Lancashire-born soprano Soraya Mafi - who will sing at Eden Court on Wednesday, January 10 with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra - studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and Royal College of Music and since then has sung the title role in Arianna In Creta for the London Handel Festival and created the role of Cheryl in Iain Burnside’s new music theatre piece Journeying Boys. Some of Soraya's concert highlights have included Les Illuminations and Messiah at the Royal Festival Hall and Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
Q As well as appearing with the RSNO, Soraya, I notice you are doing a tour of Viennese concerts with the Bournemouth Symphony. What are the challenges – and pleasures – of singing this music? And what will you be singing on the night here at Eden Court next week?
SORAYA: I love the music of Johann Strauss II, I love Vienna and I love singing high notes, so naturally a tour of Viennese Music is an enjoyable start to the year for me! My first orchestral tour of Viennese Music was with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra last year. There are some staples in this repertoire – Strauss’ The Voices of Spring and Adele’s Laughing Song from his operetta Die Fledermaus which I performed last year and am very much looking forward to revisiting this year. However, I have a few new arias up my sleeve for this tour. One particularly demanding but wonderfully virtuosic and haunting piece is The Bell Song from Délibes’ Lakmé. The aria includes a notoriously difficult passage which requires the singer (a coloratura soprano) to imitate the sound of a chiming bell. This aria was made famous by the magnificent Dame Joan Sutherland.. .but made infamous by the hugely passionate (if not quite as talented) Florence Foster Jenkins. Hopefully my rendition will be more similar to the former than the latter!
Q I couldn’t help noticing that you have studied at the Royal College of Music with Janis Kelly, (supported by the Help Musicians UK Sybil Tutton Award and The Countess of Munster) and that you have continued you’re your studies with Janis – a renowned soprano and from a great singing family in Inverness. I was curious how you met Janis and what role she has played in your developing career – and voice!
SORAYA: I first came across Janis when she was performing in the Manchester International Festival, taking the title role in Rufus Wainwright’s Opera Prima Donna. The performance was on my 21st birthday and I had been dropping hints in the months leading up to it and was hugely disappointed when I realised on the day that my family evidently needed it spelling out to them more clearly! I then applied to the Royal College of Music for my masters after attending the Royal Northern College of Music for my undergraduate. After being offered a place, a has consultations with the different teachers, but I knew as soon as I met Janis that she was the right fit for me. We both come from very grounded working class backgrounds, we both have a very strong work ethic and also share the same sense of humour (and love of Gin and Tonic’s!). Janis is more than a teacher to me – she is a friend, mentor and has offered me so much support throughout my career. I really admire how she has developed her voice throughout her career, keeping it fresh and always placing importance on telling a story.
Q I wondered what some of the major turning points / big breaks have been already in your career. For example, I wondered if something like the Susan Chilcott Award in 2016 might have been one?
SORAYA: I think the first major turning point in my career was when I was asked to perform the role of Constance in Grange Park Opera’s Dialogues des Carmélites (Poulenc). I was in my first year at RCM, the original performer had to pull out as she was unwell and it was my professional début. It very much felt like I was thrown in at the deep end but I was offered great support from Janis, the head of GPO Wasfi Kani and our conductor Stephen Barlow and director John Doyle. The role was a great success for me and opened many doors. Since then I have had some wonderful moments such as winning the Susan Chilcott Award, joining the Harewood Artist Scheme at ENO and making débuts with national and International companies.
Q What are some of the most exciting things coming your way in 2018?
SORAYA: After whirling around with the RSNO, I will be down in London rehearsing for my role début as Tytania in Robert Carsen’s production of A Midsummer Night’s dream at ENO. I will be making my company and role début as Nanetta in Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi’s Falstaff at Garsington Festival Opera and then I make my American and company début at Seattle Opera in their production of Turn of the Screw this autumn. On the concert platform, I look forward to making my recital début at The Wigmore Hall in March with Graham Johnson.
Q What was your first experience of opera – did you see it on TV at home (where is that? I know it’s Lancashire!) or were you taken to hear the music somewhere – or did you discover it in some other way?
SORAYA: My mum always enjoyed listening to Opera. Her father, a brick layer from Ireland, discovered the recordings of Lanza and would sing his songs around the house. She introduced my dad to these artists when he moved over form Iran – he fell in love too! When Pavarotti became a household name, no car journey was complete without the two of them attempting to sing along to Nessum Dorma. I was initially far more interested in musical theatre until I heard Maria Callas singing Sempre Libera from La Traviata and Kirk Te Kanawa performing Summertime at a televised outdoor concert. I hadn’t really considered women’s voices in Opera until then and discovered I could sing along fairly well! From then on I became very interested in singing, making music and telling stories using vocal skill which is essentially what Opera is all about.
Soraya Mafi will be singing at the RSNO’s Viennese Gala at Eden Court on Wednesday, January 10.