Dame Sarah Connolly voices concern for future of British opera singers

Dame Sarah Connolly has said she is concerned about the future of British opera singers if they cannot “spend a significant amount of time in Europe establishing their careers”.

The mezzo-soprano has performed at some of the most prestigious venues in the world, including the Royal Opera House in London and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, as well as Glyndebourne, Vienna, Bayreuth and Paris.

The 58-year-old fears that British musicians will not be able to compete with European singers if they are not able to establish themselves and learn the operatic repertoire in all languages.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Dame Sarah believes young musicians need to establish their careers in Europe (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

She told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs: “The future of opera in Europe is in very good hands; the future of British opera singers, I’m not so sure about.

“I’m very worried that without some kind of situation where British musicians can spend a significant amount of time in Europe establishing their careers, I’m very concerned that what we have at the moment – which is roughly 20% of the global excellence, some of the greatest singers in the world are British – where’s that next generation going to come from if they can’t get known?

“Not just through the Cardiff Singer of the World competition and these occasional competitions where people are thrust into the limelight.

“What about the hard work of networking, going to work, like I did with William Christie for months and months and months on end?

Scottish Opera’s Der Rosenkavalier at Theatre Royal in Glasgow
She has starred in Operas across the world (Danny Lawson/PA)

“Establishing yourself, audiences getting to hear you, working through the repertoire in all languages. How can we compete with our German, French, Portuguese, Austrian friends if we’re not known.”

The opera star took a break from singing in June 2019 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She describes herself in her Twitter biography as a “recent chemotherapy survivor” and explained she decided to be open about her diagnosis and experience to help others going through a similar situation.

Dame Sarah said: “I felt when I was researching other singers who had suffered breast cancer, I couldn’t find many names, I mean two.

“And I thought I would really love to know more about whether it affects the voice, what’s my journey going to be like, and people understandably are very private about it.

Charles presents awards to young musicians
She had to take a break from singing while undergoing chemotherapy (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“But I thought, I’m not ashamed of this. I’m very afraid, but I want to be there for (others), to have this experience so that other people can ring me up and write to me and say, ‘Well what happens when they give you this chemical, what happens to your voice? Should I carry on singing?’ So I decided to be very open about it.”

She confessed she felt “mortal fear” while undergoing chemotherapy and said the chemicals “didn’t get on well with me at all”, but added: “In many ways, I’m totally different – I would say that I feel more strength.”

The singer said she received a lot of support from musician friends, adding: “The support I had was astounding, and I don’t think one would get that if one didn’t talk about it, so I really appreciate it.”

Her songs choices on the show ranged from Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin to Richard Wagner’s Der Ring.

Dame Sara’s episode of Desert Islands Discs airs on Sunday at 11am on BBC Radio 4.