Daniel Nicholson



I used my BBM Youth Support Award to travel to London, where
underwent intensive vocal coaching and training for 5-and-a-half weeks, including
one week and one weekend spent in Berlin, Germany. Over these weeks, it was my
intention to ascertain the standard of vocal tuition in the United Kingdom, and to
experience and understand their style of vocal technique, so that I might be in a better
position, when I come to the end of my undergraduate degree, to decide as to whether
the United Kingdom is somewhere that I would like to pursue postgraduate operatic

It was initially my intention to have lessons with a wide variety of teachers throughout
the United Kingdom, as finding a singing teacher whom one understands, and with
whom one gets along, is the most important aspect of operatic study. However, my
singing teacher and mentor, Professor Maree Ryan, counseled me that the best use of
Award money, in this case, would be undergo intense and focused study with a
small selection of teachers from the elite institutions in London, because having oneoff
lessons with lots of teachers would not give me a comprehensive understanding of
what it would be like to learn from those teachers, and the wide variety of styles and
technique variations would leave me more confused about with whom I would want
to study.

There have been several students from Professor Ryan’s studio who have moved to
the United Kingdom to study postgraduate operatic studies in London, so I sought
their advice, as well as Professor Ryan’s, in selecting whom I should contact for
lessons. Luckily for me, Morgan Pearse, a baritone formerly of Professor Ryan’s
studio, now studying at the Royal College of Music in London, previous winner of a
BBM Youth Support Music Award, and a long-time friend and mentor of mine, was very helpful in
his advice regarding teachers and how he managed his finances when he was traveling
on his Award. After careful deliberation, I decided that I would make contact
with Russel Smythe, an experienced performer and teacher at the Royal College of
Music, and the Natalie Murray, an independent vocal coach who works extensively
with opera houses throughout the United Kingdom and France, and who works
frequently with students at the Royal College of Music. I also decided that I would
have one off lessons with Jeremy Silver, the Director of the National Opera Studio in
Wandsworth, Susanna Stranders, a repetiteur at the Royal Opera House, and
Andrew Robinson, a vocal coach who works at the Royal College of Music.

I also planned to take the opportunity to see as many opera performances as possible.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints from professional commitments, the period of
time that I had allocated for my trip, the 7th of December – 17th of January, coincided
with the holiday period for the tertiary music institutions in London, and also for the
opera companies. This led to my decision to spend the Christmas and New Year week
in Berlin. I had always intended to spend Christmas in Germany, because I have
family friends living in Donaueschingen, but, once I discovered that there would be a
wealth of performances through the holiday week at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, and
substantial difference in price for quality tickets (175 pounds for orchestra stalls at
Covent Garden; 74 euros at the Deutsche Oper), I became convinced that this would
be a better use of my time than staying in London and doing comparatively little.

I would exceptionally lucky in my accommodation arrangements. An old work
colleague of my father, Mr. David Rhodes, offered me accommodation at his house in
Wimbledon, and he and his wife Alex’s generosity and support allowed me to have a
much greater scope for my trip to London than would otherwise have been possible. I
am greatly in their debt, and wish to record my appreciation here.

I left Sydney on Friday the 7th of December at 9:40pm on Emirates flight EY0455,
which landed in Abu Dhabi on Saturday the 8th of December at 5:35am local time.
After a brief rest of one hour and 45 minutes, I then boarded Emirates flight EY0019,
which left Abu Dhabi at 8:20am, and landed in Heathrow on Saturday the 8th of
December 12:25pm local time. Emirates was not an enjoyable flight experience,
particularly for someone of my height (187cm). Once I had arrived in London, I had a
brief struggle with the nice but clearly stressed man at the ticket booth, for whom I
was just one person too many to not really understand the Oyster Card system, and
ask for help. Once I had finally arrived at Southfields tube station, I was warmly
welcomed by Alex Rhodes, and driven back to their house. I struggled to stay awake
until a reasonable hour in the evening, in order to try and conquer jetlag as fast as
possible. The following Sunday revealed just how great a challenge that would be!
The sun tended to go down at around 4pm, and my body clock would respond
accordingly; the first few days, it was difficult to stay up past 7:30pm.

