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?
There are many people who have had a huge influence on my musical life, too many to list here. But the biggest influence is an easy one to recognise: my mother, Bridget. She is a wonderful musician, a pianist and accompanist who has always been incredibly modest about her own talents. She would tell me stories of her days at music college (the Royal College of Music where I would later study) and at Wells Cathedral School (again I would follow her in that!). Later she was the first director of the rescued concert hall in Guernsey, St James, where I would hear world-class musicians in concerts on Saturday nights as soloists, or in orchestras and choirs. I had so much exposure to music in so many positive settings it really isn’t a surprise that I pursued it as my career. My earliest memories of music are lying underneath our grand piano as a child staring up in awe at the huge instrument, listening to Brahms, Mozart or my Mum’s favourite Bach prelude which she always warms up with today!
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
When I was studying at the RCM I was very focussed on piano. However, I began to rediscover my love of singing and came to the realisation in Year 2 of my degree that it was actually singing, and specifically opera where my heart really set on fire. The greatest challenge for me then was gaining the necessary skills, contacts and finding the time to make that dream a reality. In recent years, of course, I’m sure that all musicians would say that the Covid pandemic was an extremely challenging time. For me it provided a much needed break from the relentless auditioning and allowed me to reflect on my artistic integrity, I feel it has changed many things about how I approach music making.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
My recent album of David Braid songs. We worked hard to achieve a lyrical but relaxed style which I think comes across really well in the quality of the recording. I admire David’s work hugely, he has a talent for setting text and his songs are well worth a listen!
Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?
Working with living composers is where I really come alive. I’m currently working on the role of German Child in Noah Max’s upcoming premiere of ‘A Child in Striped Pyjamas’, which has its first performances in January 2023 at The Cockpit Theatre in London. It’s been an incredible journey working with Noah on this piece; working with the extremes of vocal capabilities and bringing to life what he has in his head. For me, this is the most thrilling way of making music, it comes with no weight of interpretational history and the performer becomes the vessel of artistic expression. I also adore Handel coloratura, and the florid music of Vivaldi and Hasse, I always have so much fun with them!
What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?
How to keep music financially viable and sustainable. We should be teaching young performers how to manage their finances, how to set up their own businesses and be their own promoters.
What is your most treasured possession?
My personal diary, it contains all the adventures of my career so far, written each day for 20 years! It’s fascinating to see the twists and turns of this career, often when I thought a door had been firmly closed, another one would open in the most unexpected of places.
Susanna MacRae performs the role of German Child in Noah Max’s new opera ‘A Child in Striped Pyjamas’, which opens at the Cockpit Theatre on 11 January. Further details/tickets
Susanna MacRae graduated from the Royal College of Music, London, where she studied with Jeffrey Stewart (Vocal Studies) and Nigel Clayton (Piano). She enjoys a busy performance schedule across the U.K. and Europe. Upcoming performances include; premiering the role of German Child in Noah Max’s ‘A Child in Striped Pyjamas’ in collaboration with Echo Ensemble, singing the role of Dorinda in Liberata Collective’s production of Handel’s Orlando at Buxton International Festival in collaboration with Ensemble Hesperi and Adrian Butterfield, the role of Anne (Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress) for Aylesbury Opera and Zerlina (Mozart’s Don Giovanni) for Arcadian Opera. Last season highlights included covering solo roles at Longborough Festival Opera for their productions of La Liberazione di Ruggiero (Caccini) and Freya Waley-Cohen’s Spell Book as well as joining the chorus for Bizet’s Carmen, First Lady for Arcadian Opera (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte) and premiering David Braid’s work “Journey Time” at The Brunel Museum (Thames Festival).
Photo credit: Nick Rutter