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Discovering the Power of Opera at ELTHAM College Performing Arts

03 May 2024

ELTHAM College is known for its dynamic performing arts program, which provides students with a unique opportunity to delve into various forms of musical expression. Bridget Davies, a mezzo-soprano opera singer turned writer and critic at The Age newspaper, is working with our student performers on the production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Bridget recently shared some of her experiences, highlighting the immense potential and value of ELTHAM College's performing arts program.

Pictured: Bridget Davies sang the national anthem as part of the ANZAC Day ceremony at the Geelong v Carlton AFL game at the MCG on Saturday 27 April 2024.

A Unique Perspective on Classical Music and Opera

Bridget's journey with classical music and opera began with her training at the University of Melbourne, the Teatro Pergolesi in Jesi, Italy, and the Accademia Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Having performed in operatic roles such as Carmen in Carmen and Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, she brings a wealth of knowledge to share with students at ELTHAM College. Her operatic training provided her with a foundation in classical technique, which she now imparts to our cast of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Embracing Classical Technique

Bridget emphasizes the importance of teaching classical singing techniques to her students. Although The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a musical, its score requires a strong understanding of classical technique. By teaching the students how to project their voices and perform with classical control, Bridget ensures they can deliver powerful performances that resonate with the audience.

“In opera we don’t wear microphones, we learn to project our voices over an orchestra and fill a theatre. Working at ELTHAM I have been teaching some of the techniques I used in opera, how to project, how to sing legato and using Italian vowels to give them the best foundation possible for singing this difficult music.” 

“This is also a healthy way to sing - there is a difference between projection and straining. When they are doing it properly our students can be heard without hurting their voices, they're also at a really fragile age in their singing and anatomical development.”

Bridging the Gap Between Classical and Contemporary

One of Bridget's goals is to help her students find a balance between classical technique and their unique style. For instance, when working with one of her students on a song, she asked him to use his rock singing voice while implementing classical phrasing and support techniques. This approach helps students maintain their individuality while improving their vocal abilities.

Building Empathy and Connection

Bridget works with the students to understand the historical and cultural context of the material they perform. By explaining the meanings of Latin phrases and the story's context, she helps the students connect with the material on a deeper level. This understanding allows them to deliver heartfelt and authentic performances that resonate with the audience.

The Future of ELTHAM College's Performing Arts Program

Bridget's collaboration with the students has highlighted the incredible talent and potential within the school's performing arts program. She notes that the students' professionalism and dedication have exceeded her expectations, resulting in a stunning production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

“Our principal cast are really quite phenomenal. I think of someone like Beth, who is our Esmeralda. Her interpretation is not that far away from the original recording, which is pretty breathtaking.”

“This musical is written by Alan Menken, who wrote The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and a lot of those big 90s Disney musicals. The score is challenging, and it has really stretched our students. This can be said of the choir. They must sing in lots of different and difficult harmonies. They are not just singing just the melody, which is the main part that everybody hears. This is music that they have never learned or performed before. They are absolutely growing and blossoming in their musical learning.”

Looking Ahead to The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Some final words from Bridget: “I've been really, really impressed by the professionalism and dedication of our students. This score contains difficult music and they have had to be patient and put in a lot of their own hours. That is the work ethic that has been instilled here at the College, that's what we expect, and they've risen to the challenge. What they are producing will blow people away.”