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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.

Original Story

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 cooped in: 

“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 complementary. 

“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 Mozart. 

Liz has also made regular appearances on Radio 3 and been featured in articles in The Stage and Independent on Sunday newspapers. 

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 and determination. 

“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 immediately.” 

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 myself.” 

For up to date news on the Cardiff competition there is a web site that can be accessed by clicking here and Liz is writing her own web log diary of her preparations that can be viewed by clicking here. 

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

Hethersett soprano 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 June). 

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 high standard.” 

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 completely dazed.” 

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 Prize. 

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 World title. 

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 Yang. 

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 performance.” 

“I am old enough to have seen great singers including Elisabeth Schumann so I know you have the quality for a great career.”  

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.