Life in music for St Albans diva Debbie

DELIGHTFUL diva Debbie Davison has had several brushes with royalty during her time singing with the English National Opera. But what impresses her most is her good fortune in being able to dedicate her life to music. She doesn t see what she does as wor

DELIGHTFUL diva Debbie Davison has had several brushes with royalty during her time singing with the English National Opera.

But what impresses her most is her good fortune in being able to dedicate her life to music. She doesn't see what she does as work. It's more of a life-consuming passion.

Mezzo soprano Debbie, 44, of Riverside Road, St Albans, said: "I know how lucky I am. I feel totally privileged to spend my time doing something I love."

Debbie has appeared in 23 Royal Variety Performances, sung at around 25 prom nights at the Albert Hall and even sang at The Dome to bring in the new Millennium.

She has met many members of royalty including Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Prince Edward.

If she was a freelance opera singer, life might be beset by financial worries but she has the best of both worlds - the security of being a member of the English National Opera for the past 14 years and the freedom to take on soloist roles for other smaller opera companies and perform in concerts and recitals.

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She played the title roles in Offenbach's La Perichole and Stephen Dodgson's Cadilly for St Albans Chamber Opera in recent times as a paid soloist.

Debbie, who has lived in St Albans for seven years, said: "The life of a professional opera singer can be a long and rocky road with a fair sprinkling of elation and disappointments along the way but it's a road that I feel blessed and privileged to travel along. Life is busy, often hair-raising but never dull!

"But the best thing for me is that I get to spend my days doing something I utterly adore. I'm passionate about music and its possibilities - it has the power to reach into the soul and to connect us as human beings.

"Whether singing for a small choral society or on stage at The Coliseum in front of 2,500 people, music is a wonderful thing to share and I get to do that every day."

Born and raised in Belfast, she was surrounded by music from an early age. Her father Donald, a professor of mathematics at Queens University, is a Belfast City organist and choirmaster who was recently awarded the MBE for his services to music.

Her mother Rosemary sings with her church choir and plays the violin and her brother Andrew and sister Ruth are also fine musicians in their own right.

Debbie said: "I wouldn't be in this fortunate position today if it wasn't for receiving total encouragement from my family who still travel over from Belfast for all my first nights."

She read music at Cardiff University where she was awarded several prizes for performances within the music department. Then began the round of auditions for music colleges until she was offered a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music where she spent four years learning the tools of her trade in voice lessons, vocal coaching, language coaching, performance classes and the vital experience of singing on stage with an orchestra.

After the Academy she was offered a contract with Glyndebourne Festival Opera Chorus, picked from 100 singers.

She said: "I spent several happy and hectic seasons there before auditioning for the ENO Chorus."

She said: "The joy of being part of a company like the ENO is that you are cosseted with the best singing lessons, the finest costumes made especially for you down to the tiniest detail. Even the wigs are made especially to fit our 'blocks' - models of our heads. In the dressing room we have dressers and wig people - "wiggies" - who literally do dress us doing up buttons, etc."

Although she understudies major roles and played some solo parts such as Third Lady in The Magic Flute and got some excellent reviews for her comic role as Inez in The Gondoliers, her main role is as a chorus member.

Rehearsals, especially for new productions, are often intense as there can be a lot riding on their success.

But Debbie said: "Of course, within that intensity, there is also much hilarity. Things often go awry and it's up to the people on stage to carry on regardless. I remember a revolving set which didn't revolve and after a knowing look between us the entire chorus climbed over tables and chairs to get to the front for the next scene."

She tells the tale of one opera featuring nuns in which an unwitting soprano went on as a devout nun, not knowing that the hook of the bra that she had taken off had attached itself to her habit and she thus trailed it around behind her until some kind colleague saved her.

In the same opera there's a very powerful scene at the end where each nun goes off one after the other towards the guillotine to be beheaded. Everyone was told to go off stage right but one nun had obviously got the production notes wrong and headed off stage left in what looked like a glorious bid for freedom.

As there are only 44 members of The Chorus this means she is in almost every opera in the repertoire which is planned two or three years ahead.

But the advantage of knowing when she will be required very far in advance means she can plan the rest of her busy life.

For the ENO is the main string to her bow but she also dedicates much time to concerts and recitals all over the country.

She said: "I've had many calamities on my travels. I don't even want to think about the taxi journey when the driver ended up so lost I had to change into full concert dress in the back of the cab and arrived just as the piece was about to begin."

An accomplished pianist and clarinettist as well as a singing coach, she also gives lessons in all three at her home.

It's obviously crucial for her to take great care of her voice and she says her young pupils' mothers always avoid letting them come to her for tuition if they have respiratory illnesses.

She said: "You can't be too neurotic about it but I will move railway compartments if someone starts sniffling."

A warm, likable woman with a great sense of humour, she deserves her success after all the many hours of study and thousands of pounds spent on singing lessons down the years.