Welcome to our “Spotlight On…” segment!
In this series of interviews, we shine a spotlight on creatives to uncover what makes their personal brand so strong and, well, creative.
Meet British lyric soprano Nadine Benjamin, a charismatic and versatile artist who is in increasing demand on both the operatic stage and the concert platform. She is also developing great renown as an exponent of song, in particular Verdi, Strauss, Berg and contemporary American song.
Here, Nadine talks about her creative approach to performing and how it is reflected in her unique personal brand.
Has performance always been a central part of your personal brand? If not, when did it start to become more prominent in your life?
Yes. Singing, acting, writing, poetry, composing, producing and dance have always been a central part of me as a person. It was the only way I could find to safely express my feelings.
You started as a jazz singer, but ended up in opera. Could you share your story of how this happened? Would you say that opera is more your authentic personal brand?
Actually, I would have considered myself an overall pop singer – I sang garage, drum and bass, rock, jazz, soul, rare groove and commercial pop. I just loved to sing. Harmonies are my thing and I am a very skilled vocalist in that department. I used to record a lot in studios. However, every time I would sing the engineer or producer would say to me “could you try to make it sound less operatic?”. I didn’t really understand what they meant at the time as this was just my natural voice.
When leaving secondary school my music teacher played me the Queen of the Night’s aria from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute by by Mozart and told me “You could sing like that one day”. She wanted to get me a scholarship and so I ran home to my mum and told her the news. However, this was not available to me at that time and my mum sent me to a YTS scheme and I started working in Corporate Finance. It was quite a few years on, when I was now working in financial trading and was offered a fantastic salary, that my world changed. My boss said “are you sure this is what you would like to do, because once you get this money you may never turn back.” I told him that I had always wanted to know if my music teacher had been right and so he left my position open for me for two months to see if I could do it. I never went back. It seems I really was meant to fulfill my role in the world as an opera singer.
I know that you’re now putting on productions with your own creative spin, please tell us more…
I love producing traditional opera to tell the stories of what is going on in the world today. Three years ago my company Everybody Can! Opera put on Otello by Verdi and based the whole thing around post-traumatic stress disorder and domestic violence. It really allowed the audience to view Otello as a man who needed support and not someone like Iago twisting his mind (a man who was also suffering from the same thing). To also see the violent way in which Desdemona was treated really showed a different viewpoint of the story and it was something that everyone in today’s world could relate to.
Our next production will be La Traviata. This will be shown on Friday 19th October 2018 in St James’s Church, Piccadilly. We will base this production on sexuality and gender and will use this story to explain the stress of what a family can bring when they do not accept the love of a same sex relationship and will show their struggle. We will also hopefully feature some transgender artists who have come through to the other side having stayed true to themselves, and are now living authentically and shining in the world of opera. It will show their struggle and we will also hopefully feature some transgender artists who have come through the other side standing in their power having stayed true to themselves and are now living authentically and shining in the world of opera.
Does being creative generally come naturally, or do you have to coax it out?
Being creative does come naturally, however being excellent and creative takes practice, consistent action and hours of dedication. It requires me to stay curious, open, flexible and always willing to learn. I am always discovering new things about myself and I am always looking for new ways to improve my craft.
What would you say are some of your core values, and do you tend to turn to them in your creative work?
Some of my core values would be integrity, work ethic, honesty, honour, generous nature, kindness, inspiration and breaking the mould. These qualities definitely run across everything I do. This also means admitting when I am wrong, apologising when I have made a mistake and leaving my comfort zone to walk closer to my personal greatness.
What or who inspires you?
I am inspired by people who honour who they are even when it feels like they are standing alone. People who stand out for me are: Nelson Mandela, Florence Scovel Shinn, Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Davina McCall, Frida Kahlo, Maria Callas, Marian Anderson and Tony Robbins. There are many more!
Any particular operatic character you feel affinity with?
I have an affinity with every character that I play – I know the women in these operas because my early life story would be very much like an opera. I use my experience to bring these characters to life so I can really tell their stories as honestly and authentically as possible without allowing any of my own fears to get in the way.
What advice would you have for someone who would like to express more creativity as part of their personal brand?
If you really want to be more creative, I believe you have to be willing to stay curious, open and willing to learn. One has to give up the idea that they are done, or that they are past their time, or it is too late for them. It is really important to listen to one’s heart for that is where our true desires stem from and it’s our brains that then puts them into action. Do one small daily consistent action: whether that be writing for 30 minutes a day, meditating and visioning or allowing yourself to play (taking yourself to your favourite show, eating your favourite meal, taking yourself on an adventure). All these inform the creative mind and give it a chance to be free of the daily stresses of daily life. If you make this process a part of your day, you will find that you will raise your energy level, self-esteem and confidence.
Any specific advice for those initiating a singing career?
For any singers out there – warm your voice up everyday for at least 20 minutes. The vocal cords are a muscle and they need training just as much as any other muscle in your body. Find a singing teacher or vocal technician to support you. Perform every chance you get – open mic nights, enter competitions, join a choir, put on your own concerts in your local church. Set yourself a small goal every three months and fulfil it. Don’t be afraid to shine! Every creative person brings joy into the life of another and when you allow yourself to do what you love you fill yourself up with that same joy which makes you unstoppable!
To learn more about Nadine Benjamin and for her latest performances,
check out her website at: nadinebenjamin.com