Young Soprano Susanna tells us about her life as a professional opera singer. She recounts her childhood enthusiasm for singing and the experience that led her to pursue it as a career, and discusses the work she does on a daily basis to maintain her place in a competitive field.
Film Maker: Helena Coan
Questions & Answers
- What's your first memory of London? Playing games in the front garden of the house where I was born, in glamorous Ilford, before I moved away to Northamptonshire aged 2. I remember the smell and feel of the cool green grass underneath me on a sunny day, clutching a handbag and tottering in my mum's heels in amongst the rose bushes.
- What do you miss when you're away from London? I miss the incredible and unique mix of architecture old and new, and the glorious Thames. I miss the grandeur and the fabulousness of central London, but also the humble history, like Shakespeare's Globe and old, abandoned warehouses and industrial sites.
- What's your favourite neighbourhood? My favourite neighbourhood is too hard to pick! The greatest thing about London is the fact that every locality offers different delights, so depending on my mood or purpose there's always somewhere that springs to mind. But to name a few, it's anywhere along the river for old pubs and stunning houses like The Dove at Chiswick/Hammersmith; for beautiful shops it's one of the arcades near Piccadilly like The Burlington, or Jermyn Street; for crafty fun and quirky shops there's Camden Market or Portobello Road; leafy walks it would be anywhere west like Ealing, but equally Hyde Park; for concerts the Royal Albert Hall and around South Ken holds so many memories of promming as a teenager...oh the list is endless!!
- What's your favourite building? That's extraordinarily difficult to decide upon, but I guess it would be The Globe. I'm mad keen on Tudor history, and whenever I walk into that place I get a strong sense of what it would have been like back then. I imagine experiencing the thoughts, smells, hubbub and noise of Shakespeare's time, and of course with the theatrical aspect I'm in heaven!
- What's your ideal day out in London? Breakfast at The Wolseley (insanely delicious caramelised grapefruit!), a stroll around St. James' Park looking at the hundreds of different breeds of duck and waterfowl, a picnic lunch in the dappled sunshine of a beautiful secluded spot under a big, old oak tree in Hyde Park, then a wander around the Natural History Museum or the V&A to work up an appetite for cocktails at The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell, and then a pie and a pint at The Fox and Anchor in Smithfield.
- What's your ideal night out in London? My ideal night out would incorporate three loves of mine: opera, an amazing drinking venue and also some dancing. So first, it might be going to The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, then, if money was no object, a cocktail at The Ivy. Thereafter...I have to admit to not having clubbed much in London (that was more me in my student days elsewhere!). But these days if I do go, it's like I have to let out all that built-up dancing energy, so I can get a bit insane on the dance floor! Think sweat, hair all over the place, not caring how I look - I really like to get it out of my system! One memorable night like this was a friend's birthday at a club in Shoreditch - can't remember what it was called, but it was awesome.
- What's your most hated building? It's hard to choose my most hated building, because I generally try to think positively in London when I'm out and about. This is a very conscious thing, because when I first moved there, I got very, very stressed out with all the people, noise, missing trains etc. Now, I try to allow a lot more time to get places, to smile, and to notice the beauty around me. So I can't say I actually hate a building. It would be more hating the way there's sometimes a horrid 60's or 70's monstrosity of a council block right next to the most stunningly ornate or elegant street of houses.
- What's the best view in London? The best view is definitely the one as you walk along Waterloo Bridge. You can see London open up either side of you with the majestic Thames at its heart, and all the famous landmarks peppered along its banks.
- What's your favourite open space? The Thames itself. It's wide enough to feel spacious and give London a breather, with boats and craft zipping along, and a bit of a breeze. But it's also small enough to be cosy and reassuring too, not as impersonable and uncaring as the Rhein, for example.
- What's your favourite bar, pub or restaurant? For a long time, I would have said The Fox and Anchor in Smithfield, because their pies were amazing, their piccalilli delicious, and they do a good pint. I think it's gone slightly corporate now, which is a shame. Again, if money were no object, it might be The Ivy, because the atmosphere is so wonderful too, and I've had the joy of being treated to cocktails there by a famous opera singer friend of mine. But otherwise, I might say The Jugged Hare near the Barbican, on Chiswell Street. It's got a bit more country pub about it (love the waiters in tweed!), but also the food is spectacular and combines an upmarket pub feel with a bit more of the quality of fine dining.
- What's the most interesting shop? Definitely Hirst Antique Jewellery in Notting Hill Gate. DO NOT let me loose in there with any money!!!
