Introducing Hanna-Liisa: Life of an opera singer

May 23, 2017

Starting a new opera contract is like the first day back at school; you turn up with your books in your bag, pencils at the ready, and prepared to face the new challenge ahead. One of the joys of returning to work at a company for the second time is that there are often others who have done the same, and this year it is wonderful to be reunited with so many familiar faces. It may sound cliched, but being part of an opera company is like being part of a family – albeit on a shorter term! For a certain amount of time – in the case of GPO about 12 weeks – you spend up to six days a week with a group of people, working together and creating something quite remarkable. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this process each time I have a contract, and I feel particularly excited to be a part of the GPO family this year.

I am very lucky to have been cast in the role of the Mayor’s Wife in Janacek’s Jenufa, alongside one of the most wonderful casts I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of. Our Jenufa family features a team of the most brilliant artists, coming together for, what I believe to be, one of the most spectacular pieces of works there is. Not only this, but it will be performed in Grange Park Opera’s brand new Theatre in the Woods in its very first year. It doesn’t get much better than that!

The preparation for any new role can vary, depending on size and repertoire of course, but it almost always follows a similar process. No matter the size of the role, you spend time preparing the language – in this case, we sing in Czech so specialised language coaching is necessary, preparing the score with a coach, and working the role into your voice with your teacher and then by yourself. You research the story of the piece, the characters, the background. You work very hard on it, perfecting it as much as you can, and then arrive at rehearsals feeling that you have forgotten everything – which of course you haven’t but those first-day nerves can be tricky little things. You enter the rehearsal room, and you start to watch a world being created. The coming weeks bring huge ups and downs for everyone, and it’s at this point when the importance of the “family” comes into play. In this instance, Jenufa is a story of love, strength and weakness, but it also comes with huge tragedy and heightened emotion. For those playing a part in it, particularly those who take the more central roles, I think it absolutely necessary to have a strong team around you, to help keep spirits up when things are at their most intense.

Hanna-Liisa at the London rehearsals in Jenufa. Photos/video Nisha Haq

The Mayor’s Wife is by no means a large role and, whilst she certainly makes an impression – albeit not a very nice one – she is a very small piece of a very large, complex puzzle. In truth, it’s an absolute joy. I get to come to work each day, feeling very proud and honoured to be part of such a great cast. I get to sing a fantastic part which fits my voice wonderfully. I am able to play a character who I can get my teeth into, even though she may only appear for a short time. And I get to do all of this whilst observing and learning from, some of the finest artists in this industry.

What this journey will bring, I can only imagine. How it will feel to transfer to the brand new – as yet, unfinished – theatre, and to be one of the first performers to tread the boards, I can only look forward to – and I really do! I also look forward to being able to share the process with you, and hope you enjoy the ride as much as I am sure I will!