Singers Succeeding in Europe

The musical bridges bonding and separating continents at the same moments are usually born in the wombs of international festivals. One of the toughest classical music celebrations of today – Salzburger Festspiele, takes place the middle of July. This festival is known worldwide due to the quality of performances and the artistic program, featuring opera, drama, and concerts. This year Salzburger Festspiele gave 199 performances over six weeks. The festival attracts international audiences and vocalists. 

Tore Tom Denys of Belgium stated, “Salzburger Festspiele was a musical paradise…the main role was sung by Placido Domingo.

He spent all five weeks with us and we saw him in rehearsals every day.” Tomaš Kral of the Czech Republic added, “It is my third time here…extremely well-organized.”

Two North American vocalists Josh Lovell and Joel Allison sat down for a more extensive interview and shared their heritage in classical music and keys to vocal success with musicologist Ona Jarmalavičiūtė.

How did your upbringing form you?

Joel Allison: In Ottawa, they have wonderful teachers and a history of teaching music. At seven I began piano lessons and at ten I joined the men’s choir in the cathedral and gained a traditional British choral training. My teachers have done the whole British Royal College training. My violin teachers were in the national art center orchestra and had started their orchestras in Canada. 

Ottawa has is a summer chamber music festival and it really shaped my knowledge of music, because I would go in the summer to spend the entire days at the festival. The city also has a rich choir culture with more than 100 choirs.

Josh Lovell: There are many rich and different musical cultures in Canada. Throughout my studies in Toronto I had many opportunities to perform and to grow through these experiences. For my masters I moved to University of Michigan. The music scene there is totally different and I’ve learned so much there. Now I am finishing my young singers program in Chicago – I love working in an opera company together with other professionals. I’m in Salzburg and will soon work in Vienna’s opera house (Wiener Staatsoper).

Do you see any differences between Austrian and American musical cultures?

Josh Allison: Classical music in Austria is a part of everyday life; everyone appreciates arts and artists. People recognizes us because of Salzburger Festspiele – that would never happen in Canada. And government here values music culture more, giving better funding for it. In Canada, music is just one of many cultural branches and sports are in the biggest of value. The funding from government also goes to sports – that’s the biggest differences.

Josh Lovell: Opera in North America is very different to opera in Europe. There are many more opera houses across Europe because each house receives major funding from the government, and this is not the same in North America. There is funding from the government in both the USA and Canada but it isn’t near the same amount. I think this is the case because Europeans are committed to funding all of the arts.

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You work because of your voice. How do you nourish it?

Joel Allison: Dehydration is a big thing for me. In addition, when I change environment I get allergies so I always try to take care of my health. I try to eat natural, healthy foods. When traveling with concerts I try to find natural honey and it helps me to adjust. I do my best when I am healthy, hydrated and get eight hours of sleep. It’s not always possible, but it is important to me.

Josh Lovell: If I eat healthy then my body is healthy and thus my voice is healthy. So I drink lots of liquids and try to exercise regularly. Importantly, I find moments to stay silent and to save my voice. When practicing I am always warming up and warming down. But besides that – no special rituals. I have allergies and so I must use a neti pot in order to keep my sinuses clean from pollen.

Do you get to choose your repertoire?

Joel Allison: Not really, at this point of life. Usually festivals offer the repertoire and then you decide if you can actually sing it or not. Usually you can, because if they are hiring you, they know the capacities of your voice and they choose the pieces for you carefully. Either you sing what is comfortable for your voice, or the repertoire is slightly pushing you out of the comfort zone. 

Josh Lovell: It depends, some singers are very lucky in that they get to choose the repertoire they sing while others are selected for certain repertoire. When auditioning I can sing the pieces that I choose to present myself, but when an organization is hires me, they usually have certain roles they need to fill. Then they put me in the best places for me and my voice, and also for their repertoire plan. 

Do you ever think about what’s your impact on the listener?

Joel Allison: As a performer, I try to be as honest as I can. The music has an impact itself – I just have to be very clear while interpreting it. Also, I really value the creation of the atmosphere and a story on stage, because that’s what touches people the most.

Josh Lovell: In opera there are so many things that touch and move the listeners; whether it is music, production or drama. When performing I focus on the text to try to convey the emotions of the character with the audience for the greatest impact.

What are your values in singing?

Josh Lovell: I try to understand music as it is written on the page, but also understand its historical and cultural context. In opera we have one moment on stage when we have to say and express it all and live the music through your emotions. When you make music personal, others relate to it. The audiences are looking for connection. So these are the values that I try to bring to my performance. 

Thank you for the conversation!

Ona Jarmalaviciute

A Lithuanian musicologist and author, writing for music magazines such as Classical Music Daily, Opera Wire, and Mica-Music Austria, Ona has interviewed contemporary musicians, including Polina Osetinskaya, Klaus Ager, Alastair MIles, etc. She is currently a bachelor student at the Lithuanian Music and Theater Academy. A scholarship from Rotary International has enabled her to participate in student exchange programs at University Mozarteum Salzburg and the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna. Ona Jarmalavičiūtė is interested in the topics of pre-composition and compositional process, as well as the creative work of contemporary composers.