Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been your most important influences on your life and career?
I suppose the initial spark of inspiration came from watching Disney films when I was 4 or 5. The songs – and the singing – captivated me and, as many children do, I mimicked my favourite characters. The greatest discovery for me – and I would say almost the biggest factor in my life – was being introduced to musicals by my Mum when I was about 7 years old.
The first film I remember loving passionately was ‘Calamity Jane’ starring Doris Day. In a way, these great MGM musicals were like the ‘real life’ Disney to me, full of real people singing and dancing – often doing both mid-conversation! I fell in love with stars such as Doris Day, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Judy Garland (I really, really loved and still love Judy), Mario Lanza, who first made me realise that you could combine opera and an ‘operatic ‘sound with songs like ‘Be My love’ and ‘The Loveliest Night of the Year’, and I always knew I wanted to be like them. So far, the tap dancing has eluded me but never say never! One of the tenets that these icons did gave to me, however, was their ability to tell a story through song and it’s something I always strive to give my audience.
The sound of your voice is as individual as your fingerprint – they are all unique. My voice always had a very ‘classical’ quality and so when I started having singing lessons at 9 years old, I was taught with a classical technique. That of course stirred me to listen to some of the great classical singers, Frederica Von Stade being one of my absolute favourites – almost as much as Judy Garland! My performance repertoire is made up of a mix of all these inspirations.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
On the classical music platform, it’s important to prove your worth in order to be able to exist and be taken seriously as a performer. That’s something that doesn’t come about overnight and each performance acts as a stepping-stone in building your artistic reputation – and you never stop learning and trying to improve. I always want to give my audience an experience – be it in a full performance or simply listening – and to that end I want to try and introduce them to new and different music. I equally love writing my own lyrics and the whole process of creating new music. Until my new album ‘Carly Paoli & Friends’, I had sometimes felt that it was difficult to insist on the music that I wanted to perform and that bringing out an album full of songs that I wanted to sing was not an option. The list of songs all sopranos and tenors are expected to perform is, of course, wonderful and hugely important as often they are incredible pieces – I love singing them and will continue to do so – but I hope that this new album showcases some different twists on established classics and offers the audience something different.
Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?
There should naturally be a growth and progression in an artist the older they get. Experience plays a part as you are able to achieve more technically and you start to learn what works for you and what doesn’t. From a technical point of view, I’d rather listen to my performance at the London Palladium and of course my new album, of which I’m very proud. There I get to sing with friends such as Tony Hadley, Aled Jones, Elaine Paige and more… it makes me so excited just to think about it. However, I can’t deny that there is a certain magic about singing live on Italian TV in the heart of the Roman Forum. It’s not every day that your song becomes adopted as the official song for the Pope’s Jubilee.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I feel performing some of the operetta material, Lehar and Ivor Novello for example, really suits my voice and dramatic sensibilities. Hence the inspiration to perform the beautiful duet ‘This is My Lovely Day’ from the British operetta ‘Bless the Bride’ with Maltese super tenor Joseph Calleja on my new album. I also feel very comfortable performing Kathryn Grayson-style repertoire from musicals from the 40s and 50s. I’m sure my choice of repertoire might change slightly over the years due to vocal development, but this album is a musical world I am happy to be a part of at this time.
What do you do offstage that provides inspiration onstage?
Dance. Obviously, it’s brilliant cardiovascular exercise, increasing your stamina, which is very important as a performer but it also helps improve your posture and informs the way you move on stage. The way you move becomes part of your onstage persona.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
During the Christmas season, song choices become obvious, and, let me tell you, I am a big, big fan of Christmas, so I definitely get into the full theme of things with my music and onstage outfits. We had a wonderful time Christmas 2020 filming a TV special which was featured on Sky Arts and TV2000 in Italy and which was broadcast on Christmas Eve. Recently I have filmed a summer sequel at the same beautiful venue, Otterburn Castle in Northumberland. I am so excited about this because it showcases lots of the exciting collaborations featured on my new album and brings them to life.
Outside of the festive season I would say that I choose my songs based on the audience I will perform in front of. For example, I frequently perform in Italy, so lots of my English repertoire becomes less relevant to an Italian audience. I do find though that British audiences are very happy to listen to songs in another language.
