Singing solo for her supper

Soprano Joanne Roughton-Arnold will perform a solo opera at this year's Adam Chamber Music Festival.
Cathy Pyle

Soprano Joanne Roughton-Arnold will perform a solo opera at this year's Adam Chamber Music Festival.

An opera singer who at one time  never had an inkling she could sing will be taking centre stage in a one-woman show.

Soprano Joanne Roughton-Arnold will be performing the opera Iris Dreaming solo at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson over Waitangi weekend.

"It feels amazing to bring it home," the Upper Hutt expat said.

Based on the life of writer Robin Hyde, born Iris Wilkinson, the opera charts the poet's life from her time in war-torn China to London on the brink of World War 11. The Nelson performance will be the New Zealand premiere.

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Growing up in Upper Hutt, Roughton-Arnold spent much of her time learning to play the violin.

"I thought it was going to be my life," she said, "I played many, many concerts with the string orchestra."

She was so sure her future was with the instrument she decided to move to Oxford to study with a world-renowned violinist. It was early 1995 and to raise the money for a one-way fare to the UK, she started busking.

Once the money was raised she headed to Trinity College in London for post-graduate violin studies. Her switch to singing came when her then-flatmate suggested she try it.

"I'd said 'I wish I could sing' and I tried it out. I never imagined it was anything real but I fell head over heels in love with [singing]," Roughton-Arnold said. "I had no inkling I had a voice."

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She took up vocal studies at the Birmingham Conservatoire and began performing on stage and in choirs. During one performance, in between songs, a crew member suggested she commission her own opera.

With that in mind, she approached Dame Gillian Whitehead to compose the opera.

A trio of Kiwi musicians will accompany her and  Sara Brodie will be directing the performance. While Roughton-Arnold will be singing solo,   the performance  was the result of teamwork.

"It's a collaborative thing with the musicians there - we work as a team."

Ahead of opening Roughton-Arnold said she had a few butterflies but mostly she was looking forward to getting up on stage and telling the story of one of New Zealand's major poets.

* Iris Dreaming will be performed on Monday February 6, at 2pm at the Theatre Royal. Tickets $30.

 - Stuff

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