A Day in the life of an Associate Artist

6 June 2019

Harriet Eyley is Welsh National Opera’s latest emerging young artist. Having graduated from the Royal College of Music International Opera School and the Royal Academy of Music (RAM), she joined WNO earlier this year as an Associate Artist. We caught up with her to discuss what the opportunity means to her, and what an average day at WNO looks like for a performing artist.

‘Some days are light, some days are heavy, some days I spend eight hours on the National Express Coaches. Never are there two days the same. That’s why I love this profession. To date, the work has been exhilarating, challenging and satisfyingly stressful.

My first engagement as WNO Associate Artist saw me join WNO Orchestra on their hugely popular New Year’s Concert, A Night in Vienna - I was not embarrassed to shed a tear during my first rehearsal with the Orchestra. I was then cast as Oscar in David Pountney’s new production of Un ballo in maschera during WNO’s Spring 2019 Season. For me, tackling this role has been one of the most rewarding experiences so far. I began researching Travesti Roles for my MMus research dissertation at RAM and I remain happiest when pulling at these threads to delve into them further academically. It was a pleasure to perform the role at Birmingham Hippodrome – a clear highlight to date. Performing with a huge orchestra is simply awesome.

I continue to have the pleasure of working with like-minded people and musicians who are all experts in their field. I am currently preparing the role of Norina in WNO’s brand new, ink-still drying adaption of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale which will tour England and Wales this summer. Performance days are amazingly stimulating and I so enjoy them. The venues stretch right across the country from Aberdare to Norwich, Birmingham to Newport. One show, move on.

Every day starts the same, a brief 60 minute cycle from my home in Penarth to Wales Millennium Centre, where “in these stones horizons sing”. After being physically and mentally switched on, I head into warm-up for around 30 minutes.

My current role (Norina in Don Pasquale) is vocally challenging and fitting in the dialogue is a daily ritual of trying to get it off copy. Add two other operas to the mix and my brain is already in overdrive. Before 10am, I’ve tackled three operas by three composers in three different languages.

One element of the work I was not prepared for was the costume fitting. I was naïve to expect that this would be a ten minute job… how wrong was I… For Norina, I’ve had to pad up. Huge rolls of wadding – double portions on my rear and bosoms the size of bowler hats. The crowning glory is a skin-tight, VPL dress to hold it all in; and a bike to ride whilst reading a book and singing at the same time… The ability to sing, dance/ vogue and act simultaneously is definitely something I didn’t learn at the conservatoire…

After two hours, the fitting session is still far from over. Wig measurements next. To assess the correct fit, sheets of cling film are draped over my head and wrapped tightly with tape to create the shape. The mould is removed; I look at it and wonder if it is for a wig, for bosom moulds or indeed both…

My first few months with WNO have been inspirational, and my time here isn’t up yet!

Next Season I will be covering one of my favourite roles, Vixen in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, in the original Czech at WNO. I am especially looking forward to learning a new language and delving further into the character. She holds a special place in my heart and I hope, in my career.  

I will also be performing the role of Frasquita in WNO’s seductive new production of Carmen in Autumn 2019 and Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro in Spring 2020.’