2020 OperaScholarshiparticle2



Published: 28/07/2020 3:00pm

The Sunday just passed would have been the day of one of our major events of the year, The Sydney Eisteddfod Opera Scholarship.

This is by far one of our most highly anticipated events, and we can’t wait until 2021 when we can experience it once again with everyone in our beautiful community.

On the anniversary of the Scholarship, we caught up with the wonderfully talented winners from 2019, Cleo Lee-McGowan, Juliette Di Bello and Michelle Ryan.


First-place Winner Cleo has kept busy preparing for her final recital at the Guildhall School in London during lockdown which was recently submitted. She has also completed some other online projects with Virtual Opera Studio.

“I have also collaborated with other singers to record some small ensembles which has taught me a lot about singing for the camera with pre-recorded accompaniment”, Cleo says.

Cleo Headshot 1818 JPG 3[Photo: Cleo Lee McGowan, 2019 First-place Opera Scholarship Winner]

Second-place Winner Juliette hasn’t performed in this time but mentioned has made use of the silver linings in which isolation has provided her on a professional level.

"It (isolation) has provided ample time to practice! I am thankfully still able to see my teachers and coaches online, and that has worked wonderfully, so we are using the time away from live performance to do intense technical work”.

Michelle has spent her time in quarantine learning roles for the seven productions she is still set to perform for when she is in Wiesbaden. As part of this prep, she has also been doing German language online every day!

“I have also collaborated with a classical guitarist named Ryan Enns recently and we decided to record Bachianas Brasileiras no.5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos outside at one of Australia’s most famous surfing locations, Angourie.

We had a very small audience of people there who were watching surfers or looking for whales out at sea. It was amazing”, Michelle said.

Aside from how they have spent their time productively during this time, we asked how their professional work has been impacted by the pandemic.

For Cleo at the Guildhall School in London, her studies eventually moved online. 

“Unfortunately, my performances with Sydney Symphony Orchestra where I was to perform in Brahms’ A German Requiem were cancelled, as is the case with countless artists during this time. It has been a strange experience to not have performed live for so many months!”

Juliette, who is currently studying at Juilliard School in New York this year with her Scholarship winnings has had a very similar experience.

“The second half of Juilliard’s Spring Semester was moved entirely online, and our major opera productions as well as class recitals were all cancelled”.

2020 Juliette Di Bello Elyn Photography 22










[Photo: Juliette Di Bello, 2019 Second-place Opera Scholarship Winner]

Michelle was this year engaged to sing with Opera Australia for the very first time.

“I was beyond excited to be in the extra chorus for La Traviata on the Harbour, and was also the cover for the role of Annina. Rehearsals were amazing... we loved working with conductor Brian Castles Onion and director Constantine Costi as well as the principles and staff”.

Michelle also has had her year’s contract of getting into Wiesbaden at the Hessisches Staatstheater postponed for the time being.

Last Sunday 26 July would have been the date of our Opera Scholarship Finals.

“I remember it being a very friendly experience, especially as it was an all-female final! It was exciting to be sharing the stage with so many talented women. Then when the results came, I was extremely honoured”, First-place Winner Cleo told Sydney Eisteddfod.

20-year-old Juliette had a happy experience also.

“I was so honoured to participate, especially considering my age, and I felt so privileged to be able to share my love of music and of singing with the audience.

The other singers were also so lovely, and to me it felt like a concert rather than a competition!”

Michelle admitted to being full of nerves last year as she chose repertoire that was just a little out of her comfort zone.

“I really had to trust myself and go out there with a ‘can do’ attitude...having a supportive audience of opera lovers there made it quite special and the other finalists were really friendly as well. Juliette and I helped each other put our very large gowns on as it was impossible to get them on ourselves!”, Michelle recalled.

2020 MichelleRyan

[Photo: Michelle Ryan, 2019 Third-place Opera Scholarship Winner]

Cleo spoke on how the experience equipped her with an increased sense of confidence and performance skills.

“I think performing in competitions can be quite a stressful scenario for many young singers … facing those challenging situations head-on can absolutely equip you with strengthened confidence and stage presence. 

Juliette also said that performing in the finals had a huge impact on her confidence.

“It felt like an acceptance of me as an artist and what I can offer the music and the audience, for which I am immensely grateful”.

For Michelle, the experience gave her a confirmation that she was on the right track toward a career in opera.

“The rush of adrenaline and excitement that came with the performance also resulted in me doing things I had not done in previous rehearsals or in the heats and semifinals, because I was in the moment”.

The girls finished off the interview with a little piece of advice for all those who were planning to take part in our Opera Scholarship event this year, or any other principal event. 


“I think it is important to never discount yourself; you will miss every opportunity that you don’t grab.


"See this as a period of grace... Find yourself in the pieces, let your new discoveries sink into you and settle so that when you do step out on stage again, you will be even more assured of delivering a beautiful experience”.


"I would  highly recommend continuing lessons in all areas of singing like language and musical coaching etc. as it is invaluable!”


It was great speaking with Cleo, Juliette and Michelle on this anniversary of our Opera Scholarship event.

We can’t wait for 2021!