Lived in Middleton St George, near Darlington. When not playing the piano, singing or composing I was to be found at Raventhorpe Preparatory School, Darlington getting into trouble. Joined village church choir as an alto; favourite hymn, “When morning gilds the skies”. Passed Grade 6 piano under the kind tutelage of Mrs Raine and Mrs Overend. Mother very involved with my piano-practice. Father played records of Verdi, Puccini and Britten. Saw various plays and operas at Darlington Civic Theatre including The Magic Flute.
Attended Queen Margaret’s School, Escrick, York. Passed Grade 8 piano where it became clear a musical career was inevitable. At 13, due to my unhappiness at school where I was bullied for being musical, I pleaded with mother to allow me to audition for Chethams School of Music. I was offered a place to study piano and voice, but mother turned them down. I was not consulted.
Impressed by my sister Belinda singing The Sorceress in a school concert performance of Dido and Aeneas. Favourite music teacher was the terrifying Mr Gerrard. I nestled in the eye of the storm that surrounded him because I had strong musical instincts. Parents divorced, moved to Nottingham.
Clarendon College of Further Education, Nottingham at this time, offered the best musical education possible. Brenda Bloom, Douglas Wilkie, Anthea Cater, Lynne Wayman (Baines) and Mary Foulds offered the complete ‘finishing school’ before auditioning for the conservatoires. Keyboard Harmony figured largely in Doug Wilkie’s classes which enabled me to read early music scores, and to play and transpose Komm, süsses Kreuz on stage, on a harmonium in Glyndebourne’s production of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. With Brenda I enjoyed ensemble playing, especially the Schumann Piano Quintet and with Anthea, choir and consort singing. Mary Foulds strived to focus my attention on solo piano repertoire and Lynne Wayman introduced me to Frauenliebe und Leben and the tricky business of facing an audience.
Took German language coaching with family friend Richard Stokes. Also dabbled in playing the cello (Richard’s), memorably massacring Brandenburg V , played orchestral piano in the musical Cabaret, distinction* in Grade 8 singing and was college table-tennis champion and tennis mixed-doubles champion of Mapperley Park Tennis Club.
Royal College of Music. Studied piano with Patricia Carroll and singing with Margaret Kingsley. Continued piano studies seriously for 3 years gaining a piano teaching diploma DipRCM. Margaret and I struggled with my fear of facing an audience.
Principal Sir David Willcocks gave me boundless encouragement during this difficult transition from pianist to singer, always focussing on musicianship and dedication. Contemporaries include Gerald Finley, Lorna Anderson, Wayne and Melanie Marshall, Denis Lakey, Graeme Broadbent, Malcolm Martineau and composers Paul Max Edlin and Rowland Lee. I also turned pages for Malcolm and Wayne in various recitals.
Develop a great love of lieder and European song, ploughing through many volumes of songs till the caretaker threw me out. Sang in a lesson with Graham Johnson which was incredible. Final recital includes own arrangement of a Gershwin song (an RCM first).
Join the BBC Singers full time and tour the world’s major music festivals with composer/conductors Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Eotvos. Freelance with Monteverdi Choir , Stephen Hill Singers and The Sixteen.
Appear on Friday Night is Music Night playing and singing own Gershwin arrangement with jazz trio.
Study singing with David Mason. Join his and David Roblou’s group Combattimento and perform Petite Messe Solennelle and Peri’s Eurydice with Mark Tucker.
Ivor Bolton and Jane Glover, both guest conductors for the BBC Singers encourage me to pursue a solo career.
Various auditions for ENO, ROH and National Opera Studio result in rejection. Sarah Walker and Roger Vignoles include 2 of my Gershwin song arrangements in their Cabaret CD.
Toy with becoming a jazz singer/pianist but desire to sing Ravel’s Shéhérazade is stronger.
Join Glyndebourne Chorus.
The Big Struggle
Initially feel greatly released being on stage in Glyndebourne’s production by Trevor Nunn of Peter Grimes.
Continue endless rounds of dispiriting auditions. At 32, my lack of stage experience and choral background seem to be causing problems, on paper.
Faced with the same question again and again..
“Yes but what have you DONE?!”
I answered exasperatedly,
“Clearly not enough on stage, but I’m willing to try anything!”
I got the job however which was Charlotte in Robert Chevara’s Werther for ETO.
I enter the International Vocal Competition s'Hertogenbosch, Opera Section, and to my utter astonishment win 2nd place. Elly Ameling, Claudio Desderi and Yvonne Minton were panelists and afterwards, they were very encouraging.
Meet the magical Gerald Martin Moore who continues to be my singing teacher. He is largely responsible for giving me a solid technique.
Welsh National Opera’s casting director, Julian Smith cast me as Annina, Der Rosenkavalier.
Beginning to realise I must dance to my own tune ..
Father dies unexpectedly, August 1995.
Meet Philippe Herreweghe for Bach concerts mostly in Belgium and Holland. His serious approach to rehearsal and intense focus on text and eighteenth century style and rhetoric has been the backbone of my understanding of all baroque opera.
John Berry spots me in an audition and offers me Messagiera, in David Freeman’s Orfeo for ENO.
The Big Break
Emergency phone call to come immediately to an Ealing studio to stand in for an ailing singer and record two Handel arias with Harry Bicket and the OAE for a Channel 4 film A Night with Handel. With the recording light on, sight-read the B sections of both arias and between takes, discuss ornaments with harpsichordist. Finally my musicianship and choral training pay off!
John Mark Ainsley, also in the film introduces me to Robert Rattray, the director of Askonas Holt agency.
