songs from lockdown: Felicity tomkins

Felicity (in red) performs at NZ Opera School

Dame Malvina Major Foundation Studio Artist Felicity Tomkins spent lockdown at home alone in her flat in Hamilton, and she sure did keep herself busy! Felicity talks us through what she’s been up to at home, and what she’s been doing in regards to opera this year.

Tell us about where you were in lockdown. Where did you come from to be there? Who are were with?

I am living at my Hamilton flat, doing it solo.  As well as being involved in the Studio Artist programme with NZ Opera, I am completing my MMus this year at the University of Waikato.  My family is at home in Te Puke so I was unable to leave to go home before the lockdown. Thankfully, with all the ways of online communication, I get to stay right in touch with my family and friends. 

What are you doing with this time in one place?

Lots of things! – Singing, learning lots of new music and listening to repertoire, lessons, learning German, baking, spring cleaning, mowing the lawn. Getting used to new ways of learning online has been an exciting challenge, and being able to stay in touch with NZ Opera with weekly catch up meetings and coachings has been wonderful.  Nevertheless, I cannot wait to see and sing with everyone again in person in the near future. 

How did the song with Francis Cowan come about, and why did you pick this particular song?

I thought it would be fun to collaborate with Francis who is also based here in the Waikato, and is our University accompanist.  It is always great performing with Francis, and I just love this aria and the music from The Bartered Bride, so we thought that we should present something that was a little bit different that not everyone may have heard of before.  

What are some of your opera highlights from this year?

Straight after NZ Opera School in January, I travelled to Hawkes Bay and was very much a part of Festival Opera’s 2020 season of Cavalleria rusticana & I Pagliacci.  This was such a wonderful experience for me, and thank you so much to Dame Malvina Major and Anna Pierard, as well as José Aparicio for inviting me into your wonderful opera community in Napier.  Being able to cover a lead role of Nedda in I Pagliacci, to be there in the rehearsals, experiencing the reality of what it means to cover a role, and to learn and watch how the fantastic overseas principal cast members work was invaluable.  One personal highlight was singing with the orchestra, members and friends of Project Prima Volta for a ‘Guide to the Orchestra’ concert at Irongate School in Flaxmere.  Seeing the enthusiastic reactions from the pupils in such an interactive musical experience was very special.   

Is there something you do to stay focused and relaxed that may be useful for others at a time like this?

I love to dance, and in particular Zumba, which is such an invigorating way for me to exercise throughout the week, and helps to energise me and get me focused on my singing work throughout the day.  For me, contrast is key – I love being immersed during the day working on my singing, but allowing my brain to ‘relax’ and focus on something new is important, and in turn, I often learn or experience something new, which may actually feed into my singing.  For instance, in the evenings when I have my dinner, it’s great to unwind and watch something different – lately there have been so many fantastic streamings of live entertainment; the play ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ from the National Theatre was fabulous.  And it is not just opera or theatre I love to watch; at the moment, I look forward to a cheeky treat of a new TV episode of ‘Killing Eve’ every week. 

What’s been the highlight of being in the DMMF Studio Artist programme so far?

A definite highlight is the people we get to work with, and be immersed in their talent and enthusiasm for this wonderful art form.  I love working and learning from everyone, whether it be coaches, directors, or fellow singers.  Our year as the Studio Artists began at the NZ Opera School in Whanganui – performing in our concert together whilst we were there was very enjoyable, and I am looking forward to many more highlights with Anna and Harry over the course of the year. 

Is there a particular performance you saw, or an experience you remember that made you want to be an opera singer?

Having started watching the beautiful golden age musicals from a young age, this piqued my interest in the parallel musical world of opera.  I remember when one of my first singing teachers, Judy, took me to see a Met Opera movie screening of Rodelinda with Renée Fleming in the title role, after which I started to fall even further in love with the art form. 

For me, opera has everything packed into it, summed up nicely with the German term ‘gesamtkunstwerk’ (total work of art).  My experiences thus far in the world of opera, and being immersed in the communities that form a part of this wonderful performing art, have provided me with an ongoing source of inspiration.  The scientific part of my brain has always been fascinated at how we can produce such a thrilling sound, and combining this with all the artistic elements of opera, makes it all the more exciting and challenging.