2016 Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship Winner Nicholas Tolputt on stage. Photo: WinkiPoP Media
Countertenor Nicholas Tolputt, winner of the 2016 Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship, recently shared with Sydney Eisteddfod how his passion for Opera began, what inspires him and what he hopes to achieve next.
What inspired your passion for opera?
From as far back as I can remember I have been obsessed with classical music as a wider genre. Before I knew anything about the sounds I was hearing, the composers, or the history behind the music, I would just listen to the radio for hours each day. As a kid I would sing along to symphonies and sonatas and eventually I realised that opera could be my way of connecting to the music I was so passionate about.
Who inspired you to start singing?
I was lucky enough to have a fantastic teacher by the name of Benjamin Martin in my home town of Launceston. He was the first one to suggest and encourage me to pursue the countertenor voice. Prior to that I had never considered singing countertenor, I was all set to try my luck as a baritone. But I loved the music that the countertenor voice let me sing and so I haven't really looked back!
Who inspires you and why?
Well there are several tremendous countertenors around today and listening to recordings and watching them perform certainly inspires me. Andreas Scholl, Iestyn Davies, Philippe Jaroussky, Franco Fagioli and more, I'm always listening to recordings to try and find new repertoire and to get inspiration to practice again and again.
Tell us a little bit about the pieces you performed at this year's Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship.
I chose to perform I Know a Bank from Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream because it is one of my favourite operas and one of the roles I'd love to play if I'm ever lucky enough! I think Britten writes so interestingly for voice and the music pairs so perfectly with the Shakespearean text that I just never get bored of singing it.
I also performed Stille Amare from Tolomeo, it's one of Handel's finest arias and really isn't performed enough. There is also a huge emotional range throughout the piece which makes singing it very challenging. It has a fantastic accompanied recit at the beginning and is fun to play as it is one of the rare examples of a baroque aria in which the singer 'dies' at the end (although, sopranos would be pretty used to this...).
In the Semi-Final I performed Discordi pensieri, an aria from the last opera Lotti ever wrote (Teofane). I really enjoy the interplay between keyboard/orchestra and the vocal line. It makes organising ornamentation really enjoyable in this piece and so I like finding different ways of singing it with each accompanist I work with.
Which other performers do you most like to listen, and why?
Well my favourite musician of all time would be the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. My friends and family have learnt not to bring him up around me as I'm liable to enter a rant about his recordings or essays or thoughts on music. My favourite singer would be Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva. I don't think I have ever heard a voice more suited to singing Baroque opera. She has phenomenal agility, amazing messa di voce, and probably the best trill in existence.
What is the best piece of performance advice you've ever heard?
Probably the best piece of advice I have had was to not wear my glasses when I sing on stage! It is strange, but this has helped me open up and hopefully engage more when I perform. Really any advice that helps boost your confidence before singing is totally invaluable. It seems overly simple, but once you're on stage 'technical' advice really doesn't help you. That stuff is great for the practice room, but for me at least I need to be certain of what I want to do and be confident that I can at least give it my best when I step out to sing.
What are you hoping to achieve next?
Well I'd love to gain some more practical on stage singing experience. As a countertenor there aren't as many opportunities for staged opera at an amateur or semi-professional level, as say there are for a soprano or baritone. So I'd love to get more experience singing full roles and really start to build up a solid repertoire base.