Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My parents were undoubtedly my first and most significant influencers in my musical development. I’m lucky that I grew up in a household where both of my parents were successful in the creative industry. My mum was an incredible hair stylist and creator. She’s an absolute force of nature and taught me so much just by being around her she is so charismatic and hilariously funny. My dad is in the music industry still to this day. He is part of the techno group ‘Underworld’ (Underworld Live in Berlin). You may think it’s a world apart from the opera industry, but it has the same fusion of art, history and politics that opera possesses. It transcends language and strives to connect people across vast seas and continents. Growing up with that music, you get to see how a room of strangers can feel instantly united through music. I wanted to be a part of something like that for myself- that’s when I found opera and that’s when I was hooked.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
It’s hard to answer this as I’m just starting out myself so there’s not a great deal to reflect on – yet! But the biggest challenge I’ve faced so far is definitely this role I’m performing with English Touring Opera in their Autumn season. I’m singing Nerone in Händel’s Agrippina and the nature of his music is so charged and with so much coloratura with all the running around and sexual energy he has. On top of that, the role is extremely high and it sits right in the passagio for a lot of the opera (even at baroque pitch!). I feel like it’s in a great place now though, with the help of an incredibly supportive creative team and great colleagues.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
Two come to mind but for very different reasons. The first being the programme myself and Avishka Edirisinghe performed at the final of the Kathleen Ferrier Awards this year. We put so much work into that programme and live at Wigmore it just felt like a gift. As if it was just an outpouring of what we had to say in the moment.
The second moment was this summer at Glyndebourne. Laurent Pelly directed a Poulenc double bill which included Les Mamelles de Tirésias. It was conducted by Robin Ticciati and my god was it spectacular. It was absolute alchemy. The way everyone worked together and the way Laurent worked with the score and the text with Robin in order to produce something so authentic. The design, the soloists, the company: all perfect. I was so lucky to be in the chorus for it and I will never forget that experience because it showed me what opera can be.
Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?
Rossini and anything in French. Rossini will always be my first love, the melodies and the florid nature of his writing is an absolute gift and such fun to sing. And the French language offers something so special in terms of colour palate when singing. It feels so comfy in my voice and I hope I get to perform a lot of it in the future.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I am a chronic over-thinker, and when I am involved with a project my brain obsesses over the text so much sometimes that it goes round and round in my head constantly. This is terrible for trying to relax but it’s brilliant for finding inspiration because as I’m watching a film or walking around minding my own business, I’m constantly relating things back to whatever project I’m working on at the time.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?
Classical music will never have the same level of engagement as genres of popular music do these days. Purely due to the attention span of the population and the way we get information is reduced to short form video clips and tweets. But we have something better, we have history and art and culture. Classical music is so immersive, we need to find way of marketing it in this way. We need to find ways of giving people a taste of what it’s like, even in a short video or tweet or Instagram post. We need to show what it feels like when you’re in a concert hall watching a Bruckner Symphony and the horns come in! That’s the magic stuff that gets people invested enough to come to concerts.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I saw Dimitri Horoskovsky perform Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House. I believe it was one of his last performances before he sadly passed away. In hindsight I was incredibly lucky to have experienced it, but even at the time it was just completely transformative. Musically it’s one of my favourite operas and to hear it live for the first time was indescribable.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Success to me is collaboration. In opera there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes. All the moving parts are so integral to the success of the final product. To be proud of the outcome is true success: to feel honoured to be just one of those moving parts.
What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?
It’s hard to give advice when I feel like I barely take my own advice! But if I were to give advice to my younger self, I would say don’t be afraid to show your passion. Revel in the obsession and find your way through. Oh, and don’t dye your hair.
What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?
Hearing loss is something we need to me talking about more, especially with opera singers. We have people screaming on pitch in our face all day and we need to protect our hearing. Getting ear protection is beginning to be encouraged, but it needs to be talked about more regularly so more people get on board. Here in the UK there’s a scheme for working musicians to get a discount on professional moulded in-ear protectors. It’s run by the Help Musicians and is absolutely brilliant.
What’s next? Where would you like to be in 10 years?
In 10 years I hope I’ve seen a lot of the world! One of the perks of this industry is that it can take you travelling, I’m hoping I can get a small slice of that pie! Oh and I hope that I’ve got a dog by then because I’m absolutely desperate to get a dog.
Esme Bronwen-Smith, first prize winner at the 2022 Kathleen Ferrier Awards, is playing Nerone in English Touring Opera’s upcoming production of Agrippina in their ‘Handelfest’ tour.Agrippina opens at Hackney Empire on Friday 7 October, before touring to Malvern Theatres (12 Oct), Saffron Hall (28 Oct), Buxton Opera House (4 Nov) and Exeter Northcott (11 Nov). Handelfest also features a revival of their 2014 production of Ottone, and a brand-new production of Tamerlano.
British mezzo-soprano Esme Bronwen-Smith is the most recent winner of First Prize at The 2022 Kathleen Ferrier Awards.
She graduated from the Royal College of Music with her Masters in Vocal Performance in 2019 where she won both the 2020 Lieder Competition and the 2021 Lies Askonas Competition.
Whilst at the RCM, Esme studied with Dinah Harris, Caroline Dowdle and her current teacher, Rosa Mannion. She was generously supported by the Leverhulme Scholarship and was a Drake Calleja Trust Scholar for 19/20.
In recital she has sung for song festivals such as Oxford Lieder and Leeds Lieder as a 2020/21 Leeds Lieder Young Artist, where she won the 2021 Leeds Lieder Young Artist/Schubert Institute UK Song Prize.