What was your route into opera and how did you come to study at the Academy?
I originally studied languages at university, but I left in the middle of my course because I wasn’t really enjoying it. I moved home and was working in our family restaurant, not really sure what to do next. I had done some singing in school and enjoyed it as an extracurricular hobby, so I thought I’d like to have some singing lessons again and I went to see my old teacher from school. In a roundabout way, I ended up singing for Mark Wildman at the Academy and was offered a place!
I’d had no formal training in music or singing, other than the lessons in school, so it was a steep learning curve. I did four years as an undergraduate and then joined Royal Academy Opera, although I only stayed for the first year as I then won the Viñas International Singing Competition and that fast-tracked my career.
What was the impact of receiving a scholarship to support your studies?
I was a Joseph Karaviotis scholar and a recipient of a Gregory-Carr scholarship during my time at the Academy. It was life-changing. It made life much less stressful in that I didn’t have to take on a job in a bar or coffee shop to support myself. I could completely focus on my singing and practice.
You only left the Academy in 2018 but you’ve already managed to pack a lot into your career. What have been your professional highlights so far?
Making my debut at Covent Garden was a big highlight, as well as debuts at Bayerische Staatsoper and the Dutch National Opera. Other than the record deal with Decca Classics of course, the biggest highlight so far has been opening the Wiener Staatsoper season in a new production of Madama Butterfly in September last year.
Your new album Passione is a tribute to your Italian heritage and heroes. Could you tell us a bit about what the music on the recording means to you?
I’m half-Italian – my Dad was Italian, and my Mum is British – and I’ve always felt a strong link to the Italian side of my family. I went to the Academy as a baritone and transitioned to a tenor after about a year and half. During that period of transition, I really got into listening to the Italian tenors of the last century, from Caruso, who was around at the turn of the century, to Pavarotti, who was in his prime in the 1970s and 80s. But the ones I really focused on the most were Corelli, Del Monaco and Di Stefano – the ones singing in the 1950s and 60s. I love the way they sang, and listening to them helps me to develop my own singing and practice.
As I’m so early on in my career, I didn’t want to release an album of arias when I haven’t sung all the roles on stage yet, so for Passione, I wanted to try to resurrect some of the songs that have fallen out of fashion a little bit, but that were very popular back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. These are the songs that I listened to those amazing tenors singing – I genuinely think they are fantastic songs and that people need to hear them.
How did you find the process of recording with the LPO?
It was amazing but incredibly intense – five of the most intense days of my life! Every time the red light went on, I was thinking ‘OK, this could be the one that ends up on the disc so it needs to be really good’, and when you do that for five days straight, it really takes it out of you.
It was a privilege to work with the orchestra – they were absolutely amazing. And Renato Balsadonna, the conductor I worked with, was just fantastic – he’s Italian as well and he really lives that music.
You’re right at the beginning of your career as an opera singer. How would you like to develop over the next 10 years?
One of the great parts of this job is that you get to visit really cool cities and explore the world through singing, so I just want to keep doing that. As each year ticks by, I look forward to singing with more people too. I’m learning from each new experience I have and, being a young singer, I get the opportunity to sing with more established artists and it’s awesome – I learn so much that way.
Freddie’s debut album Passione was released on Decca Classics on Friday 16 April 2021.
Photo by Julian Baumann