Interview: Yvonne Howard

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Yvonne Howard − Mezzo-Soprano

Hailed by the press as ‘one of the finest singing actresses this country has produced’, Stafford born Yvonne Howard has had a career taking her all over the world in repertoire as diverse as Wagner’s Ring, Handel’s MessiahThe Dream of Gerontius, USA, Handel’s Xerxes (Brazil) and Theodora in Strasbourg, and filming the internationally award winning film of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer for which she was nominated for a best actress award.

We’ve spoken to Yvonne Howard to find out why she got into opera and what it is about opera that’s kept her hooked!

“I was not an academic child or teen and was also a very self conscious person.  The only things I was good at at school, were netball, athletics and singing. The world of exams was terrifying to me. Over the years of being involved in music and opera, I have discovered that I am not ‘thick’ but just had never had the correct encouragement or stimulation to learn HOW to learn. I lacked the confidence to ask questions and without asking, there can be little learning improvement. I now have self discipline and ‘emotional ‘ intelligence which have both been allowed to develop through the world of opera and music, and I now question everything as I have the confidence and desire to want to know more.

Why do we need opera in our lives? 

Life is so immediate, fast and time restricted these days that we rarely allow ourselves the time to actually  and truly feel anything at a deep emotional level.  So much is superficially tearful and angry; shouting at people from the car, rude pedestrian behaviour, unrealistic peer and media pressure to behave in a  a certain way, or cry at instant ‘celebrity’ tv programs,  that to take the time to sit back and let the music, story, visual scene, acting and voices sink in, stir emotion and thought processes is vital.  I often find, that having been to a live performance, or given one, that the journey home afterwards is filled with not just the memory of it, but of the feelings it has brought out from within me; has allowed me to admit to or awoken from being hidden by life’s day to day rushing about.   It’s healthy in so many ways.  To laugh or cry freely, must be one of the best and cheapest anti depressants available.  Live opera gives that in spades.

Where did your passion for opera begin?

“I saw my first opera at 17, La Boheme, and although I can’t say it stirred a passion for opera, it did open my eyes to so much. Drama, the different effects it has on so many people, beauty and a sound world I had never experienced before.  The passion began later on when I began to see more of it  and take part in it as a student and could compare so many musical eras , production styles etc.  The sheer wash of sound, depicted so clearly on the stage would leave me almost over stimulated as I tried to process the many aspects of it. Visual, aural, dramatic, emotional…”

What has been your favourite role you’ve performed so far…?

“It’s so difficult to say which is my favourite role, as so many have been deeply rewarding and fulfilling.  I think, so far though, Beethoven’s Leonore/Fidelio.  She is so very rounded, grounded, human and brave, but mostly, true to herself and her love for Florestan. I believe that she really could exist.”

Why do you think it is important for young people to engage and experience opera?

Having seen children as young as 4 during and after performances of all types of opera, from Child specific to full on productions, I do think that we underestimate their ability to process the world of dramatic music. They understand who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’ , who to sympathise with or laugh with and the live music experience excites them in a way that no i pod ever can.  A child I know well, and was  quite a withdrawn, shy girl, saw her first live opera at 4; (The Magic Flute) She does’t come from a musical family at all and so came in cold.  She told me afterwards that ‘her tummy kept jumping and her face kept smiling and feeling sad and a bit scared sometimes’.  Something really stirred within her imagination and her reading suddenly improved beyond measure as she began dramatising the stories, something to her own tunes and sometimes only within her own head, but it shows what a wonderful stimulus it was to her. She has since continues to see opera, music theatre and now plays and wants to act herself. If young people actually perform opera, they will discover a multitude of positive benefits, from improved confidence, better focus and concentration in their everyday lives and academically, and also health wise, as singing is a proven health giving activity. It helps breathing, posture, mental well being…what’s not to celebrate!

Could you tell us about your experience working with our Artistic Director, Genevieve Raghu?

“Genevieve and I worked together at Opera Holland ParkHaving such a calm, warm presence in a rehearsal room, is very empowering for a performer. To feel inhibited from making mistakes, or trying out things that may not work, is completely destructive as an artist, and Genevieve encourages you to let your hair down and just try!   Her style of quiet and positive encouragement, whether in note giving and direction, or in her body language and facial expression during the running of a scene is invaluable.  For her to have the initiative and gumption to set up a company such as this is admirable and I’m sure will be a very positive life enhancing experience for anyone fortunate to be involved in or touched by it.”


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