Arrived on the first rung
Get married and move to Stroud, Gloucestershire.
Gerald Martin Moore introduces me to William Christie and we record and perform Les Fêtes d’Hébé with Les Arts Florissants which wins a Gramophone Award for Best Early Opera Recording and nominated for a Grammy.
John Berry’s leap of faith results in the title role of Xerxes. My predecessor, Ann Murray is a heroine of mine. I now face the fear-demons again never having sung a Handel role before.Why not start with the biggest?!
Paul Kellogg from New York City Opera offered three roles at NYCO, Ariodante, Romeo (Capuleti ei Montecchi) and Xerxes.
John Copley, director of Ariodante gave me tremendous confidence and knowledge of stagecraft and as did conductor Jane Glover.
Meet John again in San Francisco for as Juno in Semele with Sir Charles Mackerras, Ruth Ann Swenson and John Mark Ainsley.
Sing Nerone, L’incoronazione di Poppea, Maggio Musicale, Florence with Michael Chance and Ivor Bolton.
Mark Antony Turnage invites me to sing Twice Through the Heart with Oliver Knussen. He writes second half of the role of Susie, The Silver Tassie for me for ENO.
Sing Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius at the Royal Festival Hall with Sir Mark Elder. He encourages me to think of The Angel as male.
Meet David Mc Vicar at ENO for Handel’s Alcina. A memorable and exciting first rehearsal. David enables singers to develop a stage-character by allowing the space and time to think instinctively, whilst steering very gently.
Alcina was followed by Rape of Lucretia ENO/Aldeburgh with Paul Daniel, John Mark Ainsley, Orla Boylan, Catherine Wyn Rogers, Clive Bailey, Leigh Melrose and Mary Nelson and of course the gentlemanly Christopher Maltman.
My mother Jane is diagnosed with cancer and after a year of treatment she dies of a brain tumour. I am three months pregnant and about to open with Xerxes revival at ENO.
May 2003, Lily Jane is born, and a new path opens.
Enjoying myself at last
A Parisian newspaper review said, “Apparently, Miss Connolly is known for her Handel in England” - I decided to tackle that "Apparently". It soon became apparent however, that I would have to finance my first solo album and Harry Christophers and CORO were very happy to record and distribute the disc. I sunk a large amount of my mother’s legacy into the costs and with several extremely generous donations, ($20, 000 from my friend Helen B Casey) we launched Heroes and Heroines at the University Church, Oxford.
Feel much altered by recent events concerning death and birth. Meet Richard Jones for his The Trojans at ENO. Rehearsals are calm, cerebral, ethereal. We searched for Dido’s curious spirituality that is in conflict with her earthbound neediness. All of this work has informed my understanding of Purcell’s Dido. I feel tremendously connected to her.
Berlioz, Les Nuits d’Eté with Philippe Herreweghe at Vienna Konzerthaus.
Within four months I sing three roles; Sesto ENO, Annio The Met., Giulio Cesare Glyndebourne. The contrast between The Met’s Ponnelle production and David Mc Vicar’s is astonishing. Also sing a Carnegie Hall recital in the Weill Hall with Eugene Asti.
Nominated for Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement as Sesto in ENO’s La Clemenza di Tito.
Invited on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour by Jenni Murray.
Record Handel’s Solomon in Germany with Alte Music für Berlin with Mark Padmore, Susan Gritton, Carolyn Sampson, David Wilson-Johnson.
Record The Exquisite Hour recital, live from St John Smith’s Square, London with Eugene Asti for Signum.
2006 highlights include Mahler’s Rückert Lieder with Mark Elder, recordings of Elgar’s Sea Pictures, Grammy nominated and Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn Herreweghe/L’Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, winner of Dutch Edison Award and a concert of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Concertgebouw with Daniel Harding.
Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, La Scala had the background noise of the World Cup supporters. I managed to find the famed acoustical anomaly called the Callas spot and sang The Lament from there!
Then up to Glasgow for Scottish Opera’s Der Rosenkavalier directed by David McVicar. I always insisted my first Octavian must be in German. My dream came true. Sir Richard Armstrong was incredibly supportive and helpful, as were David McVicar and Andrew George the choreographer.
Boston Symphony Orchestra invites me to Tanglewood to sing Handel arias with Harry Bicket.
Mozart Requiem at Salzburg Festival in Mozarteum with Ivor Bolton.
Record soundtrack for the film Children of Men by John Tavener and Twice Through the Heart LPO/Marin Alsop.
Handel’s Agrippina in an edition by René Jacobs again directed by David McVicar. I found the recitatives the longest and hardest to memorize.
Bach’s St Matthew Passion directed by Katie Mitchell was quite extraordinary. My appreciation of Stanislawski proved useful and I made many discoveries about myself and acting in general. I felt valued as a performer.
FrauenLiebe und Leben with Graham Johnson at Joan Chissell’s memorial concert, RCM.
Record Schumann Lieder album with Eugene Asti for Chandos in Potton Hall, Suffolk.
Keiron Cooke becomes my excellent new manager at Askonas Holt. In Sasha Waltz’s production of Dido and Aeneas, my débuts at La Monnaie were not only as a singer but as a dancer..
Dream of Gerontius with Sir Colin Davis in Boston with the BSO.
An emergency phone call from Netherlands Opera invites me to sing Handel’s Giulio Cesare from the pit and finally I get to work with René Jacobs.
Two weeks later singing Gluck/Berlioz Orphée in Munich with Ivor Bolton on an unfamiliar stage, in a new role, on two and a half days rehearsal.