Becca Marriot shall be performing the lead role in Verdi’s opera, La Traviata in a new contemporary production at the King’s Head Theatre. Becca has been involved from the outset, adapting the work, investing and understanding Violetta’s character and training herself in the art of pole dancing. Here, Becca expresses her interests in theatre performance and opera, how tough the combination of pole dancing and singing can be as well as why she believes Verdi’s opera is loved by many.
When did you realise becoming an opera singer was your calling?
I started singing when I was fourteen, but I gave it up when I started university as I wanted to be an actress and not a classical singer. I don’t think I knew at the time that I could do both – at the same time. A few years after graduating, aged 25, I was invited to sing in the chorus of an opera through the National Youth Theatre, and that started a long and difficult, but beautiful journey towards becoming an opera singer.
Where does your interest in opera and classical music stem from?
Classical music was always around when I was growing up: on the radio, CDs, my mum on the piano and in my sister’s violin lessons. However, I can’t say that I was particularly keen. I was a huge fan of folk music, musical theatre and pop and rock. On the other hand, I loved singing, and my voice just didn’t take to these genres…whatever I sang, I sounded like an opera singer. I am the worst person to invite out to sing karaoke.
Neither of my parents were wild about opera, though my mum had danced ballet, and my father was a huge classical music fan. I was about 23 when I first properly sat down and listened to an opera. It was Puccini’s Tosca. I just remember thinking that this was the absolute height of drama. The way the passion and the music were so entwined moved me more than anything I’d heard or seen before.
Do you have a preference for singing music by particular composers or are you open to all forms of music, old and new?
I love singing all classical music, and even some legit musical theatre as a guilty pleasure. I’ve sung music from Purcell to Stravinsky, as well as new works by contemporary composers. If the score and the emotions marry, then I’ll enjoy singing it.
Tell me about your interests in Verdi’s work, La Traviata and the King’s Head Theatre. What inspired you to want be part of this production?
I’ve been involved in the production from the outset, as I adapted the work and wrote the English text. When the director and dramaturge, Helena Jackson, first outlined her concept for the production to me I was totally fascinated. I loved the idea of updating Verdi’s story, and of empowering Violetta and her relationship with sex work. As someone who is passionate about theatre, the idea of up close opera has always lured me. The balance between beautiful singing and naturalistic powerful acting is a real skill to be mastered.
Let’s talk about more La Traviata: how much historical research did you do and what kind of things did you study to understand the music and Violetta’s character?
Not historical research as such, but I had to learn to pole dance – not exactly an expected challenge for the average opera singer. We were lucky enough to work with the wonderful Iris Sparrow, who not only taught us to dance, but gave us insights into the world of professional stripping. I also read articles and watched documentaries on sex work. The stories of women in the industry are very powerful. They speak of a world with very little regulation, but one in which women have a great deal of financial independence and body-confidence. It’s a really two-sided story – just like all good theatre.
Why do you believe La Traviata is popular and has a timeless quality about it? E.g. produced and set in many ways and different contexts, etc.
It’s a story of forbidden love. Such stories are always popular. However, Verdi was a composer with a social conscience and always chose operatic subjects that would reflect injustice and social hypocrisy. Lovers torn apart by class division and prejudice is a timeless subject.
Have you come across any challenges with performing the role from a musical or acting standpoint?
Learning to pole dance! It’s a huge feat of endurance and physical strength, as well as mental resilience. Having to dance and sing often simultaneously or in close succession has been a physical challenge. Yet the biggest challenge has been becoming confident with my own sexiness. I’ve never thought of myself as attractive in that way. To be scantily clad and using my body as an instrument of arousal really isn’t second nature!
How do you want the audience to feel when they’ve seen this production of La Traviata?
I would like them to be moved, but I would also like the production to make them confront their own preconceptions, prejudices and hypocrisy. Running below the surface of Violetta’s character is a deep depression and lack of self-worth. I’d like audiences to recognise that it is very easy to undervalue people in society who don’t have the things we believe make us worthy: money, independence, education, family etc.
Do you have any exciting projects concerts or shows after La Traviata?
I’m giving a lecture recital on Verdi and social issues at the Cadogan Hall on November 13th, singing a gala in Henley on November 17th and working on a new English version of Cosi fan tutte, for performance in 2019 – funding permitting!
What advice would you give to an aspiring opera singer?
Persevere! Let your love of the music carry you through the hard times. Look after your voice…no one else will.