On Monday, the 10th of December, I had my first vocal coaching with Natalie
Murray, at her home in Kennington. Natalie was very friendly, and lovely person with
whom to work. In our first session, we discussed what sort of work would be the most
productive and helpful for me over the time that I would be spending with her. We
decided that the best use of time would be a detailed study of the repertoire that I had
brought with me, which would form the repertoire that I would perform for Junior
Recital at the end of the year. The material we started with was Who is Sylvia by
Gerald Finzi, and Zueignung by Richard Strauss. We commenced what would become
an ongoing theme of our coachings, that of the dramatic difference in styles of English
Art Song, and the most romantic of German Lied. The Finzi requires a strong focus
on the Shakespearean text, with the music taking on a secondary role, while in the
Strauss, a much more broad and operatic sound is appropriate.

On Tuesday, the 11th of December, I had lunch with a friend, Georgia Scott, who is
currently studying composition at the Royal College of Music. She gave me valuable
insights into the overall culture of the College, and I accompanied her to visit the
Royal College to view their music library. Unfortunately, I was unable to see the rest
of the College this day because the university was on its winter holidays, and not open
to the public. In the afternoon, I had my second lesson with Natalie Murray, and the
material we worked on was Come Away, Death by Gerald Finzi, and Breit über mein Haupt
by Richard Strauss. In these two pieces, we found many more similarities than we had
done in the previous works. Both pieces begin with quite a subdued nature, and,
although the Strauss blossoms into something much more dramatic, we looked at
different ways of continuing the solemn heart-felt mood in sharply contrasted styles.

On Wednesday, the 12th of December, I had lunch with a friend, Hannah Cartmill,
who had been living in London all this year on a gap year. She told me about what it
was like for her to find her feet in London when one has virtually no contacts or
family friends to support one, and the difficulties and challenges foreign students face
in finding accommodation and employment.

On Thursday, the 13th of December, I had my first lesson with Russel Smythe, the
teacher from the Royal College.- This was a very challenging lesson for me because
there were quite serious differences and contrasts in technical focus and vocabulary to
that which I am used to in Australia, and this provoked great discussion that pervaded
most of the lesson. We decided that over our lessons together, we would focus
primarily on the technical aspects that are favoured in the United Kingdom, so as best
to accustom me to the style. That afternoon, I had my third lesson with Natalie
Murray. Continuing our focus of repertoire study, the material we looked at was
Nocturne by Gabriel Fauré, and Heimliche Aufforderung by Richard Strauss. Again, these
two pieces are, stylistically, very different. In Lieder, it is imperative for the singer to
stress the important words, lest the meaning of the text be lost amongst the line of the
music and tone of the voice. In French Mélodie, however, the word stresses are much
more subtle, and are written into the music. The singer, then, has to overcome their
music instinct to emphasise certain beats in the bar, nor can they be influenced by the
contour of their part, they just have to be sung in a pure and perfectly even legato.

On Friday, the 14th of the December, I had my second lesson with Russel Smythe. We
discuss and practiced further aspects of vocal technique, with a particular focus on
breathing. We also discussed my current repertoire and repertoire history, and
potential directions that I may wish to head in the future. As it was our last lesson
before January, we also discussed exercises that I could work on in the break, to
develop skills upon which we could then build when our lessons recommenced. In the
afternoon, I had my fourth lesson with Natalie Murray. The material we worked on
was En Sourdine by Gabriel Fauré, and Heimliche Aufforderung by Richard Strauss. We
looked at the Strauss for a second time today because it is one of his most operatic and
difficult Lieder, and its challenges were particularly apparent alongside the Fauré.
On Saturday, the 15th of December, I had my fifth lesson with Natalie Murray. The
material we worked on was Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun, and O Mistress Mine, both
by Gerald Finzi. As these two pieces were both English Art Song, by the same
composer and from the same song cycle, we were able to have a much more focused
study of the stylistic features of English Art Song.

On Sunday, the 16th of December, I attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah at
the Barbican Centre.

