Hey guys! So today’s post is a continuation of last week’s post about my amazing day trip to London which you can click here to read about. I mentioned last week that my main reason for visiting London was for a media piece. I’m very happy to reveal that that media piece was actually an interview with one of the rising stars of the English National Opera, Rachel Oyawale. I find Rachel to be so inspiring and I’m so glad that I got to meet her. I could relate to her a lot in some of her answers in the interview as we are both quite young and are chasing after our passions in life. I’m really excited for you all to get to know her through this post! A massive thank you to my colleague Richard Bloss – without you, this post would not be possible and I’m very grateful for the opportunity you gave me to accompany you in interviewing Rachel. So in today’s post, I’m going to share my interview with Rachel Oyawale with you.
Rachel Oyawale is one of the most passionate, inspiring people I’ve met in my life. Upon entering the room where Richard and I were waiting for her, she instantly brought this bright, cheerful energy with her and I was intrigued to discover more about her and the journey she’d taken so far in the opera world.
We seated ourselves upstairs, away from the noise of the crowds of people who were waiting to see an opera at ENO that afternoon. Richard began with his opening interview question and so opened the book of Rachel Oyawale’s life. She had always loved to sing but she hadn’t focused on opera until a little later on in life. She revealed to us that at the age of 11, her headmistress at the time saw potential in her and her singing ability and encouraged her to have singing lessons to train her voice. Her singing teacher advised her to not only focus on jazz which she liked to sing but also to be trained in opera so she could have the option to sing it if she wanted to in the future.
A pivotal moment in her journey was after she’d passed her grade 4 classical singing with a distinction. Her mum treated her to her first opera La Boheme, about people who decide to feed their souls rather than their bellies and she couldn’t quite grasp how the marriage of the human voice and the amazing composition of it could feel like an extension of human emotion. She said that when words fail, music speaks which I think is so true and is something I often experience as I play the flute and the piano. From that point on, she was taken with opera and she knew it was what she wanted to do.
Someone who was an inspiration for her was Grace Bumbry. Grace, like her, was a black opera singer and she’d smashed through all kinds of racial barriers to reach her goals and dreams. It reassured her that there was a place for her in the opera world and that it shouldn’t matter what your race is if you have a voice deemed to be good enough for opera. Rachel was really encouraged to work hard and improve her technique.
After doing her GCSEs, Rachel struggled to find any programmes that supported young people in opera. Her mum discovered the ENO Baylis programme which helped young singers to create and learn things about an opera that was playing that season. They contacted ENO and by chance, they had one place left in the programme since a girl had dropped out that day.
What really struck her about working with ENO in their Baylis programme was how they treated the young people like professionals. Working with ENO professionally revealed to her that the respect and care they have for the performers is the exact same as the respect they have for the Baylis students which was very encouraging for her. ENO pushed them to apply different operas to their real life situations since opera mirrors society. She feels that ENO is an inviting and warm company and she could relate to them a lot.
A big leap for her in her journey was being part of the opera Porgy and Bess. It was daunting at first but she felt very supported by her colleagues and the whole organisation really felt like a family for her which I thought was so lovely. Just before the opening night of Porgy and Bess, it was the 50th anniversary of opera in the building ENO are currently in so they were of course celebrating it with a gala. Rachel was called down from her dressing room with no idea what was happening and she was presented with the Lilian Baylis award for outstanding potential. She was extremely amazed and grateful for it.
One of her primary ambitions in her art is to affect people and make them feel things. I could just tell that there was no ego, no pride and no ulterior motives in her opera and that she wanted to pursue it because it was her passion in life. I think it’s refreshing to meet someone like her who is so focused on her art instead of on the money and fame she could earn from it as sometimes, these things seduce people instead and they forsake the passion and love they had for their art in the beginning.
To young girls like herself, she’d advise them to search for the spaces that welcome young people and to know that they are out there. A role she is interested in playing in the future is Aida, a Nubian princess who is trying to juggle returning to her homeland and stepping forward into her future while trying to not betray herself or her family. The female focus of the opera and the incredible music in it entices Rachel.
Rachel is planning to go to university soon to study English literature. She hopes she will be able to continue with her opera singing alongside her studies.
I closed the interview with my classic ‘Describe yourself in 3 words’ question. It really does get people every single time! After pondering it, Rachel selected the words family-orientated, kind and passionate to best describe herself.
I feel very blessed that I got the opportunity to meet Rachel. She is very passionate and focused on her art and it is clear that she isn’t egotistical or entitled in the slightest. I have no doubts that she will continue to pursue her dreams in opera and I wish her all the best in it!
Thank you for reading this post! I hope you enjoyed getting to know Rachel Oyawale better. There’ll be another post out soon but until then bye for now!
Amelia Grace a.k.a Amelia in Hull