I saw my first opera at four and a half years old, didn’t fall asleep as she expected and left the opera house, telling her that’s what I wanted to do. Luckily, she believed me! Gweneth-Ann Rand
Rand is celebrated widely with awards, takes leading roles in major productions and is invited to perform at engagements all over the world. But in her long career, she has suffered her fair share of rejection from the opera world. And remains one of few Black artists at the higher levels of influence in the artform.
6 Years ago she teamed up with acclaimed theatremaker Brian Lobel to explore society’s unhealthy relationship with failure and success, how this affects our confidence, self-image and mental health.
They created a joyful, funny and shame-free show – rejecting the elitism and therefore failure of the opera sector to include and attract new talent and audiences. They honestly share their own experiences, use captions in English, and feature live performances from musicians at all levels. Currently at Battersea Arts Centre all tickets are Pay What You Can so people can choose a price that’s not intimidating for them.
ALT: When did you discover opera? Tell us who the 7-year-old Gweneth-Ann that has led to this moment?
I was taken to all types of theatre by my Mum when I was very small. I saw my first opera at four and a half years old, didn’t fall asleep as she expected and left the opera house, telling her that’s what I wanted to do. Luckily, she believed me!
ALT: What did your professional training include?
I had singing lessons from seven years old. Studied music for O and A level. Went to university and got a BMus, then Mmus and after a while, went to music college as a postgraduate. Then did an Opera course and then was a Young Artist at the Royal Opera House. It doesn’t end there. You have to study and learn new roles, so in that way, it never really stops.
ALT: Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
From a five-year-old brain…I fell in love with it, I never actually thought about doing something else. I suppose you can say I’m quite single minded! And my mother was wonderful enough to encourage this in this endeavour.
ALT: What was your first professional experience like and where?
After University, I saw an advert for an open call for Carmen Jones at the Young Vic. Having never done a professional audition before, went along. Got the job at 23 years old, did Chorus and covered one of the main roles. Was an experience!
ALT: Who are the opera singers that have come before you that admire or have influenced your career?
Leontyne Price, one of the greatest black, female opera singers to have graced a stage. Jessye Norman was another. They came before me and proved that it might be possible.
ALT: What have been you biggest challenges and biggest joys?
Challenges…wow…that’s not an easy one to answer. In life, every day there are challenges. But in the classical music field, more. It’s so subjective. your voice, your look, so many things. Also, there are not many of us out there (black, classical musicians). But there are more now and that’s a wonderful thing. Joys…doing something that people said I couldn’t….and helping to make sure there’s a path to follow.
ALT: Does Opera music need to be more mainstream?
Absolutely. It’s such an amazing genre. It all runs on emotions, and we all experience those everyday. It’s visceral and thrilling and when done right, touches you to your core. Yes, we have orchestras, lights, costumes that help tell the stories, but it always comes down to the storytelling. Back in the day, opera used to be for everyone. I’m sad that it’s thought of as an elitist thing. It shouldn’t be.
ALT: Tell us a bit about your work with theatremaker Brian Lobel to date?
Eight years ago, I got a phone call from a mutual colleague, a director. He said that he knew this amazing guy called Brian Lobel, who wanted to write a show about failure, and he thought of me…no words. I helped him create the show as it is now, and it is a beautiful thing. Touching, honest, intimate, and based on a subject that people refuse to acknowledge…the idea of failure and how it can change you, how you deal with it and what it means to you.
ALT: Which works do you like performing the most?
There’s no specific classical genre as such. I’m lucky enough to do new and canon operas, recitals, and orchestral concerts. I love Verdi Requiem, for the writing, the choir, and the way it’s all put together. There’s an opera by Phil Venables called 4.48 Psychosis that is based on the Sarah Kane play, that deals with mental help, depression, and suicide. Anything that basically piques my interest I will love to sing.
ALT: What can one expect from your production at BAC?
Honesty, humour, realness, some lovely music and thought. It’s about communication and community. And realising there’s no shame in the word failure. I feel in the world we live in now, that’s really important. What’s that phrase? You have to fail in order to succeed…what failure might be for you, might not be the same as the next person. We can’t judge, all we can do is support.
ALT: Where do you call home?
Home is wherever my family is. I’m lucky enough to be able to say that.
24 Italian Songs and Arias will be at Battersea Arts Centre from 3 – 19 March 2022. All tickets Pay What You Can bac.org.uk
A show about failure, by two award-winning failures. After failing to win numerous awards and after many unsuccessful funding applications, ‘24 Italian Songs and Arias’ is a recital, an opera, a gathering for (and by) those whose best isn’t always enough.
(Beloved) performance artist Brian Lobel (‘Sex With Cancer’, ‘Purge’) failed to get into the New York State Choir. (Acclaimed) Soprano Gweneth-Ann Rand (‘4.48 Psychosis’, Royal Opera House; ‘Aida’, ENO National Opera) failed to win at Cardiff Singer of the World. These two magnificent failures have joined forces to create a show about trying your best, aiming to please and how we ever know if we are ‘good enough’.
Featuring Brian Lobel, Gweneth-Ann Rand, Allyson Devenish, Naomi Felix and a locally-sourced tenor (playing 17-year old Brian), alongside members of a local choir.
Socially distanced performance: Wednesday 16 March, 8pmAll performances are Relaxed. At BAC, this means you can move, make noise, or take breaks, visit our ‘chill out’ room, and wear our ear defenders, if you need