- What's your favourite place to hang out? To be honest, I don't do enough 'hanging out'. I really must find time to do more 'just being' in London. It's very easy to get caught up in the rush and stress of it all. I have had a lovely evening just wandering around the South Bank with a friend. But ordinarily I'm pretty well on the go the whole time. There is an amazing coffee shop in South Ealing called Paperback Coffee and Tea. Taking incredible care over coffee-making, along with their ethos, music, decor, books all over the place, and the exquisite food and cakes, I could definitely hang out there a LOT more.
- What's been your most memorable night out in London? My most memorable night out in London involved a trip to The Great British Beer Festival at Earl's Court, a nice young man, and much beer sampling. Epic.
- How would you like to spend your ideal day off in London? It would probably involve a stroll along the Thames around Greenwich, visiting the Cutty Sark exhibition (I recently did this and though expensive, would definitely go again! It's magical! And I learnt so much), and then sitting for some time with many pints outside the Cutty Sark pub.
- Where would you take someone visiting from out of town? When a friend visits from anywhere else in the world, I can go a bit mad with ideas and suggestions because a lifetime would not be enough to explore all London has to offer. It really depends who the visitor is as to what we take in. But generally speaking, I also like to try to patronise the amazing wealth of free museums and exhibitions we have in London. We are incredibly spoilt for choice! There is the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the V&A, National Gallery, Tate, Tate Modern, Tate Britain (with my favourite EVER painting in it - King Cophetua and the Beggar maid by our very own Edward Burne-Jones), just for starters...
- What's the worst journey you've had to make in London? London's transport system is brilliant when it works well, and there's no doubt that the Tube is totally iconic in its own right. However, add in lots of tourists, or commuters at rush hour, souring summer temperatures, and the odd delay here and there, and it can easily take double the amount of time to get anywhere. I try to leave masses of, as my friend calls it, f***-up time, to get anywhere. This can be a real waste of your own time, but I always try to have something with me to read, learn or memorise, to stay productive whilst I'm sitting still whilst 'being held at a red signal'!
- What's your personal London landmark? It might well have to be, and I know it sounds odd, but Ping Pong on the South Bank. A memorable conversation took place there. Bittersweet, but memorable.
- Who's your favourite fictional Londoner? Sherlock Holmes! No, wait, The Wombles.
- What's your favourite London film, book or documentary? William Boyd's Ordinary Thunderstorms. I would read it again, and anything else by him, in a heartbeat. I did enjoy the first Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Mark Strong Sherlock Holmes film. With that whacky soundtrack including the cimbalom and 'broken pub piano', it captured a wonderfully zany aspect of the genius of Holmes, and gave me a dualistic sense of London about that time: the comfort of the accents and costumes and colourscape as a whole, but also disquiet about the disturbing underworld all but concealed beneath. Also, some of it was filmed in the church at which I used to sing for many years: St. Bartholomew-the-Great, Smithfield. This is London's oldest church, built in 1123, and another of my favourite historical buildings in the city. For the same reason, and for the Tudor aspect, Shakespeare in Love is another of my favourite London films.
- If you could travel to any time period in London, past or future, where would you go? Shakespearian London. I am sure I have an over-romanticised view of it, because in reality I'm sure it would be overwhelmingly smelly, crowded, and just as stressful and busy. And I'd probably be one of the great unwashed. But a girl can dream, can't she?!
- For you, who is the ultimate Londoner? Do they have to be alive right now? Do they have to be real? This is the hardest question to answer! Could the answer be 'Me'? I have returned, like a long-lost daughter, to the city where I was born - surely that speaks volumes about the power and magnetism of this great place. But seriously, this question poses a diffcult premise for me in that there is a fundamental dichotomy to the whole idea of being an 'ultimate Londoner'. Here is a city that is so fascinatingly multicultural, evolving and developing because of that diversity, a fact that reaches right back through time, to the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, even Iron and Bronze Age. And yet tourists come here still today seeking that 'ultimately British' cup of tea, or visit to Buckingham Palace. I think everyone around the world has a view of what it British, and what London is, and that it represents 'true Englishness'. But what are we, as a people? The truth is that London has been, and is continually being, fed by the world, to make it what it is today. It is the most mind-bogglingly complex and rich conglomeration of cultures, styles, architecture, beauty, food, race and thought. Anyone that contributes to this in any way is, in my opinion, a slice of that 'ultimate Londoner'. However, perhaps we should also give some credit to the guy who, according to legend, founded the city around 1000BC - Brutus of Troy. Perhaps he is the ultimate Londoner. Even if the true origins of this incredible place are manifold and still being dug up, piecing together our picture of the past, it's pretty amazing to imagine that this descendant of a Roman god sowed the seed. I think he would be fascinated to see how it is developing.