Ahoy There! 3

Amy J Payne, opera singer. Mrs. Noye.

Q.Hello Amy, really good to meet you, can you explain to me what your role is in the opera?

Hello - lovely to meet you too. I play a character called called Mrs Noye, who is Noye's wife and mother of his children.

Q.Wow, that's quite a big character....what kind of a person is your Mrs. Noye?

She is a proud person, who at first doesn't have faith that her husband, Noye, has heard about a flood. She doesn't want to leave her friends and laughs at Noye building an ark. She does eventually see the error of her ways however, so I don't see her as a bad person. She simply reacts as many other people would do.

Q.So, have you been an opera singer for a long time?

I have been an opera-singer for five years, since I started training specifically in opera at music college. Before that however I had been singing lots of other things for many years.

Q.What are your earliest memories of singing as a child?

I remember making up little songs and singing them to myself in the garden. I was always singing something!

Q.To be an opera singer I imagine you have to love performing...have you always enjoyed performing?

I do love performing, but that doesn't mean I don't get nervous about it too. I enjoy it more and more as I grow older and more confident, I think, but it has always been a thrill. Every time you stand up in front of an audience, it is a new challenge.

Q.Do you see yourself as an actress?

Yes I do - although I have never had any formal acting training. For me, the character comes first. It is my job to make the words and the music come alive and to bring the truth of the opera to the audience.

Q.Do you like to be a goodie or a baddie?

Both! Baddies are always great fun, but most of all I enjoy characters who go on a journey and change in some way through the opera - for better or worse!

Q. Where do you learn to become an opera singer?

There is no one place to learn, but a lot of people, like me, go to music college and do a full-time course.

Q.Do you have one teacher or are there several different aspects to opera?

I have one teacher who I go to for advice on what we call 'vocal technique'. She helps me keep my voice working in the most healthy and efficient way. Singing opera is very hard on the vocal chords and you have to be vigilant to keep yourself on the right track. It is very easy to fall into bad habits, which eventually could be harmful to your voice. Besides my teacher, I also see a variety of 'vocal coaches' who help me to make choices about interpreting the roles and arias I am singing.

Q.Do you remember the very first time you sang opera on stage....the feeling with the audience in front of you?

I do. My first opera was in France when I was 17. I had a small role, but more than anything I remember really loving being part of a company - a group of people all in the same place to achieve the same goal. Opera is all about team-work!

Q.When was the moment that you moved from enjoying singing to knowing that for sure you wanted to enter the world of opera?

I knew from about the age of 15, when I started having singing lessons at school, that a career in singing was a possibility for me and I secretly made it my dream. However, it wasn't until 2008 and I was cast in an opera by Tchaikovsky, called Eugene Onegin, that I really got the opera bug. 

Q.How long have you studied for?

I studied at music college for five years, but before that I had been having singing lessons for nine years and I still have lessons now - you never stop learning!

Q.How does your voice develop with time?

Every year, I find new possibilities in my voice. I can now sing higher and lower than I ever could before and my stamina is always improving. Your voice is just like a muscle, the more you exercise it in the right way, the stronger it gets. My voice probably won't reach its full potential for another five to ten years.

Q.What do you do to take care of your voice and yourself? do you do sporty exercises?

Mostly just the things everyone should do to stay healthy - ie. eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep etc. I go for regular sessions with an osteopath to keep my body aligned, which is very important to help me access the right muscles to sing with. As for exercise, I have recently discovered running and try to pound pavements at least twice a week, to help with my cardio-fitness and to make sure I fit into my concert dresses! Opera singers have to do all sorts of things on stage and you don't want to be out of breath!

Q. How on earth do you remember all those words and actions?

I practise them until I can't get them wrong!

Q. How do you stay together with the orchestra?

That is the job of the conductor - in this case, Charles. Quite often, when you are on a stage, you are far away from the orchestra and they are often tucked away underneath you in a pit. This means that you can't hear them very well and they can't see or hear you. We all watch the conductor to keep together. He or she will beat time to show us how fast or slow to sing or play and he/she also show us when to start and to stop singing or playing.

Q. Have you been Mrs. Noye before?

I have. Once before, a couple of years ago, at another music festival in a town called Faversham in Kent.

Q. Have you sung with Jimmy, our Mr. Noye, before?

No, I haven't. I'm looking forward to meeting him!

Q.How long does it take you to learn a part like Mrs. Noye?

Do you have a method for this...where do you start?

Mrs. Noye is quite a small part, as opera-roles go, and as I've done it before, it won't take me as long to prepare it this time. However, I always start with the score - the printed music. I will play it through to myself and use one or two recordings to have an idea of which choices other performers and conductors have made in the past. Then, when I feel familiar with words, the notes and the atmosphere of a piece as a whole, I will take it to a coach who will help me make choices of my own, and finally I will work on it with my voice teacher, who will help find ways to manage particularly difficult passages. With each new role, I learn something new!

Q. Is there a particular style of opera that you enjoy most?

I love all of it, but particularly enjoy singing 20th (or 21st) century music. In all honesty, it doesn't get much better for me than singing Britten's operas.

Q.What has been your most inspirational operatic moment so far in your life?

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to sing at St Endellion Festival in North Cornwall. We gave four performances of Die Walkuere (a Wagner opera). Unfortunately one of the singers fell ill and Sir John Tomlinson volunteered his services to replace him. His performance as Wotan that evening (completely unrehearsed) was so powerful and moving, that I burst into tears as I left the stage after my scene with him. It was incredibly inspiring. His energy and commitment to the performance was overwhelming.

Q.What is the power of opera for you? Why do you think it's a good art form for us to experience? 

At it's best, opera can bring together top-class theatre, music and visual art into one all-encompassing experience.

Q. If you could meet one composer of one opera, who would it be?

Benjamin Britten.

Q. What other operas are you performing in this year?

I have already been in The Magic Flute by Mozart; King Priam by Michael Tippett; Patience by Gilbert & Sullivan, as well as another Benjamin Britten opera: Paul Bunyan. Later in the year, I will perform The Barber of Seville by Rossini and a one-woman opera written by my friend, Anne Chmelewsky.

Q. Are you always away from home? what is that like?

I am away a lot. I enjoy the travelling and seeing parts of the country/world I wouldn't see otherwise!

Q.Can you share one of your dreams as an opera singer?

To sing on the main stage at the Royal Opera House.

Thank you so much Amy, we are all so excited to see you perform on 19th, good luck, I hope you have a wonderful time!