On Monday, the 17th of December, I had my sixth lesson with Natalie Murray. The
material we worked on was Revenge, Revenge Timotheus Cries, by George Frederic
Handel, and Epiphanias by Hugo Wolf. I was especially looking forward to going
through the Handel, because his music is a special passion of mine, and it has been
suggested to me that I should consider specialising in, so I was curious to hear what
advice Natalie would have for me, as there is a very strong tradition of Handel
performance in the United Kingdom. She was able to tell me a lot about the
opportunities for Handel specialists in the United Kingdom, and was very
encouraging that I consider that career direction.

On Tuesday, the 18th of December, I had my seventh lesson with Natalie Murray.
The material we worked on was Nocturne, and En Sourdine, both by Gabriel Fauré.
With our sessions drawing to a close, we have started to consolidate and summarise
the work that we have carried out. Today was our final day of French Mélodie, as we
recapped the two Fauré songs at which we had looked.

On Wednesday the 19th of December, I had my eighth lesson with Natalie Murray.
The material we worked on was Who is Sylvia and Come Away, Death, both by Gerald
Finzi, and Breit über mein Haupt by Richard Strauss. We briefly covered most of the
material that we had looked at. This evening, I attended a performance of Robert le
Diable at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, featuring the bass-baritone John
Relyea. This was my first experience at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. It
was wonderful; I had never before seen a theatre constructed on such a grand and
magnificent scale. Robert le Diable is by a composer with whom I was not every familiar:
Giacomo Meyerbeer. The production had received mixed reviews, and I could
understand why; it was an interpretation that approached the quirky, and it felt
almost as a paroady at times. Regardless, the singing was exceptional, and I felt very
privileged and lucky to be able to see such a high quality production.

On Thursday, the 20th of December, I had my ninth and final lesson with Natalie
Murray. I discussed Robert le Diable with her, and it felt a very fitting end to our time
together. Accordingly The material we worked on was the most difficult of the
repertoire at which we had looked: Heimliche Aufforderung by Richard Strauss, and
Revenge, Revenge Timoethus Cries, by George Frederic Handel.

On Saturday, the 22nd of December, I flew from London, Heathrow Airport, leaving
at 7:05am, to Berlin, Tegel Airport, arriving at 9:55am, on British Airways Flight
0990. I was determined to make the most of this brief sojourn to Germany, and I was
very excited about my first real trip to Berlin. This evening, I attended at performance
of Tannhäuser, und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg, by Richard Wagner, at the Deutsche
Oper. This was a truly magnificent musical experience. Wagner is not a composer
that I’m able to listen to casually, because of his immensity and detail in composition;
it’s music that you have to sit down and focus on to listen to. Wagner is also never
performed in Australia, because the orchestra pit at the Sydney Opera House is not
large enough to accommodate the size of a Wagnerian orchestra. So, in short, I was
very excited for this performance. The Deutsche Oper is very austere compared to the
Royal Opera House, and has a smaller audience capacity, but its productions are no
less grand! I don’t think I could have enjoyed a greater venue or production for my
first Wagner experience.

On Monday, the 24th of December, I traveled, by train, to Donaueschingen, in
Baden-Wurttemberg, on ICE277, leaving Berlin Hbf at 6:33am, and arriving at
Offenburg at 12:27pm, and then on RE4713, leaving Offenburg at 12:59pm, and
arriving at Donaueschingen at 2:17pm, in order to spend Christmas Eve with family

On Tuesday, the 25th of December, I traveled back to Berlin, on IRE5316, leaving
Donaueschingen at 2:45pm, arriving at Baden-Baden at 4:27pm, then on ICE70,
leaving Baden-Baden at 4:34pm, and arriving at Hannover Hbf at 8:17pm, and,
finally, on ICE1535, leaving Hannover Hbf at 8:31pm, and arriving at Berlin Hbf at

On Thursday, the 27th of December, I attended a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor,
by Luciano Donizetti, at the Deutsche Oper. I knew nothing of Lucia di Lammermoor
outside of that it was the role upon which Dame Joan Sutherland built her career, so I
was eager to see it. This production was a lot more traditional in staging, which is no
longer the norm in Germany, so I was glad that I had the opportunity to see one of
the old productions before it was entirely restaged. I was pleasantly surprised, as well,
to find that the principal male role in Lucia, her brother Enrico, was a baritone.

