Music: Opera singer Anna Harvey an international star who was shaped in Sheffield

She has sung in seven languages, won international opera contests and her musical journey was mapped out in Sheffield where she’ll return to perform next month.

Friday, 10th June 2022, 12:29 pm
Updated Friday, 10th June 2022, 12:29 pm

Anna Harvey is a mezzo soprano who was brought up in Broomhill, where her parents still live, and will be on familiar territory when she sings in Sheffield Botanical Gardens.

The 34-year-old went to school at Broomhill infants, Lydgate juniors and Tapton. She’s the youngest of four children and the first professional musician from her family.

Dad Paul was a big influence, playing his vinyl records to her, anything from Beethoven symphonies to folk rock favourites Steeleye Span.

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Opera singer Anna Harvey

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“Listening to music with dad was one of the best musical starts in life because I was exposed to so many different styles,” she says.

From here, Anna started singing in choirs at Lydgate, carried on at Tapton and was exposed to Bach, singing in the Cathedral and meeting inspiring teachers, including former head of music at Tapton School Helen Cowen.

“It was always something I took to. I was playing the recorder, then the violin and it was just something I could do,” she said.

Opera singer Anna Harvey

“Sheffield was a brilliant place to grow up in terms of music. I was part of the Youth Orchestra, which did amazing tours.”

She also worked her way through the ranks of city youth choirs, eventually joining Cantores Novae, the internationally renowned choir which toured Europe.

“I got to see cities I’d never been to, music gave me opportunities,” says Anna.

Anna in Katja Kabanova by Janáček

“As a place to grow up if you were interested in music or thinking of becoming a musician, Sheffield was a great place because there were all these really great ensembles.

“Ensemble 360 from Music In The Round and before them The Lindsays. Their legacy is huge.

“There is a relatively small number of professional musicians living in Sheffield so you get to know them, I knew The Lindsays and met them, it was really nice that you knew them personally and I learnt so much from them.

“It is sad that there’s not more professional musicians in the city. My interest in opera didn’t start until 15 because there is no Sheffield opera company.

Performing Madam Butterfly with the Welsh National Opera. .

“Now I live in Dusseldorf in Germany, which is smaller than Sheffield but has a symphony orchestra, an opera house and the biggest ensemble of opera soloists in the world.

“We are split between Dusseldorf and Duisburg, with 200 performances a year of opera and ballet.”

That’s thanks to state funding for the arts which was one of the reasons Anna moved to Germany four years ago. She is an opera soloist for Deutsche Oper Am Rhein. No such post exists in the UK.

Having found opera at 15, it became a passion at 16 when she landed a role in Music In The Round’s performance of the Berlie Doherty book Daughter of the Sea.

“I loved it, being on the main stage in The Crucible. Then at 17, Tapton did Les Mis and I got the part of Fantine," she said.

“Those roles were turning points for me. It was my first experience on stage as a character, rather than in a choir. I found that I loved it and it seemed quite natural.”

Performing La Clemenza di Tito with Deutsche Oper am Rhein

It had taken until sixth form for Anna to decide music was going to be her path, she explained, saying: “It was what I was most interested in. I was studying it with sciences. My sister was doing medicine, there was an obvious career path. My passion was music, not chemistry.”

She went to Cambridge to do a degree in music, adding: “At university, I spent more time singing than playing so it was clear what direction I was going.”

This led to a masters in singing at the Royal Academy in London, which filled in the gaps of her education - singing technique, stagecraft, drama and dance.

She also had to master singing in different languages and can now perform in French, Italian, Czech and Russian. Anna has also sung in Spanish, Norwegian and Polish.

“The music education I had in Sheffield really helped, I had a strong base.I knew how to play, how to sing and had a good level of musicianship,” she said.

Those skills make her flexible. She was once asked to perform a role at midday and was on stage doing it at 6pm.

So how does Anna see music in education in 2022?

“It is more of a risk to study music because it hasn’t got a direct application,” she says.

“It feels like a bigger deal to study subjects where you don’t know you’re going to end up.

“There is a lot of great musical education to be had but in terms of people taking it to the next level of study to become professional in a city where there are not many positions but the fees are high it can be off-putting.

“The Government does not encourage arts as a viable job.”

Don’t despair though, Anna is coming back to Sheffield for that performance at the Botanical Gardens next month at Music In The Gardens.

She’ll be just five minutes’ walk from her parents home.

“It was the closest park to home. I was scared of the bear! It is somewhere really special and singing there will be a special thing,” she says.

The concert coincides with her promoting her new CD, Songs by Warlock and Howe, with pianist Mark Austin, set for release on the Rubicon Classics label on June 24.

On the album, Anna said: “Mark and I have worked together for many years and there is always an exciting sense of collaboration and creativity when we get together.

“We wanted to choose repertoire in English as most of my operatic work is in other languages, so it was a real gift to express these often deeply moving - and sometimes very funny - texts in my mother tongue.

‘The wide variety of styles in Warlock’s oeuvre - which draw inspiration from Elizabethan music, folksong and Celtic culture - really appealed to us and gave us a wide palate of colours with which to create this wonderful record.

“The living composer Frederick Howe was deeply influenced by Warlock’s repertoire, particularly his folk song settings, and Mark and I are delighted to include Howe’s set of previously unrecorded folk songs on this recording.”

As for Music In The Gardens, she approached the organisers to say she was available. They snapped her hand off. No surprise as Anna won First Prize in the Paris Opera Competition earlier this year, a huge accolade.

“My mum and dad are chuffed,” she says. Anna spent unplanned time with them in the first lockdown as travel restrictions meant she could not return to Germany. It led to impromptu concerts her neighbours won’t forget.

“I was in Sheffield for three months, so I started to learn the opera parts I had planned for the following year. I asked my dad if he thought the neighbours would like to listen while I sang in the garden,” she adds.

“They stood on the street and listened. Every Friday night I sang opera in the garden.” She performed works by Mozart, Handel and Wagner - it worked.

“Lots of the neighbours told me they didn’t realise they like opera so it was great.”

Anna will appear at Classics in the Gardens at Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens on July 3. The link for tickets is: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/classics-in-the-gardens-sheffield-phil-orchestra-keith-peters-big-band-tickets-287869414167.