Joanna Marie Skillett is the latest soprano to be launched in the UK with an impressive recording contract; it's worth £1 million! Classical-Crossover.co.uk finds out just who Joanna Marie is, how she entered the classical world, how she was discovered and most importantly, how she feels about it all! We're ecstatic to discover a lively, happy and excited young star that can hardly believe her luck. And she laughs a lot!
You've been signed to a record label (congratulations!) How did it happen and how did it feel?
I'm signed to IMA productions and it's so exciting! I was finishing at the Royal Academy of Music in London and one of my teachers called me into a classroom and said: 'there are some guys here; they're looking for a new boy band.' I didn't think I really fitted the criteria! [laughs] But they really wanted to meet me, so we met in a corridor in the Academy, said hello, and I just sang for them and it just grew from there, really! I've known them for a couple of years now. We're working on some new material, as well as classical and operatic arias and creating a lovely sound. It's just been so much fun working with new people and new music; it's great!
Can you tell us about your musical journey that has brought you up to this point?
How much time have you got?! [laughs] I started music with my next door neighbour actually. I went next door when I was about four to have piano lessons and as I got older, I started playing every musical instrument that I could get my hands on and trying them out! As a teenager I became really interested in performing; really loved being on stage and sharing music with others. So a music competition in London came up, and to enter you have to have three disciplines to perform and I really wanted to do the competition. I thought it would be great to be part of this music business with all of these fantastic musicians! I primarily played the piano and flute, and I thought maybe I could sing a little bit. The singing literally happened like that. I got a piece of music that my friend was singing at school, who I always accompanied on the piano and I thought "well, I'll give it a go!" She helped me, and I performed it. I can't tell you how red I was! But it was so much fun and I really caught the buzz! It must have went well because I won it! [laughs]
The singing was just a different avenue; it gave me the spirit of music that I never had before, it was so intimate with the audience, so I started having singing lessons when I was sixteen. I was really fortunate to get to sing in school as well in the choir; singing with others was a great thing to do and a way of giving more back with more people which was just fab! Then I went to the Royal Academy when I was seventeen and learned so much more. I just caught the bug of opera; about areas of music that I had never experienced before. But it allowed my passion for performing on stage, my love for music and its colours, and for the imagination to come together. To bring in my passion for performing and acting through the dramatic side of the music to the stage. It was just a whirlwind, I'm still riding it!
You are about to get a whirlwind of attention - are you ready?!
[Instantly] Oh yeah! I'm just over the moon to be honest! I went to the Royal Academy because of their amazing background and their ability to draw in young musicians; to coach them and teach them and really nurture them in this world of music that we love and listen to. It's just a fantastic atmosphere and I learned a lot.
When I first started there, my way of getting into the more classical and opera world was by listening to Lesley Garrett and Katherine Jenkins and both of them are alumni of the Royal Academy. I was listening to their albums at seventeen/eighteen and I still listen to them very much. They really helped me to find out what I wanted. I'd listen to their music and think that if one day I could sing this kind of stuff and have so much fun like they're doing and reach their audience, if I could do that for one girl or the next generation of young singers alike that were at my age of seventeen/eighteen then... job done! And now I get the chance to and it's just phenomenal! It's an absolute privilege and I'm very, very proud, especially flying the flag for Essex of England! [laughs] As a young soprano, I'm only twenty-two, it's a great opportunity to bring the music of opera to the wider audience. It's just really exciting - you can probably tell! [laughs] I'm a little bit excited!
How would you best describe your voice?
It's weird; describing a voice... the thing about the voice is that it's internal. Kiri Te Kanawa recently said "The voice is an instrument but it happens to be inside you" and I think that's poignant because it's so individual to the person. Yamaha doesn't make them yet! Every single voice is a different colour and timbre. I'm still growing; I'm still finding out about mine and it's wonderful. I think the roles for me in the future will be the rich and the exuberant ones that are warm in tone. I love the European and English repertoire of opera. The warm tone can also be matched with the playfulness in my voice. I have great fun with it, on performing and dramatising bits, bringing out characters and colours. So if I were to describe it I think I would say that if you get to know me, you can hear it in my voice! It's very much my personality: bubbly, warm, friendly, colourful, exciting and... quite big! [laughs]
Are you going to train further in opera?
I'd like to. I'd like to study all areas of classical music, from the classical crossover right the way through to the wider opera, but I'm still very young. If I could make an opera album on this deal then it would just be fantastic because I'm all about the wider audience. I most definitely listen to it and I am very influenced by Anna Netrebko, Jonas Kaufmann, and all the artists in the field; although I am young it would be lovely to perform some of the opera arias on an album, it would be fantastic!
What can we expect from your debut album?
