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'Why don't you just sing Jazz?'

CLASSICAL SONGSTRESS: Nadine Mortimer-Smith

NADINE MORTIMER-Smith is one of Britain’s few black operatic soprano’s. She is also the founder of Opera in Colour, a charitable organisation that aims to nurture emerging talents and make opera more accessible to people of colour.

Being a black woman in Britain’s classical music industry is very rare, but the singer has managed to build a reputable career in the operatic world in a relatively short time.

Singing professionally since 2007 Mortimer–Smith has recently performed at the Royal Opera House and featured in a film installation by artist Yinka Shonibare, called Addio del Passato.

Initially finding it hard to break through the glass ceiling that kept her from performing opera, the London-born singer says that she no longer faces any obstacles within the industry and is free to work wherever she wants.

“I have found personally that I have gone wherever I wanted to go,” said the opera star. “The doors are open to me, as long as I turn up on time, I do my work and remain reliable and I do a good show, everybody wants you.”

The soprano is at a point in her career where she can now dictate her performances, but it has not always been that way. In fact the recording artist’s dreams of becoming a singer were almost over before they began, when she was told she would never be an opera diva.


TALENT: Nadine Mortimer-Smith in Madame Butterfly

“When I first started to sing, I was turned away by most of the major collages and I was told that I would never sing opera and that I should go and sing jazz. And I believed them, I remember that day when I left the audition, I was standing at the bus stop and I felt like my world was completely blown away, I felt destroyed,” she said.

Despite experiencing a major set back in her musical career Mortimer-Smith persevered and moved into another genre - rock.

“It took so much to find the strength within myself; I had to find the inner confidence because that’s what made me sing the high notes. After I released my album and I toured I thought, ‘If I can do this why can’t I sing opera?’ So I did and five years later I met the woman (she is very high up) who told me to sing jazz and she said that she was wrong.”

You could say that ignorance has played a part in stalling the singer’s career, but according to the soprano each obstacle has been a gift in disguise. When she left school her parents did not support her singing career and told her to get a job.
“My teacher wanted to get me a scholarship at a music collage but my mum said no, that I had to go to work, she didn’t realise what was being asked of me, she wasn’t informed in that way. So I went out and worked my way up.”

She added: “I felt sad because the voice is part of your soul and when I was not singing it was disastrous, but what I realised is that my mother saying no was a gift because it’s helped me. I am more business minded, I’ve got my own product and package I know where I want to go, and working with other people aids me in that process, but I would never have these skills if I hadn’t worked as a HR trainer.”

Focused on combating the lack of diversity in the classical music scene Mortimer-Smith created Opera in Colour in 2009, to make opera visible to all cultures. She offered some words of advice to those who wish to get become a part of the operatic world.

“Get involved in your local community, that’s where you’re going to find the raw talent. If you’ve got a spare few quid pay for their singing lessons or piano lessons give some money to music charities that need donations, everybody is trying to make sure that music doesn’t die because it speaks to you when you are in your darkest hour and when your in your happiest moment and I think that needs to be expressed.”

Nadine Mortimer-Smith will be performing an operatic gala of arias at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, W1. For more information visit www.nadineopera.com

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