Chelsea Dolman2

Chelsea Dolman. Photo: WinkiPoP Media

An interview with Chelsea Dolman

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New Zealand-based singer Chelsea Dolman and finalist in the 2018 Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship explains the significance of some of her earliest childhood memories and role models as a singer growing up in New Zealand. She also reflects on the challenges she faced when preparing 'Endless Pleasure' for the semi-final, as a testimony to the way personal struggles can become a source of enjoyment through perseverance. 

What inspired your passion for opera?

When I was a child I spent a lot of hours making music with my grandad, who started out as a pianist in a his own honky tonk dance band in the 1940-50s. Pop also introduced me to an album of arias sung by Pavarotti. I remember sitting in the car with Pop eating a Mr Whippy, totally mesmerised by this rich orchestral music. I think this is when I first became interested. I must have been about 4 years old.

Who inspired you to start singing?

My Pop inspired and continues to inspire me as a musician. Performance for him is all about bringing people together and making great memories.

Dame Malvina Major and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa also inspire me, as they have had amazing careers despite starting out in the smallest of towns in little old New Zealand. These amazing women paved the way for us and have taught us to dream big.

How did you discover your operatic voice?

My Pop and I would make regular appearances on weekday mornings at my local kindergarten where Pop would play and I would stand up the front and lead the chorus of voices. I think they had a feeling that music would be a big part of my future way back then.

Tell us a little bit about one of the pieces you performed at the Semi-Final and why you chose it.

Endless Pleasure is a piece that I have learned to love. To be honest I didn’t enjoy singing it to begin with; Baroque music has always been a challenge for me. Until now! This piece has provided me with the greatest of challenges - to find flexibility and energy without losing the balance in my sound. The Italian school of teaching call this balance ‘Chiaroscuro’ or light-dark. Since I have been working with this theory this music is so much more fun!

Which other performers do you most like to listen to/watch, and why?

I am currently listening to a lot of recordings of Yvonne Kenny, actually because of Endless Pleasure, the Handel piece. I’ve found that her interpretation of Handel and Mozart really inspires me to delve deeper into this genre of music.

In 2015 I had an amazing opportunity to work in a masterclass with renowned American soprano Renee Fleming. I hadn’t listened to a lot of Renee’s recordings before this and of course I quickly went home to study her when I realised I would be singing her signature aria ‘I want Magic’, for her! Talk about scary! Besides feeling bamboozled from my 20 mins in the spotlight learning from the Diva herself, Renee inspires me greatly through her versatility as an artist. She sings everything from Baroque to Romantic to Pop and does it all with so much grace and honesty. I think she is such a great role model to all young singers in today’s industry. We cannot afford to put ourselves in a box.

What is the best piece of performance advice you've ever heard?

The conductor is god and one should always sing before his/her beat.

Do the neighbours complain when you practice?

The last neighbours actually enjoyed it – they said it helped put their baby to sleep!

The new ones don’t seem to mind, but I have never really been very comfortable rehearsing at home. I am very lucky to now have an arrangement with the church across the road from my work where I sneak off to practise at lunchtimes. We have a deal where I pay a very small hire fee in return for some singalongs at Christmas time.

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