We interview Rachel Oyawale, the new face at English National Opera, to see first hand how this mesmerising and inspirational young lady has captured the attention of the opera musical world in London and beyond
I am sitting downstairs in their bar area at ENO on a warm Saturday afternoon and Rachel Oyawale suddenly arrives.
She is fresh, bright, smiling, just like her public photos but more relaxed, totally open. She is eager to talk, to communicate the passion that so evidently drives her but not in that egotistical way of so many. There is no ego here. This is a young lady who has found her dream, by chance – but it is a dream nonetheless that has become reality. Rachel Oyawale is the embodiment of the ENO dream as much as her own; the reaching out and giving the social benefit of opera, to the many young people who are unaware of its existence.
We climb the carpeted stairs and finally reach the top floor where there is some peace away from the waiting audience for a show below – and then we talk.
We talk about everything. Opera for the many; ENO and young people; the difficulty for young people to find an entry point; black people in a white world, even now; thank God for ENO Baylis; Porgy and Bess; La Boheme – where it first started – and so on. There is no stopping. Rachel is supremely eloquent, about to take up a degree offer at Cambridge, but this is no intellectual conversation per se. This is the use of words, the search for the right way to express Rachel’s passion for what she knows she loves.
My colleague Amelia Grace, the young 15 year old blogger from Hull, sits opposite – two young women on a similar trajectory, just a few years apart.
And so we talk about background. From a single parent family, living the normal life of so many in South East London, this is not the start you would expect to find the embryo of an opera singer. And it happens by accident. The coincidental remark by school teachers at 14yrs old – “hey you sing rather well!” – to the visit, instigated by Rachel’s mum – to see La Boheme, at Covent Garden – and the light-bulb moment where it all comes together; not just the fusion of art and life in music – but the moment where you know – you just know – that this is what you want to do.
And the coincidental, at that moment, availability of the last place at ENO Baylis for their Young Person entry programme – the mentoring by her older peers, and the sense of “family” that ENO is so good at, that have all slotted into place – and that have left a mark that is the foundation of where Rachel sees her opera process going.
I first saw Rachel by chance as well – at the recent ENO Gala Performance where she picked up The Lilian Baylis Award for Outstanding Potential. And yet this does not seem accidental.
I ask Rachel is there some sort of future structured plan; she is not sure, but I am sure there has to be; she says “I have made so many friends at ENO that I do hope I can continue to mix my degree course with my opera singing”.
In so many ways, Rachel is a woman for our times – at not even twenty years old, but with a strong sense of where women in general can achieve.
We leave the opera house and find the lounge bar in the St Martins Hotel just next door. We sip a Gin Tonic appropriately called a “Don Giovanni”.
“Yep, that touches the spot”, she says.
A woman for our times indeed.
A full version of the Rachel Oyawale Interview is soon online at; http://www.profomedia.uk