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Taking opera to all walks of life

Clarice performs in Plaza Manila, Estepona.
Clarice performs in Plaza Manila, Estepona. / SUR
  • Opera singer Clarice Williams has had a passion for singing since the age of 5

It was listening to opera on the radio at the tender age of five that sparked her life long passion for the music.

Clarice Williams can still remember hearing the voice of soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in her family home in Christchurch, New Zealand, where she grew up.

“I heard this marvellous sound that made me stand still for five minutes,” said Clarice, whose British parents emigrated to New Zealand from Hereford, England, in the 1970s.

“After I had finished listening, I told my mother that I was going to sing like that woman on the radio.”

Clarice started singing lessons at ten and learnt her classical singing technique at school. Then, at the age of 16, she got her first big break in a production of Carmen at an opera house in Christchurch.

Clarice told SUR in English: “I was the understudy for Carmen, Mercedes and Frasquita. It was a really amazing learning curve and I got paid for it. So it was a professional gig at the age of 16.

“The experience was incredible and I just loved being on stage and connecting with the music - as opera is something you feel.”

From there Clarice studied privately to become an opera singer and over the next two decades she went on to perform across the UK, Europe and Australia, singing at prestigious venues such as the Sydney Opera House.

And for Clarice, something that she learnt along the way is how important it is to make opera more accessible to local audiences, who otherwise would not have an opportunity to watch it.

She explained: “I believe that opera should be organic. It should be performed in a church hall, a town plaza or a field - so I'm not a purist. If you have 200 euros to throw at the Royal Opera House in Madrid, fantastic, there's nothing like hearing the best of the best. They are like Olympic athletes. But you can also see some good productions somewhere local, and have a really good night out without having to spend a fortune.

“I'm passionate about bringing opera to people from all walks of life. They go on about opera being dead as an art form, well, get it out of the opera house and get it out in the plaza or on the beach so that people can come and sit down and experience it.”

As for those who have never heard or seen an opera before, Clarice describes it as “life on high octane with mad plots”.

“You live vicariously through the characters, it's very cathartic. It's operatic Eastenders with opera singers and orchestras. Someone stabs someone who is getting engaged to their cousin or a queen fancies her king's brother, so she manipulates her son to murder him. It's crazy stuff.

“And that's where the phrase soap opera comes from. It's basically non-singing opera.”

As for how she ended up in Estepona in 2016, it was more by chance after her father was watching the UK television show A Place in the Sun.

She said: “We fell in love with Estepona within half an hour of being here. We tried Seville but my father wasn't feeling the big city vibe. But Estepona reminded me of the sunshine coast in Australia, as it had a beautiful coastline and beach, but with a more laidback Spanish flavour.

“It's a beautiful garden city and I love it here.”

However, Clarice hasn't let the laidback Spanish lifestyle slow her down.

Nowadays Clarice runs The Good Vibrations Choir in Estepona (in the Piano Bar in the port) who give benefit concerts for local charitable institutions across the coast.

In addition, she also runs a vocal studio and an after-school club at a local international school.

Only last week at the Centro Cultural Padre Manuel she sang the title role in Zanetto by Mascagni for La Operita Estepona.

A busy summer schedule will also see her travelling to the UK for a 3 Divas Opera Concert tour in June, headlining at the inaugural UK Pride Opera Festival on the Isle of Wight in July and singing at the North Aegean Festival of Opera in Greece.