Q&A with Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill

Against the Grain Theatre Opera Pub at Amsterdam Bicycle Club. Photo: Darryl Block

home-4Karen Cargill is a Scottish operatic mezzo-soprano who has performed with the Metropolitan Opera and at the Edinburgh International Festival among other organizations.

We’re fortunate to have Karen on our faculty for Summer Modern Intensive 2019!

Karen sings some of the larger rep in the world of opera (Wagner, Wagner, Wagner).  We had some baby-Wagner singers last summer at our Intensive and so we wanted to have some teachers with us who could inspire them.  Karen is one of those teachers (Heidi is the other).  We asked Karen about some questions about singing big rep and small rep and why she likes working with singers.

Q:  When you were well on the opera train, how did you know when you were ready to move from safer rep to some of the heavier stuff.  How did you get into Wagner and know that it was both safe and what fit.

A:  I’ve had an interesting journey with singing once I graduated from the National Opera Studio in London. I started singing the usual beginner roles Third lady in Magic Flute, Suzuki in Butterfly, Sesto, when the music director at Scottish Opera offered me the chance to sing Rosina in Barbiere di Siviglia. I was convinced I couldn’t do it and it ended up being the most amazing time of exploration. At the same time I was offered the cover of Waltraute in Götterdämmerung for the BBC proms which I then ended up performing. That meant doing both roles at the same time which was a gift, the Rossini became very lyrical and the Wagner stayed fresh and not over-sung. That’s the thing about Wagner: if you study the score carefully, the vocal parts are so well written that the accompaniment should never push the voice too much. We need to be brave enough as singers to never push.

I spent a long time with Waltraute and the Wesendonck lieder making sure that I got to grips with Wagner’s musical language before moving on to other roles and I took my time with each role I’ve tackled since; the Norns, Brangäne, parts of Kundry, Fricka for the first time only recently, Erda for the first time this season. Make sure you have trusted ears with you when you start and ALWAYS begin with the text!!

Q:  What is it about a singer working with a singer that works so well?

A:  There’s nothing better than working with someone who knows the inner workings of your job, whatever field you might be in, whether you are a plumber or a teacher or a musician. To be able to share thoughts and ideas with someone who fully understands the trials and tribulations that we go through as a performer is an invaluable lesson. One of the things I love about working with other singers is the sharing of ideas, the fresh perspective that we can all gain whether you’ve been working for 5 months or 15 years. Being able to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained about the business is something I take very seriously.

Q:  What would you say to your younger self now?

A:  I had an epiphany about 12 years ago watching a well known singer give a recital. They didn’t ‘try’ to be anyone, anything, they were just present. Along with that came a stage presence that many singing teachers would criticize, blowing their nose, having the words in the piano, not always facing the audience, the thing was that it was completely real. I changed my perspective right there and promised to no longer ‘try’ to give a performance but just be me. In short my advice would be to be authentic, shut out the noise of chasing perfection, it doesn’t exist and that’s actually the place where great art lies. Whoa…. that is PROFOUND!!!

Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and was the winner of the 2002 Kathleen Ferrier Award.  On the opera stage she will appear as Waltraute in Götterdammerung at the Royal Opera Covent Garden and has three return invitations to the Metropolitan Opera, with roles including Erda and Mère Marie.

You can still apply for AtG and U of T Opera’s Summer Modern Intensive.

Click HERE to apply. The application is free. There is no audition for this program.

Program Dates: Thursday, August 8, 2019 — Friday, August 22, 2019
Deadline to Apply: Friday, January 25, 2019