Text: Rosalie Overing
At Dutch National Opera, she is a renowned soprano and is the head of Dutch National Opera Studio, but to most Dutch people she is now instantly recognisable as a TV personality. These past seven weeks, the Welsh soprano, Rosemary Joshua, took on the role of chairperson for a judging panel on the opera talent show Aria, which airs each Sunday. This brand-new opera competition broadcast by Omroep MAX and MediaLane, has a set-up that allows ten candidates to compete for a single coveted prize: a one-of-a-kind training programme at Dutch National Opera. Rosemary Joshua discusses Aria’s success and her experiences on the show.
A lot of fun
When Rosemary was asked whether she would like to chair Aria’s judging panel, she was, in her own words, ‘intrigued’. She explains: “I thought it would be great fun to be on the programme – especially alongside opera singers Tania Kross and Henk Poort, who are so highly regarded in the Netherlands. But I also had a few doubts about the offer – mainly I was concerned about whether I was suited to the role as I had never done anything like this before and didn’t even speak Dutch!” Fortunately for us, these doubts didn't stop her from accepting the role, and suddenly she found herself smack-bang in the middle of the world television. She tells us: “I thought I would be very nervous at first, but it turned out my worries were unfounded and it was just a lot of fun. The show’s production staff played a huge role in making me feel comfortable by instilling confidence in me and making me feel safe. This is incredibly important when entering a completely new world for the very first time. I had, of course, been a judge on singing competitions before, but this was very different. The type of competitions I had done before, required nothing more of me than to give marks. I wasn’t in the spotlight as a person. Now, as a judge on Aria, we are an integral part of the experience. This includes hours of styling before each episode is recorded!”
Aria’s huge success
These episode recordings resulted in an immensely popular talent show, attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers each week. Rosemary believes three factors have been instrumental in shaping Aria’s huge success: “Aria is a lavish and spectacular show, while being informative at the same time – most viewers are not that familiar with opera. What’s more, the show tells the stories of ‘ordinary’ people who happen to be very talented singers. Audiences love watching their development and seeing their confidence grow each week.” The show’s candidates are also very diverse, making it easier for different viewers to identify with them. Rosemary concludes: “The programme portrays the boy next door or the woman at the bakery who turn out to have an extraordinary hidden talent for singing. The candidates themselves are all very different: some are young, some are older, some are trained singers and others are self-taught. I was particularly impressed by the latter group. Some of these candidates have never had vocal training or sung with an orchestra before, and then, all of a sudden, they have to do so on TV. This made me realise that sometimes believing in people and giving them a chance is all they need to excel.”
Aria is all about each individual candidate’s development and progress as a singer. Rosemary focuses on these same things in her role as head of Dutch National Opera Studio. Yet, her work at Studio is very different to her role as a judge on Aria: “The opera singers in Studio have all had years of professional training, so I expect them to be proficient at the highest international level. The candidates on Aria have usually had much less experience, so my expectations of them are very different.” Rosemary tell us she didn’t experience any difficulty in combining her two very different roles: “I think my job requires me to be able to adapt to the environment I am working in. I learned this as a singer when singing different roles and working with different teams. It was essential that I was flexible and able to adapt to each new situation in each new role. After all, the production doesn’t revolve around you! I try to impart the importance of adaptability to the singers I work with. One thing is certain: it was definitely helpful that Aria was recorded during Dutch Opera Studio's summer holiday!”
The grand finale airs on Sunday 28 November, and will reveal which of the three remaining singers will be crowned the winner of Aria and be allowed to join the one-of-a-kind training programme at Dutch National Opera.