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?
Most if not all of my musical influences and inspirations came from growing up in a family that was deeply rooted in musical tradition. My earliest memories of choral singing were watching my father conduct his church choir in Chelsea, a choir that consisted of my mother and my aunts and uncles. I then sang in this choir from the age of around 8. As we grew, my siblings and I were forced by our mother to join the children’s chorus of the local operatic society in Bracknell (Park Opera at Southill Park Arts Centre), something which I resented at the time but have now come to realise was the turning point for igniting my love for the stage. My mother then started our family opera company, and we performed operas in the barn and gardens of a local Manor House, with my stepfather conducting, mum making the costumes, and young professionals from London to sing the parts that we in the family couldn’t sing. Again, I was a lazy teenager and resented rehearsals, but in the end doing those operas gave focus to my burgeoning creative spirit and built confidence in me that I didn’t know I had. My other musical influences outside of my family were my treble recorder teacher, Libby Ellerton, who taught me how to shape a phrase and use my breath and emotions when I perform, and my music teacher at school, Alison Bersier, who I always wanted to do well for and taught me to believe in myself. She also wore amazing tights and was the first real-life diva I’d ever met!
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The worst challenge I ever had to face was when I lost my voice for around 3 months in 2015. I was juggling becoming a single mother, moving house and taking on a title role for the Royal Opera House at the Globe Theatre, and gradually it all just stopped. I battled on, thinking it would come back after a few days but it got worse and I ended up miming on opening night. Eventually it came back but I sort of had to rebuild my voice after that, as I realised I had fallen into some bad technical habits over the 4 years since leaving the Royal Academy. I came back stronger but those weeks of uncertainty were the worst.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my debut album with Joseph Middleton, Voyages. I think the programme is a great concept and I felt it was very much a reflection of what I love to sing; each song meant a lot to me. I feel the same about the album I’ve just released, Visions Illuminees, in that it was a personal project and one that I’d had bubbling away inside me for a while.
Which particular roles/composers do you think you perform best?
I think probably I do comic stage characters best, although wouldn’t we all love to be the sad dying heroine?!
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I try to have a very full social and family life and to experience emotions through all my relationships. I don’t do this for my career as such, but it does help to have those feelings at your fingertips for use on stage. I try not to take life too seriously and to laugh as much as possible, and that helps me to relax and enjoy every performance.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I wait and see what offers I get!
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?
More immersive musical experiences in schools. Even if it’s just the teacher playing a great piece of classical music every morning to the class to set them up for the day. These children will then grow up in the knowledge that classical music isn’t something for rich or highly educated people; it can speak to anyone, they won’t be scared by it. We need to look to Germany for how they do it, music is just part of their culture, just as it used to be in this country.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Singing MacMillan’s Christmas Oratorio in the Concertgebouw during lockdown, to an empty hall, recorded on the radio. We couldn’t believe we’d been allowed to do the concert at all under the restrictions, and none of us had performed or heard live music in 8 months. The music was intensely beautiful and because there was no audience to see, I allowed myself some tears during the concert (when I wasn’t singing, obviously…)
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Being able to have a satisfying career that earns you enough to live on and also having a happy family and social life on which you can spend said money.
What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?
Don’t compare yourself to others. Find your niche and even if you don’t particularly like the niche your voice belongs in, accept it and find something about it that inspires and excites you. As I said, we all want to play the Violettas and the Mimis, but we’re not all made that way. Everyone has something unique to give; there’s space for everyone if you get your head down and do your thing, people will notice. Also, be open to the idea always that you might need to work on things technically – I don’t think singers can ever stop being students.
What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?
I think we talk about a lot of things but I think musicians should be making more out of streaming than they currently are.
What were the processes behind your album Visions Illuminées?
I’m afraid I was terrible at the administrative processes behind the album; getting hold of sheet music, coordinating rehearsals etc. I just wanted to bury myself in the singing of the music because that’s what I’m passionate about. I had my regular singing lessons with my amazing teachers at London Singers Studio and then trusted that when the sessions came, all the love and passion I had for the songs would come through. Which I hope it has!
What’s next? Where would you like to be in 10 years?
I can’t think that far into the future I’m afraid!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My last birthday party, with my 18 closest friends and family sat around me for dinner at my flat, eating and drinking the food I’d made them. I’d have that but add in my boyfriend Max and my father, who died last year.
What is your most treasured possession?
My Parker ‘51 fountain pen, a gift from my dad when I went to Cambridge.
What is your present state of mind?
I am very happy. I’m about to make my debuts at Bayerische Staatsoper, La Fenice and Zurich opera houses so I’m excited about those projects but also about living in those cities. I have lots going on in my personal life that gives cause for celebration.
Visions Illuminées is out now on Signum Classics and features Mary Bevan, 12 Ensemble, Ruisi Quartet and Joseph Middleton in a programme of Britten, Ravel, Debussy and others. Order the album here: http://lnk.to/VisionsIlluminees
Praised by Opera for her “dramatic wit and vocal control”, British soprano Mary Bevan is internationally renowned in baroque, classical and contemporary repertoire, and appears regularly with leading conductors, orchestras and ensembles around the world. She is a winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artist award and UK Critics’ Circle Award for Exceptional Young Talent in music and was awarded a MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list in 2019.
Photo credit: Victoria Cadisch