UW Alumna takes centre stage in one of the greatest love stories ever sung
Soprano, and University of Wales Alumna, Giselle Allen is to perform in a major new production of La bohème by Welsh National Opera (WNO).
The opera, written by Puccini and first performed in 1896, focuses on the relationship between Rodolfo, a penniless poet, and Mimì, a seamstress. Set in the elegance of Edwardian Paris, they fall passionately in love, but their happiness is threatened when Rodolfo learns that Mimì is gravely ill and so begins one of the great romances in all of opera.
This summer, WNO will bring together a new production of the opera, the first for nearly three decades, working with internationally acclaimed director Annabel Arden. Taking one of the lead roles, Giselle will be performing as Mimì in two performances this summer before taking over the role for the majority of performances when the production forms part of the autumn season, touring around Wales and England.
Born in Belfast, Giselle Allen graduated from the then University of Wales, Cardiff with honours in Music before pursuing her vocal studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Academy of Music. The winner of numerous awards at both establishments, she has also achieved success in several competitions in the UK and Ireland, notably winning the Lady Nixon Prize, the Countess of Munster scholarship and the Sybill Tutton Award.
Here she answers questions on her time at University, her career, and upcoming role:
How has your degree helped to contribute to your career, what skills did you learn?
I was advised by various music teachers that it would be wise to get a Degree behind me ,not only did it give me a really good grounding in theory and analysis but also in the different historical periods and styles of composition which I have been able to refer back to when studying different roles. There was such a fantastic performance life in the department and I had so many opportunities to perform in Chamber Choir, main choir and various recitals and concerts. I was given a wonderfully rich musical education. Not only was it important to learn all of this but vital 'Life' experience was also gained. All of this experience has helped me in the interpretation of my work, musically and theatrically.
What does playing the character “Mimi” mean to you, and how does it feel to be back in Cardiff performing?
I am absolutely thrilled to be back in Cardiff! When I was in University, we were often given tickets for the Opera at St David’s Hall and I remember thinking “I hope to sing there one day”. What is wonderful is that I now get to do this in the amazing new Wales Millennium Centre - the theatre is incredible. Walking around Cardiff, I feel like I've never been away! It has been 20 years since I graduated and it does almost feel like a homecoming.
This is the first time I have sung the role of Mimi and it feels very right to be performing it for the first time in Cardiff, a place very close to my heart. I'm very excited to sing Mimi as I have sung Musetta (the other soprano role) many times but never this role. She is a very interesting character and like all of Puccini’s’ women in his operas, she is very complex; I feel that people always underestimate her strength and intelligence. She is usually portrayed as very sweet, but rather one dimensional. We are exploring a very different side to her but a very truthful one. It’s a fantastic journey to be taking.
What advice would you offer current student wanting to follow in your footsteps?
The advice I would give to any students hoping to become singers is to make the most of your time at university, soak up all of that great teaching and make the most of the variety of performance offered. If you really want to be an opera singer, continue your studies at Conservatoire or consider joining a chorus like Glyndebourne where they really nurture their young singers. It is not an overnight process, there is a lot of hard graft to be done and the more life experience the better.
I suppose what I’m saying is that there is no rush, arm yourself with the best tools you can such as musical knowledge, good technique and be open to constantly learn. The minute you think you know it all is the end, as musicians and singers we never stop learning! Making music is a wonderful gift; enjoy your time there and Good luck!
For more information about Giselle Allen, please visit - www.hazardchase.co.uk/artists/giselle_allen
For more information about La bohème and Welsh National Opera’s summer season visit their website – www.wno.org.uk
For more information about Cardiff University, please visit their website – www.cardiff.ac.uk