In June, 2007, soprano Elizabeth Watts took part in the prestigious Cardiff Singer of the World competition and carried off a major song recital prize. Liz was brought up in Hethersett, although she currently lives in Croydon. During and after the competition Liz spoke to Hethersett on the Web and we were fortunate enough to be able to follow her progress and write articles for the local papers. Below are re-productions of those articles and some of the interviews with Liz. See also the comment section by clicking here.
When top British soprano Elizabeth Watts takes to
the stage for an international singing contest in June she will carry
with her memories of growing up in Hethersett.
“Liz” has been chosen to represent England in
the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition.
The contest is open to singers aged between 18 and
36 and looks for vocal talent, musicianship and communication skills.
This year over 1,000 singers applied to take part with 677 from 64
different countries being auditioned. From these the field was whittled
down to the final 25 who will represent countries as diverse as England,
Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Russia, Sweden, Japan, China, Canada and
Brazil. The winner will receive a trophy and £15,000 and there will
also be a chance for the audience and television viewers at home to
chose their own favourite.
Liz is at present busy preparing a very complex
programme for the finals which can be seen on BBC Television from 9th
to 17th of June.
Liz is still only 28 and regarded as a “relative
baby” in opera circles. In a very short time, however, she has made
her mark but believes her best is still to come.
“I don’t think I will reach my peak as a
performer until the age of 33 or 34,” she said.
That statement could be borne out of modesty as Liz
is no stranger to success. Last year she won the prestigious Kathleen
Ferrier award in a competition held at the Wigmore Hall and named after
the famous Lancashire contralto who died in her forties.
Liz has also taken numerous other prizes in the operatic field.
She grew up in Hethersett and her first stage
performance was at the age of six in the musical Stargazers at
Hethersett Methodist Church. She has a number of vivid memories of the
village and its people and attending the local churches and being
brought up in a musical family. Her mother Rosemary was involved in
local politics as a member of and then clerk to the parish council.
“I remember being in a Christian worship band at
the Methodist Church. We also always sang together at home as a family.
I suppose we were a bit like the Von Trapps,” she laughed.
Today Liz lives in Croydon and admits she loves
“the buzz” that she gets from London but sometimes feel rather
“I do miss the lovely open spaces of Norfolk. I
suppose I’m still a country girl at heart but a country girl that
feels very happy and fulfilled.”
She attended Woodside First School in the village
before moving on to Norwich High School and becoming a chorister at
Norwich Cathedral before gaining a first class hours degree in
archaeology from Sheffield University.
Archaeology and opera may on the surface seem to be
completely diverse subjects but Liz believes they are mutually
“Taking an archaeology degree taught me how to
think. Archaeology deals with the depths and breadths of humanity and
prepares you for life. I soon learnt that to be a real performer you
have to be a real package. I was passionate about it but realised I
needed to add colour, dynamics, facial expression and fully interpret
what I was singing about.
“I did lots of singing at Norwich but I really
wanted to be a serious Shakespearian actor in those days. I didn’t
realise that you could be a full time opera singer.
I suppose I had a dream of being a singer from the age of about
17 and I also had a dream of representing England at Cardiff and, fairly
early on in my time at Sheffield, I realised I wanted to be a singer.”
Liz is living proof that dreams can come true. She
has already appeared at top concert hall venues in this country
including the Wigmore Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall, London Colisseum
and the Aldeburgh Festival and also performed in San Francisco, Boston,
New Mexico and Poland.
“Whilst in Sheffield I taught choristers and took
part in a number of small concerts. I have always loved to act and sing
and was having singing lessons in the classical style and learning how
to fill a theatre with my voice.”
In 2002 she won a scholarship to the Royal College
of Music where she followed the Advanced Opera Studies Course at the
Benjamin Britten International Opera School from where she graduated in
2005 with a distinction as well as the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
Rose Bowl which is awarded annually for outstanding achievement.
In 2005 Liz joined the English National Opera,
making her debut as Papagena in Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) by
Liz has also made regular appearances on Radio 3
and been featured in articles in The Stage and Independent on Sunday
She believes that a single-minded attitude has
helped her to find success: “ I have worked really hard and am very
focussed. I suppose you could say I am a single minded person with drive
“I never under-estimate how lucky I am to be
doing something I love and having the gift to be able to communicate the
music. I think it is a very good thing that opera has become popularised
and brought to a wider audience."
As well as singing opera, Liz loves to talk about
it. When asked to nominate her favourite singers she is quick to
respond: “Maria Callas and Placido Domingo,” comes the answer almost
When it comes to composers she is quick to move
from the classisism of Mozart to the more contemporary work of Alban
Berg via Richard Strauss.
There is also no doubt in her mind about her
favourite work: “That would be the Marriage of Figaro by Mozart.
It’s the perfect marriage of music and libretto, just pure genius.”
This year she had the privilege of playing the part
of Suzanna in Mozart’s opera at London Coliseum and has also performed
the role of Barbarina.
