Vocal tourist

Seven metropolitan centres in North America have been ticked off a Blenheim singer's performance wishlist.

But soprano Olivia Sheat, 19, will be hoping that the concerts she performed with the New Zealand Youth Choir in Los Angeles, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Boston, New York and Washington DC are just her first presentations to international audiences.

Back in Blenheim after the three-week whirlwind tour that followed her first year at university, she has her sights firmly set on being a professional opera singer.

Olivia was one of 20 new singers selected to replace "retiring" members of the Youth Choir when its traditional two-yearly intake was extended to three.

"I had quite a bit of catching up to do, learning a new repertoire," says the former Marlborough Girls' College student, who sang with the school's senior Bella Voce choir.

This year she is studying for a Bachelor of Music majoring in performance voice at the New Zealand School of Music. Holiday breaks and a few tutorials had to be skipped for youth choir commitments, she says, but the November 21-December 13 trip away was worth every lost leisure day.

Youth Choir members range in age from 18 to 25, and were largely left to their own devices on tour between scheduled practice sessions and performances. Olivia made the most of the freedom and says New York was "amazing".

"We had a wonderful opportunity to hear opera in The Met, the Metropolitan Opera. It's one of the most prestigious venues in the world."

Seats cost about $200 each but they could buy a ticket for standing room for $US27.

"[The Met] was another inspiration; that's the place I dream of ending up, where opera is cherished and well-respected."

The Youth Choir's own performances in North America started in Los Angeles where members joined 400 musicians and several Californian university choirs in the Walt Disney Concert Hall to sing Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.

"We had a full house and a standing ovation," Olivia says.

Audience turnouts at other venues were smaller but the final concert, in Washington DC, was another memorable experience. It was at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in the United States and one of the 10 largest in the world.

Olivia will not be joining next year's youth choir, instead concentrating on her studies.

"Opera is a fairy technical form of music and I'm developing my own style. It's important not to copy a certain sound but develop my own sound and work on my own techniques." Eileen Guard was her private singing teacher in Blenheim and in latter years that tuition was complemented by regular trips to Wellington where the college student was taught by New Zealand School of Music tutor Jenny Wollerman.

Jenny has continued teaching Olivia this year but practical sessions are juggled with musical theory and musical history.

"Theory is good because it gives you the musical knowledge to perform a piece," Olivia says.

Musical history is valuable, too, giving a context to music so singers can evoke a composer's intended emotion.

Asked what she gains by singing opera, Olivia says she finds it a fairly spiritual experience.

"You can affect people in the audience . . . so even in that short amount of time . . . they can get lost in the music and have a new experience."

The Marlborough Express