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In 2022, Hannah Ashford-Beck lived the nomadic life of a singer, never staying at a single place for more than six weeks. PHOTO: ALICE PARMINTER

Hannah Ashford-Beck’s operatic eye-opener

When The Profile first chatted with Hannah Ashford-Beck in January, 2022, she was gearing up to join the prestigious Dame Malvina Major Foundation Studio Artists development programme in Wellington. We see what life has been like for the former Paeroa pianist in the year since. Kelley Tantau reports.

In 2022, Hannah Ashford-Beck lived the nomadic life of a singer, never staying at a single place for more than six weeks.
“All of my belongings could fit in my car,” she said. “When I had a gig, I was usually put up somewhere for the duration, otherwise I did a lot of pet sitting, short term renting, and staying with friends and family.
“My packing and moving skills definitely improved immensely,” she said.
Hannah was part of the Dame Malvina Major development programme in 2022. Co-ordinated and administered by New Zealand Opera, it provides an opportunity for some of the country’s most promising young opera singers to develop their craft.

Throughout the journey, Hannah learned the intricacies of putting on a performance, she gained confidence in her own ability, and, she learned to cut through the “nonsense”.
“Opera is a world where there are often twice as many male characters than female characters, but also half as many male singers as there are female singers.
“Us girls have to be twice as good and fight twice as hard to get work. And even then that’s not always enough,” she said.
Hannah had the opportunity to learn from many singers, including Emma Pearson, Kristin Darragh, Madeleine Pierard, and Oliver Sewell; vocal coaches including Hikutaia-raised David Harper, David Kelly, and Ben Kubiak; and work with directors such as Jon Hunter, John Wilkie, Sara Brodie, Jacqueline Coats, and Mark Dorrell.
She was chosen as a chorus member and understudy for the role of Flora for a performance of La Traviata, but days before opening night, the Flora – played by Hannah Catrin Jones – tested positive for Covid-19.
“So I had to perform and sing the role of Flora for the dress rehearsal and opening night which was an incredible experience,” Hannah said. “It was my first ever role in a full opera, and my first opera outside of university.”
She said while she knew theoretically what it meant to be in an opera, she’d never before experienced one with a professional cast and full backstage and costuming team.
“So much goes into it, even the smallest of details. You have to be prepared and ready to be standing on your feet, waiting around as a specific section of a scene is blocked,” she said.
“No show is ever the same; you’ve got to be prepared for anything to happen.”
However, Hannah said a change in opera in New Zealand was needed, and that a union ought to be created to protect young singers, musicians, and performers entering the operatic world.
“Like with anything, there can be a lot of nonsense a young female emerging in the workforce has to face,” she said.
“In regards to opera, I’ve always known how problematic it can be, especially as many were written during times where misogyny and sexism were the norm. It’s been so interesting seeing how directors work with these sexist themes, and turn it into commentary on today’s society or instead show the badass side of the female characters,” she said.
“I think more of this needs to happen so that we can see representations of strong, independent, smart, and funny women on stage.”
Hannah will now work with Wellington Opera for its production of Lucia di Lammermoor. She will be performing as Alisa, the only other female role aside from the title role.
She will then head to Europe to travel and potentially undertake some auditions in the United Kingdom and Germany.
DETAILS: To contact Hannah regarding scholarship, email or phone: 027 562 8327.