British-Spanish mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons made her Royal Opera debut in the 2018/19 Season as Hel (The Monstrous Child) in the Linbury Theatre and also sings Siébel (Faust) for the Company.
Fontanals-Simmons read Music at the University of Birmingham and studied singing at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama where her awards included the 2014 Principal’s Prize and 2015 Gold Medal. She was a Jerwood Young Artist and member of Glyndebourne Festival Chorus in the 2015/16 season.
Since then, she has gone on to even wider acclaim. We caught up with her last week to find out more about the life of this extraordinary artist.
Marta, when did you decide that opera was the career for you?
I fell in love with classical music from a young age and became infatuated with lieder, french Melodie and art song in my teens but it wasn’t until I truly began to connect with opera in my twenties that I could imagine it as a career for myself. My ﬁrst operatic role was in Le Nozze di Figaro and it has been an epic journey of joy and discovery since then!
Did music always play a big part in your life?
Music has always played a big part in my family life. I was introduced to music ranging from Classical, to Jazz, to Flamenco and Folk by my parents who were really supportive of me and my older siblings learning musical instruments. I began piano and violin lessons from the age of six and have sung forever. I really can’t remember a time when music wasn’t at the centre of my life!
Who, and what, were your earliest inspirations?
Aside from listening to Peter and the Wolf, Young person’s guide to the orchestra and Carnival of the Animals on repeat! Growing up, I loved the vast piano music of Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven & Albeniz. I loved the intricacies of Wolf lieder, the story telling of Cole Porter and the epic emotional drama of Bizet and Puccini. With a proud Catalan father, I also listened in awe to Jose Carreras and Monsterrat Caballe
Tell us about your current role in Faust.
I play Siébel, a teenage boy in love with his friend Valentin’s sister, Marguerite. He has been leaving bouquets of ﬂowers for her as he's too shy to reveal his love for her. When Mephistopheles curses him so that any ﬂowers he touches wither and die, he feels frustrated and angry, but soon realises that he can dip his hands in the holy water outside Marguerite's house and rid himself of the curse. Unfortunately for Siébel, Marguerite has already fallen for Faust’s charms and he has to watch from the sidelines as both Valentin and Marguerite’s lives are torn apart.
Have you faced any challenges in this role?
I was cast for the role 10 days before rehearsals began, so there was the initial challenge of learning a new role quickly. The only other slight challenge would be that in this production, Siebel has a limp and rides a bike, so that took a little coordination!ꢀ
What do you feel have been the high points of your career so far?
At every stage of my career, I have felt incredibly lucky to be where I am. I know I will constantly be learning from amazing colleagues in an industry that blows my mind and out of many awesome moments, (in addition to currently making my debut on the Royal Opera House main stage!!) my top three are
- Winning the Gold Medal Award at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in it’s centenary year at the Barbican Hall. I owe so much to my college and am extremely proud to have my name among some truly incredible alumni
- Performing Vaughan Williams ‘Serenade to Music’ at the Last Night of the Proms in 2016 at the Royal Albert Hall was such a wonderful, surreal moment. Having watched countless Proms over the years, it was very special to be part of this musical institution
- Creating the role of Hel in ‘The Monstrous Child’ at the Linbury Theatre. I was involved with this project from the ﬁrst workshop, three years before it opened. It was a dream to work so closely with Gavin (Higgins) and Francesca (Simon) and then with Tim (Sheader) and Paul (Wills). This level of collaboration is so rare but, my god, the results were worth it. This opera and character will always hold huge space in my heart. I’m incredibly grateful to all those who trusted me with it.
What do you feel that people would be surprised to hear about the life of an opera singer?
It’s not as glamorous as it looks, especially if like me, you are particularly talented at portraying men, half-corpses, dogs or anything else that’s not a pretty young lady! But I don’t begrudge my large selection of ‘ok to crawl on the ﬂoor’ rehearsal attire, as I thrive on the variety my job grants me and it just makes it even nicer to put on my sparkly glad rags for the after show parties. No one ever recognises me which is also a plus.
What does the rest of 2019 hold for you?
Next I’m heading to Hamburg to perform Amando in Le Grand Macabre with the Ndr Elbphil-harmonie Orchestra & Alan Gilbert, then I’ll return to Glyndebourne Festival to perform Zweite Dame in a new production of Die Zauberﬂote directed by Barbe & Doucet and then in the Autumn I make my debut with ENO, singing Eurydice the Woman in Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus. On the concert platform, I’m excited to perform Verdi Requiem at The Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Elgar Sea Pictures with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
IMAGE: (C) ROH2019 Photographed by Stephen Cummisky