Young Artist Interview: Jessica Robinson

Singing started at a very young age for me. At just four years old it was compulsory for every child to take part in the school eisteddfod and that’s where it all began! Where the love for singing came from, I have no idea. Born to a dairy farmer and hairdresser and raised in the heart of Pembrokeshire, I was very fortunate that a friend of my grandmother’s, Eilyr, was a singer and willing to give me singing lessons. It’s down to this very special lady that I’m now doing what I love.

Throughout my school years, music was very present; I played the piano and harp as well as sang and competed in local and national eisteddfods. My siblings also loved music and my two sisters and I performed as a vocal trio in local concerts up until the age of 14. My brother wasn’t quite so keen! Although now they have very different careers as a farmer, vet and sports developer, I feel they were important in my decision to go forward as a musician. Having helped me build up the confidence to perform within an ensemble I could then progress to becoming a soloist. I was also a keen member of the Pembrokeshire Young Farmers Club and provided fantastic performance opportunities with them. During my time at Ysgol y Preseli secondary school I was awarded Musical Student of the Year and won the Chevron Vocalist of the Year.

With university looming I was all set on an English literature degree until Eilyr insisted I apply for music college, something I hadn’t even considered. Having finally made the decision to go for it, I realised I had 24 hours to get my application completed, so, with big thanks to my music teacher and head of year and a lot of panic, my application went off and I awaited an audition date.

I must admit, the audition didn’t go to plan! I came out quite disheartened that I hadn’t sung my best and very aware that my sight singing was far from what was on the paper. However, I must have had luck on my side, as one rainy day in November, a letter came to my home farm… I’d been offered a place at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) and I was delighted.

It was during my time at the RWCMD that I was introduced to opera and I’ve never looked back. I’d never sung in any language other than Welsh and English, so the first few weeks at college were a real eye opener. I loved that opera combined singing and drama and knew it was the route for me. I was given such excellent tuition and support by so many, but in particular, Angela Livingstone, Kathryn Harries, Beatrice Unsworth, Michael Pollock, Alma Sheehan, Donald Maxwell and Jeffrey Howard. Between them all, they really are a dream team and I was so lucky to have such talented people around me. During my time at the RWCMD, I was fortunate to win the Aneurin Davies memorial prize, Mansel Thomas prize, Margaret Tann award and Elias Soprano award. Having graduated with a first-class honours degree, I decided to stay to do a masters in opera performance and was made the 2015 Prince of Wales Scholar, with generous support from The Musicians’ Company, Arts Council of Wales, the Tillett Trust and Pantyfedwen Foundation. I graduated with distinction in July 2016 and even after an extended stay at the college, was very sad to leave such a fantastic place.

As an oratorio and concert soloist, I’ve performed in concerts all over the UK as a guest artist with renowned male voice choirs such as Treorchy, South Wales and the London Welsh Male Voice Choir. I’ve performed in music festivals in Fishguard, Barnes and Milford and been fortunate to perform in some incredible venues; my singing has also taken me around the world. Personal highlights for me include performing to the Welsh rugby team at the Welsh Assembly during the champagne reception celebrating their success in the Six Nations Championship, joining the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Serenade to Music’ for Radio 3, performing the soprano solos of Handel’s Messiah at the Wales Millennium Centre and singing at Buckingham Palace to HRH the Prince of Wales, Shirley Bassey, Michael Sheen and Bryn Terfel. Most recently I had the honour of performing on the Royal Albert Hall stage as the soloist for a 1000 male voice choir concert and what an experience it was! I hadn’t realised how big the hall was until the lights went up for the anthems at the end…. It really was breathtaking!

My operatic roles include Countess Marriage of Figaro, Lady Billows Albert Herring, Fox Cunning little Vixen (RWCMD) Spirit Dido and Aeneas (Opera’r Ddraig) Nora Riders to the Sea (Bute Park Opera) Worker/Semi Chorus Gair ar Gnawd (Welsh National Opera/S4C).

I am currently working as a freelance soprano and really enjoying the variety it offers. I’m an artist on the prestigious Live Music Now scheme, a Musicians’ Company Yeoman and also perform regularly as an artist with Music in Hospitals. I recently finished a season with Grange Park Opera where I appeared in Oliver and as ‘heavenly voice’ in their production of Don Carlo, Verdi. In between this, I featured on two recordings including soloist on the Harry Ensemble CD Remember and as a soloist on harpist Eleri Darkins’ CD. In January I will begin with Swansea City Opera in their production of Lakmé and then join Grange Park Opera for their productions of Jenufa and Tosca in July.