 at 3pm, Guest Soprano, Raymond Gubbay

Royal Albert Hall, London


Kind regards,

Sky Ingram


Nicholas Lester, Baritone – Tait Memorial Trust Award Winner 2009

Below is a report we received from Nicholas Lester, Baritone. Awarded a Tait Trust scholarship in 2009 he  has gone on to build a remarkable career here in the UK  and now broadening his work to the continent and his native Australia.

“Mark well the dark eyes watching in the crowd! Love waits for you!”

Escamillo the Toreador sings in Rory Bremner’s translation of Carmen!

We’ve just completed our London rehearsals and are moving to Wales to start our tech week before opening a 23 venue, 27 show tour of Wales and some of England too.

Nicholas Lester, Baritone
Nicholas Lester, Baritone

Escamillo is my 5th of 6 roles for the year, of which 5 are brand new and I start rehearsing the last new role just before the year is out where I will make my debut with Danish National Opera.  Two have been in English, the remainder all Italian. It’s fantastic to have such a busy schedule, but it requires quite a lot of forethought and planning.  This means: carefully planned learning and memorising time, language coaching, singing lessons, repertoire coaching and study, all this delicately coordinated around the family schedule (We are a family of four with a boy about to start school and a girl soon to turn one). This usually involves cups of tea accompanied by chocolate (Haighs is currently on supply after a trip home to South Australia) and the scribbling-in of diaries and/or the updating of computerised calendar entries too. What would we have done without technology?

Nicholas Lester singing Schaunard, La boheme

Growing up in a country town of about 1500 people I enjoyed getting stuck into whatever activity was available. I played pretty much any of the sports available in the community, took part in the Scout group and stuck with it through to obtain my Queen’s Scout Award, and got interested, at about the age of 10, in performing. One of my first performing memories was as Friedrich in The Sound of Music – probably quite odd to have a very tall 10 year old singing higher than a lot of the women in the chorus. From this, the high school music teacher offered to give me some singing lessons. During my school years my performing was just for fun – I had never really planned to take it any further than that. It wasn’t until I met my wife (I auditioned for her…well she was on the panel when I auditioned for a company she was a part of!) that I got properly fired-up and interested in performing. I started not only to be interested in G&S, musical theatre and acting in plays but more and more in classical songs and opera more specifically.

I attended the University of Adelaide, starting with a broader Arts Degree and commencing s Diploma of Languages alongside it with Bahasa Indonesian as my language. After a while on the vocal degree I decided instead to defer the degrees and instead to work to pay my bills, audition and get as much practical singing experience as I could. I started to bother/court/coerce a Welsh baritone who had emigrated to Australia to teach me, eventually he relented!

I moved to London with my wife and for the first few years she did the auditioning thing, while I worked for The Salvation Army. I worked with a great teacher Raymond Connell and started to get some coaching. I also worked for a period with Russell Smythe, which really fired my understanding of what roles I wanted to learn and perform. By 2005 I had started to audition and worked with companies like British Youth Opera, got into the Glyndebourne chorus, started covering roles and doing small ones. Basically instead of learning my rep in a college or institution I have done an extended apprenticeship. It has been great for me, even though at times it may have felt a little bit of a slow progression career-wise.

Nicholas Lester with Anne Sophie-Duprels. The Jacobin, Buxton Festival 2014
Nicholas Lester with Anne Sophie-Duprels. The Jacobin, Buxton

“Tall and distinguished looking, Nicholas Lester made a finely attractive Bohus (he impressed earlier this year as Rossini’s Figaro at Opera Holland Park). His opening solo was the character’s big moment, and Lester showed a feeling both for Dvorak’s dramatic line and for the feeling of nostalgic melancholy in Bohus’s love of his homeland.” Dvorak’s The Jacobin in Buxton, Planet Hugill, Robert Hugill

After three attempts I was offered a place at the National Opera Studio, which I attended 2008-9. I was also very lucky to have fantastic financial support during my NOS time from generous people such as Serena Fenwick, Christopher Ball, plus a scholarship from Glyndebourne Festival Opera, and after the course by organisations including the Simon Fletcher Charitable Trust, Tait Memorial Trust, and Independent Opera who awarded me the NOS Opera Postgraduate Voice Fellowship. This practical financial support meant that I could concentrate on the singing and training, not about how I was going to pay my bills!

Figaro, Opera Holland park 2014

The National Opera Studio gave me an intense environment where I could try out several roles, learn music quickly, and could develop and test my stamina. As a result of the time I’ve been able to take, or that my career development has taken, I have been able to adapt the repertoire that best suits me. Waiting and adjusting as my voice makes it clearer what repertoire I can or should be singing. I have felt more and more confident singing larger and more demanding roles many of which I’ve been lucky to sing. I have really solidified my technique and trust that my voice will do what it’s told the majority of the time!

I also had several companies take a risk on me and by doing so provide a great training ground for me. I’ve been given the chance to perform smaller roles whilst covering larger ones. English Touring Opera, Opera Holland Park and Scottish Opera have all been instrumental in this. The last few years in particular have enabled me to sing some of the best operatic roles for my voice such as Onegin, The Count, Figaro (Barbiere), Marcello and Malatesta from Don Pasquale. The extra privilege of being able to sing any of these roles for a second or even third time is fantastic!

The Count-The Marriage of Figaro, English Touring Opera
The Count-The Marriage of Figaro, English Touring Opera

I was really chuffed to be invited back to Adelaide to make my principal role debut with the State Opera of South Australia, and the following year to return and create the role of Edward Lear in a newly composed opera based on his life ‘Ode to nonsense’ – created by an entirely South Australian team I believe. I really look forward to returning to Australia in the future, if nothing else it’s a great way to be able to spend time with family who still live there.

The singing community in Adelaide is relatively small, but it is interesting that in London the community can also feel small. Despite the apparent size of the community there is plenty of competition for an ever-shrinking amount of work both here in Europe and in Australia.

After 11 Years in the UK I am starting to feel a part of the industry here. I remember that at some of the first auditions I ever attended in the UK being a little thrown by how lots of the singers seemed to know each other, greeting the panel and colleagues like good friends, names being mentioned “…when I was working with…..” OR “oh…..she/he is lovely/a great colleague” OR “you must know…”. Now I have to be careful to avoid repeating particular circle/practice myself-I’m certainly not perfect.

I’m led to believe that I still just sneak into the category of a younger baritone. It’s hard to believe this as I do more and more jobs where I am no longer one of the youngest artists!

I’m looking forward to what the future holds, but also trying to make the most of what I am doing now. It would very easy for me to think forward and imagine how future work is going to be great fun, without enjoying the present.

There is a very exciting bit of work news that I am very keen to share with my friends, but am still obliged to keep under wraps. Stay tuned for more info.


Schaunard-La bohème (Nationale Reisopera-Netherlands 2011)


Nicholas’ website