Oh! It's going to be so fun! I can't wait! [laughs] It's going to be... am I allowed to say this? I'm sure I am... oh well! We've done about three tracks and that was really fun in the studio with Jake and Jason [from IMA Productions]; they're really nice, it's great because they're also singers as well. It's lovely being on board from the very beginning - you get so much input and you can have fun, experiment, try things out. Sometimes they don't work but most of the time there are magical moments in the studio! I have my Britney moments when I really sing into the microphone! [laughs]
There will be a lovely selection of wedding songs; the ones where people have asked me 'can you sing that lovely one at my wedding?', so I think that would be nice to put on the album so then they can always listen to them! There's classical crossover, opera arias... it's just going to be lovely. I'd love to explore the way that classical music can spread to all different genres. As long as you stay true to your voice and yourself, rely on the good technique of training, then your voice, can, no doubt, sing all kinds of things.
When can we expect to see it on the shelves?
I think, I hope, it's the last quarter of the year! That's what I've been told! It would be lovely to be as soon as possible, but I really want to get it right. We are just so passionate about this project and so excited about the musicians that we found and the team we're getting together; it's going to be really something special and we really want to get it right. So the more we build the scaffolding on it, the higher we can reach, the higher we can climb. So we're going to make a good one for you guys!
Is there a tour or any big live events in the pipeline?
Yeah! Actually, that's a good point; I need to check that my passport is still valid! [laughs] I'm going to Italy next week to do a tour out there, a concert tour in Florence in the Northern parts of Italy. I'll be doing a concert tour of La Boheme and I'll be playing Mimi with the Royal Academy. We're also doing some outside events whilst we are over there, just filling our time! Which will be lovely!
When I get back to the UK I'm doing a couple of concerts and recitals for the Royal Society of St George in November which is in honour of Winston Churchill; I've been told there's a very special guest coming to that event, in the form of the patron, Dame Vera Lynn! I've been told that, but I don't know for sure! If she's there it will be wonderful! I'm also doing a lot of concerts around the London and Essex area and at the same time I'll be working on the album over the summer. I do a lot of outreach programmes as well; workshops in and around Essex and Greater London to do with music and the voice. It's really exciting; I'm going to be quite busy!
Is there anyone in particular you want to perform or work with?
Oh... good question... I don't know if she's still singing, but, oh, Doris Day! [laughs] Does that count? Am I allowed to say that? [laughs] She was my, she still is, my absolute idol, my favourite, and Dame Vera Lynn. As for people in the industry at the moment, I listen to Katherine and Lesley. Anna Netrebko is just the most wonderful exuberant performer and voice; I think she's an absolute diamond. Jonas Kaufmann is possibly one of the greatest tenors that I've ever heard. But I love listening to all sorts of artists. I love to listen to upcoming artists; what people are bringing to music and anyone that just really enjoys and has a passion for music. I'd love to work with people that are like minded; that just want to experience, explore and try. Who knows, maybe we can have a massive collaboration, it would be fantastic!
Are there any crossover artists that inspire you?
Definitely Lesley Garrett, Katherine Jenkins and Josh Groban just because they've achieved so much, bringing their music to a wider audience, to people like me when I was seventeen. I owe them a lot of "thank yous" in a way because they really opened me up to this music. I loved music before, have always loved music, but it was this kind of music and this avenue that just fitted me. I guess it's the way people see sport, I suppose? People enjoy sport and they have their favourite events; football, rugby, cricket or netball. I love music but for me I get the most out of classical music. It's wonderful when you find a singer that you can just relate to, just guiding you through and this opportunity to me is a way of giving it back and bringing it forward, I'm a strong believer of that, and if I could do that for the next generation it would be wonderful; I'd be very humbled.
What effect do you think classical crossover music has on pure classical and opera?
I think it has a wonderful effect, I really do! I've only been studying the classical side of music since being at the Royal Academy. Being in an environment like that where you have hundreds of musicians passing through the doors everyday, where you're seeing this vibrant world and you know people all around the world won't see this experience and this world that I get to go in and be part of everyday. The more that the classical side becomes a crossover, it's no longer crossover so much, it's just the merge, developing. When people say classical crossover it suggests that they are leaving, but I think it's a two way street - it shows that music can fit all lives and it can touch everybody. I think it's wonderful that they are popularizing classical music, and if I can help in any way, shape or form then I'm all for that. It's great to reach a wider audience because I was certainly touched by this music and you only have to look at the Three Tenors and their 'Nessun Dorma' to know that it touches others.
Only recently I put on an opera gala for charity in my home town which was great fun! The whole repertoire was really crossover stuff right the way through; ones that people would know but not necessarily have on their iPod and it was wonderful because I'm still receiving cards and lovely notes saying 'I really like that song and I really miss that'. And that's exactly what we want. We want to bring this repertoire out to the world. It's the most wonderful stuff, and it can be up there with Muse, and Britney, I'm sure it can!
To find more information on Joanna Marie Skillet, check her out her official website at www.joannamarieofficial.com
Interview by Nicola Jarvis: 22nd June, 2010