WAO Ghost Spotlight with Brianna Louwen
As preparations ramp up for our mainstage return, cherish the sense of wonder music ignites within artist and audience alike. From the first seeds of artistic planning to the final curtain call, we want to shine a spotlight on our creatives working in the Ghost Light to bring the magic of opera to you. Connect with your state opera company on an intimate level and appreciate the fresh thoughtfulness, growth and excitement brought forth by opera’s best emerging talent.
This week, hear from Wesfarmers Arts Young Artist Brianna Louwen on sinking her teeth into character work, the importance of a supportive artistic environment, and her advice for celebrating achievements.
1. Tell us about your experience returning to live performance last month with Standing Room Only – how did it feel to have a physical audience again? Was there a certain ambience in the ballroom?
Standing Room Only felt like a bit of a debutante performance for me. I had just spent many months shut away practising arias and emerged to air Verdi’s rather famous ‘Caro Nome’ for the first time. The pressure was certainly on, but the audience could not have been more supportive and grateful to be hearing live music again. I won’t soon forget the thrill of performing in public for the first time in many months.
2. What challenges and opportunities did the pandemic period present? What did working in the “ghost light” mean for you as a young artist?
It’s difficult to complain about the pandemic period in WA, since we’ve been incredibly lucky relative to so many other places. For me, it meant a very full diary was wiped clean, and all of my work stopped for a couple of months. The flip side of this, however, was a chance to finally stop and practise after many years of working on my singing gig-to-gig. For me, becoming a Young Artist meant that I needed to learn more repertoire and move into a harder (and higher) sphere of singing, so what I really needed was time. Here it was! Working in the “ghost light” was my chance to overhaul some technique and connect with the music in a way I hadn’t before, and you’ll all be seeing the results of this in the coming months.
3. Soon we are entering the rehearsal studio for The Nightingale. What will this process involve and what are you most looking forward to?
It’s a real privilege to perform a new opera, and one that lends itself more to my own creative stamp. I think that there’s a sense of freedom that comes with walking a path less trodden in the opera world, and I can’t wait to get really stuck into the role of the Kitchen Maid. It’s also a huge opportunity to perform an entire role – so often we sing arias in isolation and don’t get to fully sink our teeth into a character. My family tells me that the role of a Kitchen Maid is perfect for me, especially since during lockdown I became a bit obsessed with cooking a lot of Ottolenghi recipes… Joking aside, I really enjoy getting the chance to play a character that is a quietly strong female – she might be overlooked by some, but she gets to steer the narrative in the right direction and ultimately save the day.
4. How important do you think it is to enable youth audiences to enjoy work produced by their peers?
I think that the key to adults appreciating art and music lies in exposure to the arts as a young person. If we have the chance to foster a love for art and a supportive environment in which to create it among young people, we have the chance to shape an artistically accepting culture. If there’s a chance that seeing someone your own age on stage could be the tipping point for any young person into a career in the arts, then we would be remiss not to take it. Patrons, supporters, actors, singers, dancers, artistic administrators, stage managers, costumers – the seeds of all of these things can be planted so early, and it is so exciting to be part of a project that nurtures both the people on stage and the audiences that will come and see them.
5. Do you have any advice you would like to give to young people interested in performing?
This is a very tough question to answer, because everyone’s path is different. The things I see ‘grown-up’ performers needing time and time again are a strong support network both at home and among their peers, and a strong sense of joy when things go really well. I would say to a young person: Get involved with as many opportunities to perform as you can; build yourself a strong support network of family, friends, other performers, who can help get you through the more difficult times and celebrate with you when things go well! I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve got a few Gorman pieces in my wardrobe that were treats after big performances…
Also, wear sequins because life’s too short for boring concert attire.
6. Now that restrictions are relaxed, how are you spending your free time?
Well, now that restrictions are relaxed, my free time is greatly diminished! I try to be really intentional in my free time and relax and rest well, to make up for those times when it’s gigs and rehearsals up to my eyeballs.
I’m doing a lot of running and will run my first Half Marathon in September, practising a lot, playing tennis, eating Portuguese tarts and reading a beautiful book called Where the Crawdads Sing, recommended to me from my favourite podcast – Chat 10 Looks 3.
7. What exciting projects do you have on the horizon?
The Nightingale is by far the most exciting thing coming up! It’s my first role with WAO and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. After that it’s Cosi fan tutte, a few solo gigs dotted through to the end of the year, lots of choral commitments through to Christmas, and hunkering down to learn as many operatic roles as I can – you never know what’s coming round the corner!
Don’t miss Brianna Louwen’s solo debut with WAO in The Nightingale – you can find out more about this exciting new production here.
ABOUT BRIANNA LOUWEN
Brianna Louwen is a Soprano from Perth, Western Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Western Australia and a Masters in Solo Voice Ensemble Singing from the University of York in the UK. She is a Wesfarmers Arts Young Artist with the West Australian Opera Company and will make her role debut as the Kitchen Maid in The Nightingale.
Brianna sings with the St George’s Cathedral Choir and Consort, The Giovanni Consort and the Choirs of St George’s College, UWA, where she is the Vocal Specialist. In 2019 she featured on an ABC recording with Australian Baroque. Brianna has been a soloist with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions including the BBC Planet Earth II Arena Tour.
In 2016 Brianna won a Young Person and the Arts International Travelling Scholarship, and the Fremantle Eisteddfod Aria Competition. In 2018 and 2019 she was a finalist in the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Oratorio Competition.