Artistic director Tarita Botsman speaks to Maria Roberts about creating opportunities for women in opera and why being accessible is not the same as dumbing down
When I meet Tarita Botsman in Randolph’s Bar at the historic Warwick Hotel in midtown Manhattan (once frequented by Hollywood stars Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor), she has just finished teaching at The Met. Leaning back into the plump leather sofa, she sips her coffee and tells me she’s looking forward to resting her voice for a day or two, before getting back to work on her own company.
Botsman established The 7 Sopranos six years ago, following an invitation to perform at a large-scale outdoor event in Cameroon – on the proviso she assembled a group of singers to perform alongside her. So she reached out to fellow vocalists and The 7 Sopranos were born. The ensemble became an instant hit and a recording contract with ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) quickly followed.
What’s most striking about The 7 Sopranos (other than their serpentine glamour, slick appearance and enticing red dresses) is how positively they sizzle with power. The kind of role models young girls should have, rather than unrealistic reality TV stars: here is a group of talented, strong women doing what they love, on their terms.
Why did Botsman found the ensemble after that initial one-off performance in Cameroon? ‘Interestingly enough it was because I felt that I had so many talented female friends, and yet there are limited opportunities for female opera singers in Australia. There’s this huge breadth of work that I wanted to represent and so I started toying with the idea of an all-female group.
‘It’s a wonderful experience not only for the sopranos, as they get to perform a breadth of repertoire, but also because it’s a wonderful training ground whereby they can experience pieces they may not normally perform. In the same way that we break boundaries between the performance onstage and the audience, we break a lot of other rules in the sense that we will perform repertoire written for a male baritone, like the Toreador song from Carmen.’
Botsman works with long-time musical director Glenn Amer, who arranges most of their repertoire for its three sopranos and two mezzo sopranos and two lower voices.
She adds that opera lovers who come to performances often readily book another show. Does she think there is scope for classical music and opera to straddle the divide and move into mainstream entertainment – and is the group a good entrance point for the non-opera going public?
‘Yes, though it’s imperative to add that the pieces are not dumbed down – I’m very much against that – we stay faithful to the composers’ intentions and we’re very careful about how we cast the voice. Our soprano girls have all won prizes and have very serious careers outside of The 7 Sopranos.’