by Margaret Chrystall
BORN in Newfoundland and moving to London for a career in opera, Sarah Champion has also travelled a fair way to find her true voice.
Currently on tour as Dorabella in Scottish Opera’s small-scale production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Sarah Canadian upbringing means there’s no chance she’ll be caught out by some changeable Scottish weather.
"I’m standing on a street corner in Kirkwall in an Icelandic jumper — the sun was out 30 seconds ago, but now it’s drizzling," the singer laughed.
But Sarah confessed she is enjoying every moment of the tour which gives her the chance to "go to all these tiny wonderful little places".
The tour brings Sarah to Wick and Inverness before it continues on to Ullapool and Plockton, in a total of 19 dates.
"It’s quite intimate, it’s a different experience on such a small stage and quite fun. And the physical scale of what we are doing is probably not so different from Mozart’s time when everything was much more intimate," said Sarah.
She comes froma musical family and first studied orchestral trumpet at McGill University in Montreal with voice, before deciding that singing was most important.
Sarah said: "Possibly the earliest musical memories is my father sitting me down in the middle of the living-room – I must have been about three or four – between the two speakers so I got the stereo effect and he put on Jimi Hendrix.
"I’ve a very musical family , my dad plays electric bass, my mum sings and all my siblings play instruments and sing — my little brother is a progressive metal guitarist. So there’s a little bit of everything!
"There was always music when I was growing up. It was usually a battle between my dad’s 70s hard rock and my mum’s Handel and Bach. We had this sort of rule in the family that whoever got to the CD player first in the morning could put on whatever music they wanted and once it was no-one else could take it off!"
But there was no equivalent Scottish Opera style tours of New Brunswick where the Champions moved when Sarah was eight.
"The first time I saw opera was on TV on the PBS channel, La Boheme from Sydney Opera House with my mother when I was 12 or 13. Before that I always wanted to be on Broadway, that was my goal. I grew up listening to lots of musicals and listened to a lot of classical music, but I didn’t really know or understand opera till I was much older but I was always drawn to the stage."
After graduating from McGill, Sarah was toying with taking a law degree or spending a year on her voice.
"It became many years!" laughed Sarah.
"And I moved over to London and went to the Royal College Of Music and … the rest is history! "I’ve been living in London for eight years now."
And it was in London that soprano Sarah discovered new depths to her voice, which means that — between soprano and mezzo soprano — she sings "zwischenfach" roles.
"Zwischenfach means ‘between voices’," Sarah explained.
"Growing up I always sang soprano, but I started to have an inkling that I was a mezzo soprano when I was at college.
"A new teacher and somebody at English National Opera where I trained, suggested I try the high mezzo soprano repertoire.
"I remember going home and sight reading through some of the music – and it felt like a miracle. Singing felt easy for the first time in my life.
"And I started winning auditions, though it means I end up playing boys a lot of the time but that’s all right the ‘trouser roles’.
"There are some things like Strauss operas roles that were written for a woman but meant to be sung by a boy, like the composer in Strauss’s Ariadne Auf Naxos. And then there are things in Handel which were written for castratos but are now taken over by women because we don’t do that to our boys any more!
"I’ve spoken to many singers — we talk shop on the tour bus when you’ve got loads of time — and it’s amazing how many go through this process. The voice keeps changing and maturing and it takes a while working out the perfect repertoire for you.
"Sometimes you just have to try out lots of things until you find the exact things that fit your voice.
"I have no regrets about all my years spent as a soprano because I don’t have a fear of heights. I’m quite happy to sing quite high– I’ve already been up to the top!"
But there’s no question of a trouser role for Sarah when it comes to Scottish Opera’s costumes designed by Robbie Sinnott for Così fan tutte.
Sarah laughed: "I have to say, I won the costume lottery — I have the best costume of everyone, an amazing 50s evening dress made for me but the fabric was also specially-designed. It has a huge underskirt which it took some time to just get used to moving around in — it’s so big!
"Apparently it’s one of the last things to be put in the lorry with all the scenery because it takes up so much space and they don’t want to get it crushed.
"I’ll be really sorry to say goodbye to it!"
Scottish Opera tour to: Eden Court on Saturday, October 17; Saturday, October 31 in Ceilidh Place Ullapool; Thursday, November 5 at Plockton High School.