On Friday, the 28th of December, I attended a performance of Die Schlaue Füchslein
(The Cunning Little Vixen), by Janacek, at the Deutsche Oper. This was, I’m sorry to
say, quite a disappointment for me. The style of production and performance was that
of pantomime, and many the beautiful moments in the music were lost, and the
philosophical thrust of the opera was ignored completely. It was advertised as a
‘Family Day’, which I had missed because that information was only printed in
German, and it felt as such. This was the only day in my entire trip that I didn’t enjoy.

On Tuesday, the 1st of January, I traveled, by train, from Berlin to London. Initially,
on ICE650, leaving Berlin Hbf at 10:49am, arriving at Cologne Hbf at 3:09pm, then
on ICE14, leaving Cologne Hbf at 3:43pm, arriving at Brussels at 7:35pm, and,
finally, on EST9157, leaving Brussels at 6:56pm, and arriving at London St. Pancras
Station at 7:57pm. I chose to catch the train back to London, because I thought that
traveling by train across Europe would be an important and beautiful experience, and
it was, but my suggestion, to any future award recipient reading this that is
considering the same, is to save that trip for another holiday. It is a 10-hour trip, very
expensive, and the border security at for the United Kingdom is very difficult. If I had
my time over again, the only change that I would have made to my trip is that I would
have flown back to London today.

On Friday, the 4th of January, I have my third lesson with Russel Smythe. We
discussed the differences in performance and singing practice between Germany and
the United Kingdom, and considered the strengths and weaknesses of each. It was
really interesting to hear Russell’s perspective as a performer who had worked in both
the United Kingdom and Germany. We began further technical training, and look at
the song Who is Sylvia, by Gerald Finzi, with particular emphasis on text expression.

That afternoon, I had a consultation lesson with Jeremy Silver, at the National Opera
Studio in Wandsworth. The material we worked on was Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun
by Gerald Finzi, and Revenge, Revenge Timotheus Cries by George Frederic Handel. We
also discussed study conditions and possibilities in the United Kingdom. That evening,
I attended a concert of French Song at Wigmore Hall. This concert was beautiful, and
the baritone, Christopher Maltman, was really impressive in the hall. I was truly
inspired by the concert.

On Saturday, the 5th of January, I flew from London, Heathrow Airport, to Berlin,
Tegel Airport, on Birtish Airways Flight BA0984, leaving London at 1pm, and
arriving in Berlin at 3:50pm. That evening, I attended a performance of Rienzi, Die
Letzte der Tribunen at the Deutsche Oper. This was my most sensational night in the
whole trip. This was another Wagner opera, and it was magnificent. It was an
incredibly charged and intense production, and the most striking and and exciting
acting and singing I had ever seen. I have never seen anything as amazing before.

On Sunday, the 6th of January, I attended a performance of La Traviata at the
Deutsche Oper. La Traviata is one of my favourite operas, and it was my last night that
I was spending in Germany and this being one of my favourite operas, I was really
hoping to see something fantastic, and I wasn’t disappointed. The performance was
really high quality, and very moving. At a restaurant after the performance, I had a
chance encounter with the internationally acclaimed Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel.
This was so special for me, because Bryn Terfel is one of my idols and it was so
wonderful to be able to meet him and talk to him about singing in the UK.

On Monday, the 7th of January, I flew from Berlin Tegel, leaving at 11am, to London
Heathrow, arriving at 12pm, on British Airways flight BA0991. That evening, I
attended a performance of La Bohéme at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.
This was my third evening at the opera in a row, and it was my second time in the
Royal Opera House. Unfortunately, I was supposed to see Ramon Villazon that
evening, but he was ill, and we heard a Ukrainian tenor instead, who was good of
himself, but I was looking forward to hearing Mr Villazon. The production is one that
had been at the Royal Opera House, and it was electrifyingly exciting and busy
onstage. It was a wonderful conclusion to my opera-going experiences in the United
Kingdom, and I loved it.

