Q&A with soprano Elizabeth Karani
We spoke to soprano Elizabeth Karani, who is currently working at the Royal Opera in Gavin Higgins and Francesca Simon’s The Monstrous Child.
The Monstrous Child
Elizabeth Karani rehearsing at the Royal Opera House
© ROH 2019 photograph by Stephen Cummiskey
Our Q&A with Elizabeth:
You are about to make your Royal Opera debut in Gavin Higgins and Francesca Simon’s The Monstrous Child, how does that feel?
It’s really exciting! This will be the first opera in the new Linbury Theatre and so there has been a lot of buzz around it. The piece is a world premiere and lots of the cast and production team will also be making their ROH debuts so it’s really exciting for a lot of us.
Tell us about the process which lead you to being cast in this role?
I’ve been really interested in contemporary works for a few years now and have always sought out opportunities to perform and be involved in new pieces. Somehow the casting team at ROH must have heard this and so invited me to audition and, of course, I jumped at the chance, I devoured Francesca’s book and coached my extracts to death before the audition and although I was probably a gibbering wreck in the ROH Chorus room, I managed to get through it and was eventually cast in the opera.
What should we expect from this opera?
The Monstrous Child is a novel written by Francesca Simon about a young girl called Hel who is one of the children of the Norse god Loki and the giantess Angrboda. The story follows her journey through life and we see how the actions of others impact on Hel’s life. The book and opera is aimed at teens but can certainly be enjoyed by adults! It’s quirky and exciting but with some real hard hitting and moving moments.
Tell us a little about your character?
This is a real ensemble piece and so I play at least 5 different characters (Quick changes galore) but my named roles are Nanna and Thora. Nanna is a Goddess and is the wife of the most loved of all the Gods, Baldr. Thora is one of the dead in Niflheim...but you’ll have to come and see it to know what that means (no spoilers!).
How long have you spent preparing and rehearsing for this role?
I was cast in the role in Spring 2018 and that summer we had a few days of ‘sing-through’ sessions. Although I found these workshops extremely nerve-wracking, it was great for me to know what I’d be facing learning wise over the next year. Of course, I found it extremely daunting at first but when I’d calmed down and started properly learning the role it didn’t take me too long at all. We’ve had about 6 or so weeks of rehearsals including music calls which has been fantastic.
Has any of the process surprised you?
Not really. It’s been a really fun process with a lot of experimentation and laughter!
What made you want to be an opera singer? and if you weren’t one - what would you be?
I was always so jealous of the chorus girls when I went to watch the Panto each year with my family. I always knew I wanted to perform but mainly focussed on musical theatre until I was 18. I was then convinced by my wonderful singing teacher at the time to give opera a go. Certainly something in the arts. Performing is my passion but to be honest doing anything in the arts would make me happy.
What do you love about opera in general?
In general I love the way performing and listening to music makes me feel. There is no other elation like it. I like opera because singing is one of the most exposing and raw ways of expressing our emotions. Opera singers bare their soul time and time again on stage and it is one of the most thrilling things to watch.
Do you have a favourite quote about opera / music?
What advice would you give to young singers looking to embark on a career in opera?
Know and trust yourself. Do and sing what makes you happy because there’s no point otherwise. No one will be convinced by what you’re offering if you’re not. Be informed and be excited about whatever project you’re working on- no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, you may learn something about yourself which could impact on who you are as an artist.
The competition for roles in the opera world is fierce, how do you deal with that pressure?
I don’t let it consume me too much. At the end of the day I love to sing and I think having a positive outlook has a positive impact on my singing and how I come across in auditions. I am very sure of who I am and what I have to offer and if I’m rejected for something I know that that project wasn’t right for me. Of course some rejections are much more disappointing than others but I try to only allow myself one day to fret about it before moving onto the next. My extremely wise Mother always used to say ‘what’s meant for you won’t pass you’ and I try to live by this everyday.
What is the best thing about being an opera singer and what’s the trickiest thing?
The best thing is definitely getting to explore the huge variety of roles that opera has to offer. It’s fun to play someone else for a few hours! I also love using my singing to bring happiness to others — whether it be family and friends or strangers. The worst thing is being away from home. It’s especially difficult as my partner is also an opera singer — we’re quite often like ships in the night!
What role do you believe opera singers play in society?
As with all artists our main aim is to entertain and to inform.
Which of your peers/friends do you love to go and watch in performance? - and why?
My fiancé is tenor Thomas Atkins and so I love going to watch him perform. I’m his number one fan! Why? Because I suspect if I didn’t go our wedding would be called off pretty quickly.
What’s next for you?
Straight after the final performance at ROH I will fly to Munich to join Barbara Hannigan and the Munich Philharmonic for a couple of performances of Mozart’s Requiem. This is part of Barbara’s mentoring programme, ‘Equilibrium Young Artists’. Later in the year, projects include my return to the Buxton International Festival and my English National Opera debut. Stay tuned!
Lastly, what is your guilty pleasure?
I’m absolutely addicted to Netflix’s true crime documentaries and watching YouTube videos of puppies!