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Behind the Scenes with Katie Bray

Mezzo soprano Katie Bray has performed many roles for Opera North, the most recent being two years ago as Varvara in Katya Kabanova. As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, we asked Katie about her life in opera and her aspirations for the future.

When did you decide opera singing was for you?

It was while I was watching Opera North’s acclaimed production of Peter Grimes that I realised just how deeply opera could move people. The level of detail and care that had gone into every moment of the show astounded me, and the sense that the cast, crew and orchestra were a real team onstage, offstage and under the stage, was palpable and thrilling.

I wanted to be part of a team like that, and I wanted to perform in a show that could make you breathless and make your heart race, as that production did for me.

Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts as Peters Grimes with William Mercer as Boy © Bill Cooper

How much training is involved in becoming a professional singer?

I will be training for ever – and I love that! You can always improve something, whether that’s your singing technique, your languages, your physicality or your fitness. There is so much to learn and so many ways we need to keep training.

What part has Opera North played in your career?

Opera North has been such a loyal company to me for over 10 years. I had my first professional role with Opera North in Britten’s Albert Herring and I have been so thrilled to have played many more roles with them since then.

Everyone says it because it’s true: Opera North is a big, beautiful family, who take you under their wing and carry you along throughout your career. I hope that this relationship continues for many years to come.

Opera North’s 2006 production of Albert Herring with Marc Callahan as Sid and Katie Bray as Nancy © Robert Workman

What has been your favourite role to date and why?

Playing Hansel in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel was a big career highlight for me. I love the music and the role, and Edward Dick’s fantastic production also gave me the chance to really explore my physicality, and to learn how to operate a camera live onstage whilst singing and leaping around and generally being an energetic young boy!

It was such a thrill to play that part and to lose myself in that magical, spooky world of forests, witches, and delicious treats. Plus, I’ve always loved working with the brilliant Fflur Wyn, and this was a particularly special show to make together.

Katie Bray and Fflur Wyn in Edward Dick's production of Hansel and Gretel © Robert Workman

What was it like competing in BBC Cardiff Singer of the World?

It was wonderful and terrifying in equal measure! I was very nervous, and also felt so privileged to be involved in such a prestigious event. I had watched the competition as a child and always thought the performers were so talented, so it felt quite extraordinary and surreal to then be on that stage myself.

I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity, because I think it has opened more doors for me and also boosted my confidence to do my own thing and follow my own path. It is so important that we all find our own way in this career and learn to embrace the things we excel at – the competition taught me to do just that.*

*Katie Bray received the Audience Prize at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World in 2019.

Is there any such thing as a typical day for an opera singer?

Not for me! Something I’ve always loved about this job is that no two days feel the same. One day, you’re whizzing off to rehearse a fight scene in central London; the next, you’re doing your arpeggios in the car on the way to an audition in Leeds. The only things I try to do regularly are to keep my voice and body active and strong and eat lots of the good green stuff. As operatic performers, it’s really important and helpful to stay fit, so I make sure that’s something I think about and maintain regularly.

How do you think Covid-19 will change the way you work?

This is a truly terrible time for our industry, and I think we all need to hold onto each other, and to hope. It will be possible to make work again, if we can all think creatively, and come up with new ways of performing, while keeping everyone – performers, stage crew and audiences – safe.

Katie Bray as Louis XV chair in L'enfant et les sortilèges having wig and headpiece fitted © Tom Arber

What are your aspirations for the future?

My short term aspirations are to make as much music and theatre as possible to make up for the huge silence we’ve all been experiencing. We all need to restore our lives and livelihoods as soon as possible, to save our industry, and to maintain some sense that we are all still artists.

Theatre is not just a job for us. It is who we are. We need to make work for ourselves, and we need to make work for our audiences, many of whom are really struggling without the arts. This crazy time might just be the golden opportunity to prove that opera is for everyone and to show that art can help heal us, now more than ever.

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