On Tuesday, the 8th of January, I had my fourth lesson with Russell Smythe. We
focused more on technical work, and the material we looked at Zueignung by Richard
Strauss. By this stage, I was feeling much more comfortable with working with
Russell. I was on top of Russell’s technical vocabulary, and I was understanding what
he was asking of me. We had a really good lesson today, and I was really happy.

On Wednesday, the 9th of January, I had a coaching with Susanna Stranders at the
Royal Opera House. This was a very exciting experience for me because this coaching
was actually held in one of the rehearsal rooms at the Royal Opera House, so I went
in through the stage door, and was able to see the backstage of the House. Working
with Susanna was very exciting, as she is a repetiteur currently working at the Royal
Opera House. Her style of teaching was full of imagery, and descriptions of ideas to
have in one’s mind when one sings. This style of teaching that is not something one
sees in Australia, and so it was a very informative experience for me.

On Thursday, the 10th of January, I attended a performance of Cabaret. While my first
love and goal is operatic performance and singing, I am passionate about musical
theatre as well, and I couldn’t go to London without seeing a musical production on
the West End, and Cabaret is one of my favourite musicals. It was a stunning
performance, and was everything I’d hoped for.

On Friday, the 11th of January, I had my fifth, and final, lesson with Russell Smythe.
We summarised the technique covered, and possibilities that he suggested that I
consider in the future. On reflection, I’m very happy with my lessons with Russell,
and I’m especially happy that I had as many as I did. If I had only had one or two
lessons with Russell, as per my original plan, I would have come away from the
lessons feeling very confused and disappointed that I had found it so difficult and
challenging. As I had five lessons, however, I was able to adjust to his way of thinking,
and start to benefit from what he had to offer me. I am very grateful to him for the
guidance, help, and support that he gave me.

On Monday, the 14th of January, I had a coaching Andrew Robinson, an independent
vocal coach whom I contacted at the suggestion of Russell Smythe. The material we
worked on was Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun, by Gerald Finzi, and Nocturne by Gabriel
Fauré. Russell had recommended strongly that I have one or two sessions with
Andrew before I leave, and I’m glad I did. Andrew taught the same technique that
Russell did, but explained it in a slightly different way, and his emphasis was very
strongly on that of the performance and expression of the text of the work. That
evening, I was lucky enough to sit in on a lecture on vocal technique given at the
Royal College of Music by Russell Smythe. Being able to sit in on a class given at the
Royal College allowed me to not only have see what teaching and lessons are like, but
also to see the standard of the students in attendance at the college, the quality of
whom I had not yet been able to see.

On Tuesday, the 15th of January, I had a second coaching with Andrew Robinson.
The material we worked on was Who is Sylvia and O Mistress Mine, both by Gerald
Finzi. This was my last coaching of the trip, and it felt like a good conclusion. Andrew
is very enthusiastic about the English Art Song repertoire, and it was great to hear his
comments and feedback, after working on these songs during my period in the United

On Thursday, the 17th of January, I left the United Kingdom.

I would like to express my gratitude to BBM Youth Support for providing me
with this Award so that I had this tremendous and fantastic opportunity to
investigate and study in this country in which I hope to one day pursue my dream of
working as a professional operatic singer. I truly cannot express the value of this
experience. Without it, at the conclusion of my degree, I would be auditioning for
musical institutions in the United Kingdom without any real idea of whether it would
be somewhere that would be good for me to study, or if I would even be happy there.
The leap that, regrettably, all young Australian operatic singers must take in moving
overseas to find work or pursue their study further is a terribly difficult one, and,
because of our geographical isolation, it is impossible for us to be confident in the
institutions and teachers for which and for whom we audition. The BBM Youth Support Award has made this leap easier for me. I now have teachers and coaches
I can trust, and I have made important personal and business contacts that will prove
invaluable when I move to the UK. Thank you, sincerely, for your support in my pursuit of excellence.

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