McMurray puts a little English on it

Yemi Falodun | Staff Writer

If you are a young and talented classical singer with fluency in English, John McMurray is the man you want to know.

“I’m not a singing teacher,” McMurray said.

But with more than 30 years of opera experience, he is the man from whom young vocalists take their cues.

McMurray, who is head of casting for the English National Opera, will instruct aspiring vocalists from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. today, and from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday in McKnight Hall.

The ENO finds and cultivates singers and performers for stage productions, and it has existed for 80 years.

“We’ve managed to improve the vocal musical standards,” McMurray said. “People expect our productions will be sung and played well. So, they almost take it for granted, and I’m very happy with that.”

The ENO has 15 stage productions per season, with all performances in English and a majority of native singers. Having native singers belting out arias in their native tongue is a bit outside the norm.

“That was the way most opera was until after World War II,” McMurray said. “Germany would have collapsed after the war without American singers. They basically saved the German opera houses.”

McMurray also mentioned that operas recorded on albums added to the push for more operas being sung in their original language, despite a foreign audience.

“It’s actually only in about the past 50 years,” he said, “that opera has become so much about the original language.

“There is a dramatic communication when a singer is singing in their own language to an audience with the same language. There’s a kind of subtlety of communication that you get there. You never get that when the language being sung is not native to the singer or the audience.”

McMurray travels to the United States four or five times per year looking for young talent. And he, like other prominent counterparts, sees the U.S. as fertile grounds.

“The quality is musically sophisticated, well prepared,” he said. “And that’s what we’re aiming to do — to have people at that level.”

The ENO has its own Young Singers Programme, which draws from premiere schools and festivals alike. It was the first such program set up by a British opera company, 13 years ago.

The program is flexible and individually tailored for about 10 to 12 singers. The training does not have to be “one size fits all.” It also allows the singers to participate in the program as they further their careers at various other venues around the world.

“The tough thing for singers is they can never hear themselves the way other people hear them,” McMurray said. “It’s not like an instrumentalist in that way. And a lot of people give them opinion, not honesty.”

According to McMurray, singers’ voices do not mature until they reach their 30s, and that can be a frustrating process.

“It’s not just about finding singers for our own project,” McMurray said. “It’s about developing the future of our art form.”