Liz also believes that physical fitness and looking
after herself contribute to her success. She is a keep fit fan and
regular goes running.
“It is very important for me to look after myself
physically. Singing certainly invades my personal life. I cannot go into
a smoky atmosphere or stay out late and even when I’m having some time
off I have to keep practice up.
“I have a great group of friends and family who
keep my feet on the ground. I will never get too big for my boots. I am
going to give Cardiff my best shot and I’m just going to try to be
For up to date news on the Cardiff competition
there is a web site that can be accessed by clicking
and Liz is writing her own web log diary of her preparations that can be
viewed by clicking
The latter mixes the seriousness of Liz’ training
with the lighter moments with comments such as “I had best do my
housework as even Divas have to do the hovering.”
One comment on that blog site seems to sum up the
support that this friendly and down to earth “Norfolk girl” has. It
simply says: “Today Miss England, tomorrow Miss World.”
News Update - June 12th
Elizabeth Watts has taken a giant step towards reaching the final of the
BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition.
Elizabeth, who was
brought up in the village and attended Norwich High School, is competing
for England against 24 of the top singers from throughout the world in
the competition for singers aged between 18 and 36.
The contest is
divided into five separate concerts with the five top scorers going
through to the final which will be held on Sunday (17th
Elizabeth beat off
strong competition from Sae Kyung Rim from Korea, Luciano Botelho from
Brazil, Ante Jerkunica from Croatia and Levente Molnar from Hungary in a
first round contest that was described by the judges as of “a very
Winning the round
doesn’t necessarily guarantee a place in the final, but it is highly
likely that Elizabeth will line-up in the last stage. She admits that
when her name was announced as winner of the concert she “felt
Elizabeth is also
becoming a Media star with interviews on BBC2 Wales.As well as the main
competition, she will also be competing in the Rosenblatt Recital Song
Over 1000 singers
applied to take part from 64 different countries. These were cut down to
25 for the final stages in Cardiff.
News Update - June 19th
Hethersett soprano Elizabeth Watts has become an overnight celebrity after wining a top
international prize and just missing out on the Cardiff Singer of the
Liz took the prestigious Rosenblatt Recital Song
Prize during the week of competition with works by Richard Strauss,
Debussy, Maconchy and Wolf.
After her success Liz said that she was “amazed
and very proud” to have won the Rosenblatt and “had a ball”
throughout the competition.
"It's been an extraordinary couple of weeks.
To win the song prize and be in the final was an absolute joy. I know
all the exposure will have done my career a great deal of good. I really
tried to open up my soul and sing with it and I would like to thank
everybody for their support," Liz said.
On Sunday (June 17th) Liz’ bubbly
personality was there for all to see as she joked with television host
Aled Jones after competing in the Singer of the World final in front of
millions of viewers on BBC 2.
For the final, Liz featured arias by Handel,
Puccini and Berlioz and was greatly praised by the television studio
pundits. She was pipped to the overall title, however, by China’s Shen
Immediately following her performance, scores of
messages appeared on the competition’s official web site praising her
performance. Many were from friends and acquaintances from Hethersett.
Comments included the following:
“Whilst watching your performance, we had tears
in our eyes.”
“You were amazing and gave a spellbinding
“I am old enough to have seen great singers
including Elisabeth Schumann so I know you have the quality for a great
News Update - June 20th, 2007
As a result of her performances in the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, Hethersett Soprano Elizabeth Watts has been enlisted into the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists' scheme which showcases some of the brightest new talent on the national and international classical music scene.
Liz will now be included in concerts organised under the Radio 3 banner as well as working regularly with BBC orchestras. She is also likely to feature in some of Britain's most prominent festivals.
Back home in Croydon, this week, she reflected on two of the most exciting weeks in her life and chose winning the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize and her heat for the main prize on the Sunday as the highlights.
"It was a very special moment on the Sunday when I won my round. It was a lovely day with my family there to support me. I was thrilled to win the song prize whose previous winners have included Bryn Turfel."
"I don't feel I could have done anymore. Winning the song prize and being a finalist in the singer of the world competition means that I have proved myself. I received great feedback," Liz said.
Many pundits and members of the audience felt that Liz should have won the main award and this has been echoed in articles in The Times, The Guardian and the Telegraph. The Telegraph had this to say:
"Far more appealing was English light-lyric soprano Elizabeth Watts, winner of the 2006 Ferrier award for young British vocalists, whose singing is as pretty as her smile. Her Handel was full of character, while Hero's aria from Berlioz's Béatrice et Bénédict was deeply touching, in the winsome manner of Ileana Cotrubas, distinguished by its floated high notes and a lovely coda. Was she marked down because she had already won the secondary prize for the best song recitalist?"
Liz admitted, however, that it was "quite nice to get back to normal."
"People forget that you are almost a celebrity when you are up there and they often forget that you are a real person. I do not do what I do for fame or glory. I love singing opera and want to communicate my music. I am just a vessel for the music," she said modestly adding that the contest had been very tiring but a wonderful experience.