James Ioelu at home in The Big Apple
Posted on 18 December 2014
I write from New York City where I am currently in the thick of auditioning for artists program with some of the most amazing houses in the world. It’s mind-blowing to see extremely talented singers from every imaginable destination flock to auditions rooms all around NYC to test their mettle against their fellow singers to see if they have a shot in the city of dreams.
It may sound idyllic, maybe even a little romantic. However, getting here has been a long journey filled with many life lessons. As I write, I think of a quote I had seen recently written by Dame Kiri herself; talent is not enough. This is perhaps the most glaring reality when one first steps out from the sanctuary of their music conservatory, into the real world of auditions. It’s much more than having a good voice, and a natural aptitude; it’s networking, finding funding to travel to auditions and professional development, publicity, making valuable connections and fostering them, obsessively paying attention to vocal health, and learning how to make an impression when you are given 15 minutes in a room to impress a panel of judges who are likely to see many other highly trained and experienced singers. It’s daunting but at the same time exhilarating in the sense that this is a profession where excellence is a pre-requisite and nothing less than brilliance is demanded.
Since completing my Masters in Voice at Manhattan School of Music in mid-2013, I have embarked on a path that is typically taken by young opera singers in the embryonic stages of a career. I have worked on a number of operas and independent projects, used this period for intensive professional development, and I have also had success in a number competitions throughout Australasia. These activities wear strategically geared towards preparing me to return to New York, to be in prime condition to audition.
Notably, I have been working very closely with my teacher Madame Virginia Zeani, one of the great singers of her own era who, despite being in her late 80s, continues to work with selected students to impart her insights into this beautiful art form, and is especially gifted in teaching vocal technique. She has profoundly affected the way that I sing, and renewed my own love in the old Italian style of singing. I have also returned to see my other teacher, Maitland Peters, in New York who specializes in opening up the voice. With the support of Creative New Zealand and the Margaret and John Hunn Trust, I have also been fortunate to travel to Europe for coaching and language work – also key ingredients for success!
Since the last update I was fortunate to win the NZ Aria, place second in the Sydney Eisteddfod as well as most recently placing second in the Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Bel Canto Competition. I also had the great pleasure in singing with both Marlena Devoe and Phillip Rhodes whom I admire very much as well as the music students from the University of Auckland in a production of Lucia di Lammermoor with the Auckland Opera Studio and the Auckland Chamber Orchestra. In late 2013, I was also privileged to travel to Rome and Monte Cassino to sing the role of Bruno, in Michael Williams’ The Juniper Passion.
Looking forward to the next couple of months, I am fortunate to be spending some time with Dame Kiri in London as I continue on to the European leg of my auditions tour. At this particular point in my career, I can see that paying particular attention to those who are experienced and successful is crucial to laying solid foundations.
I have found that while there seems to be a lot of support for formal study, less attention is paid to the period that follows. That the foundation offers mentoring and advice as part of the support it gives to young artists, is very much welcomed and appreciated!