Deborah Humble interviews the 25-year-old winner of the 2016 City of Sydney Eisteddfod Operatic Aria Award and Melba Trust Scholar.
When the City of Sydney Eisteddfod asked the entrants in this year’s Opera Scholarship to explain why they so loved this particular genre of music, countertenor Nicholas Tolputt stated that opera offers ‘truthfulness’ and requires ‘commitment,’ both words clearly reflecting his personal passion for the art form.
Last Sunday evening at the Concourse Theatre in Chatswood, Sydney, the judges of the City of Sydney Eisteddfod Operatic Aria (previously the McDonald’s Aria) agreed that Sydney based Tolputt had demonstrated both qualities in his performance of Oberon in Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and cited his delivery of I Know a Bank as one of the highlights of the competition.
Currently a Melba Trust Opera Scholar, the countertenor delivered a performance showcasing a wide breadth of emotion and later cited the part as being one of the operatic roles he would most like to sing in the future. ‘The vocal line seems to suit my voice really well,’ he says, ‘and the part itself is just so interesting and fascinating. It would indeed be a dream role when I’m vocally and professionally ready, and is certainly one of my main goals as a singer.’
Following his second offering of Stille amare from Handel’s Tolomeo with the North Sydney Symphony Orchestra Tolputt was awarded the first prize of $43,000 as well as an opportunity to observe and attend rehearsals at Opera Australia.
Countertenors Tobias Cole, Russell Harcourt and Maximilian Riebl have previously made it through to the finals but Tolputt is the first of his voice type to have won the competition and he joins an impressive line-up of previous winners including Dame Joan Sutherland, Jonathan Summers, Daniel Sumegi and Stuart Skelton. Like those before him he intends to use the substantial prize money to pursue his education in Europe and believes this is of utmost importance given his voice type.
‘I absolutely love Australia but unfortunately we simply don’t have the tradition of opera (especially Baroque Opera) in this country like, for example, Germany or Italy. As a countertenor, most of the music I sing is difficult to find outside of Europe and we don’t have schools dedicated to performing it or studying it here like they do there. I am hoping that I will gain a more solid knowledge of historical performance practice, a greater understanding of the repertoire and hopefully some experience in staged operas.’
Acknowledging Leo Schofield’s hugely popular and successful Hobart and Brisbane Baroque Festivals as a place he has been privileged to learn alongside of some of the singers he most admires, Tolputt also has high praise for the Melba Trust Opera Program. Describing his time with the organisation as ‘totally invaluable’ and ‘playing a crucial role’ in his ongoing development, he describes the schedule of classes as ‘a finishing school designed to bridge the gap between study and life as a young, professional operatic performer. The program is individually tailored for each scholar and includes seminars on finance, insurance, public speaking, performance anxiety and almost everything you can think of to help survive in the industry of opera.’
As well as learning from some of the greatest operatic professionals in the world, the 25-year-old says the program has helped him identify his strengths and weaknesses as a performer. ‘If there was any area in which I could say it has helped me most it would be with confidence; the confidence to make mistakes and learn from them. After leaving the shelter of a conservatorium environment you quickly discover just how tough trying to make it as a young singer can be and the Melba Trust has given me the confidence to pursue my dreams.’
Pursuing the dream of an operatic career is undoubtedly an expensive undertaking and awards such as the Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship are invaluable in helping young artists on their professional way. The Eisteddfod is currently seeking new support and a new name for this award since McDonalds withdrew their sponsorship last year.
‘As a young singer having to decide between that vital language coaching, extra lesson with your teacher or buying groceries is a very tough choice,’ says Tolputt. The scholarship will give me the opportunity to pursue a career in the art form I love and I will always be honoured and grateful for that wonderful support.’
Deborah Humble for SoundsLikeSydney©
Based in Hamburg, Germany, mezzo-soprano Deborah Humble is one of Australia’s most successful international artists.
Recent engagements have included Erda in Das Rheingold with the Hong Kong Philharmonic and in Siegfried at the Boston Symphony Hall, Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde in Mexico City, Judith in Bluebeard’s Castle in Melbourne, Elgar’s Sea Pictures at the Britannia in Bamberg Festival, 1st Maid in Elektra with the Hamburg State Opera, Parsifal with the City of Birmingham Symphony, Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in Singapore at the Esplanade Theatre, Mozart Requiem with the Queensland Symphony and concerts in Italy for the Linari Classic International Festival. In 2017 she will appear with Opera Lille in The Flying Dutchman and sing Erda in Siegfried for the continuing Hong Kong Ring Cycle recorded for Naxos.
Ms Humble is a former member of the ensembles of Opera Australia and the Hamburg State Opera, where she had her international breakthrough in 2008 as Erda in a new production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
In 2016 she is acting as a mentor for Melbourne’s Melba Trust Opera Program was adjudicator of the City of Sydney Opera Scholarship alongside Margaret Baker Genovesi and Tahu Matheson. She has been included in the Who’s Who of Australian Women since 2009 and is an ambassador for Worldwide Cancer Research.