It’s easy as a performer to become self-indulgent and perform the music you love but I believe it should always be about making sure you provide the best possible experience for the audience. However, I do have to say, if you perform something that you really adore, an audience will pick up on that natural enthusiasm.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Churches are wonderful spaces to sing in – the acoustics are so wonderful. I’m joining the lovely Aled Jones on his Cathedral Tour next Spring and it’s something I’m so looking forward to. The way the older churches were designed is like a gift for singers, there’s so much natural resonance. The space does a lot of the work for you. I also think they are very beautiful and inspiring settings.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?
Part of the problem comes down to there not being enough platforms to hear a wide variety of music. If you are never exposed to a genre, it’s impossible to make an informed decision as to whether or not you like it. There are even fewer platforms for vocal music, as radio stations tend to think that it demands a certain level of concentration from the listener, so we often only hear a tiny fraction of the incredible music out there.
In a world dominated by social media, everything needs a visual element now. Films are hugely important or music must be attached to a captivating video and on the classical music platform, concerts have to be broadcast from amazing spaces.
I do think that it’s also important to celebrate young, innovative classical artists so that younger listeners see themselves reflected on the platform and are encouraged.
Music in schools – in fact the arts in general – is under threat. I was lucky in that I was exposed to lots of different kinds of music from an early age, but lots of children feel excluded from classical music and that it’s not meant for them. I feel so passionate about spreading the joy of all types of music – not just classical – to everyone. The arts give so much more than just the vocation itself. Not every child has to grow up to be a concert pianist, an operatic prima donna or the next Margot Fonteyn, but the skills that they gain from participating are enormous and will stand them in good stead throughout their lives.
What is your most memorable onstage experience?
Performing my tribute to Judy Garland at the London Palladium. Did I mention how much I love her?! It was part of BBC Radio’s 2 iconic ‘Sunday Night is Music Night’ series, coming from the theatre that was so indelibly linked to her. There was a special moment during the interval where the wonderful Laurie Holloway was interviewed about his experience of playing for the first lady of musicals. I followed with a medley of songs that were quintessential Garland songs accompanied by the magnificent BBC Concert Orchestra. The audience erupted and I like to think that she would have enjoyed seeing the pleasure that I got from performing her songs and the joy it seemed to give the audience to listen to them.
As a musician what is your definition of success?
From a practical point of view, being able to do the thing I am most passionate about as a sustainable career choice. It’s such a blessing doing what you love for a living. From an artistic perspective, the satisfaction that what I give as a singer can touch hearts and move people emotionally.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to give to aspiring musicians?
Not to be afraid to try things out of your comfort zone. The kind of performer you become may not be what you expected starting out. Everyone finds their own unique way to connect with their audience, but that only opens through experience. So, it’s important to be open to experiment with musical forms that may not be familiar to you and to be open to new challenges.
What is your present state of mind?
I’m writing my responses to this interview from my balcony at my home in Puglia, Italy. It’s the area from where my mum’s family originates and is a place of peace, happiness and inspiration for me. With the release of my new album ‘Carly Paoli and Friends’ on the horizon, I’m so excited to be sharing this new music and grateful to all the amazing artists and team that collaborated with me to make it special. None of us knows what the future holds, but I have a wonderful feeling my time here in Italy has been the perfect battery recharge before I embark on an exciting, new, musical journey.
‘Carly Paoli & Friends’ is released on 24th September and features Carly Paoli in duets with Tony Hadley, Elaine Paige, Paul Carrack, Joseph Calleja, Aled Jones, Ramin Karimloo, Noah Stewart, Vincent Niclo, David Phelps, Braimah Kaaneh-Mason, Mario Stefan Pietrodarchi, The Choir of the BRIT School, The Tenors
Brit nominated classical singer, lyricist and star of the classical world Carly Paoli made her international debut at the David Foster Foundation Miracle Gala following that up with an appearance at the International Women’s Media Foundation Awards in Los Angeles.
Since then, she has shared a stage with some of the world’s most iconic artists including José Carreras, Elaine Paige, Andrea Bocelli Michael Bolton and recently appeared at The London Palladium with Joseph Calleja. A concert with her and Bocelli in Florence conducted by Zubin Mehta was subsequently shown on PBS television. She has performed for HRH The Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle and at St James’s Palace. Other renowned venues include Carnegie Hall, Jordan Hall, The O2, Caracalla and The Roman Forum. Her concert Music for Mercy from the Forum was broadcast live on RAI Uno and Sky Arts. In 2018 and 2019 she was a BBC Ambassador taking part in their flagship Music Day event.