Morceau de concours Gabriel Faure
Classic FM speaks with Natasha Marsh to find a wonderfully down-to-earth and talented singer.
Natasha Marsh has just got back from Paris where she has been shooting music videos and singing arias overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Ah, the glamorous life of an opera singer!
“Well, it would have been highly glamorous had it not been for the fact that I was freezing as I was standing in a water fountain with bare feet, wearing practically a nightie with my eyes streaming from the cold,” she laughs. “I ate stacks of chocolate bars to keep me going!”
This is typical Natasha. We’re sitting in the comfortable surroundings of her management company’s offices and she is looking unfeasibly gorgeous while at the same time being wonderfully down-to-earth.
There’s a buzz surrounding Natasha and bosses at EMI signed her on the spot a year ago, after she sang three songs for them. It sounds like a fairytale story, but this is no overnight success; Natasha has been working in the opera world for the past 10 years.
During that time she’s clocked up some impressive reviews for her performances – her Olga in Giordano’s Fedora for Holland Park Opera last summer was particularly well-received. But she has recently moved up to a different league. When Classic FM meets her she is getting ready to share the stage with none other than the legendary tenor José Carreras.
“I haven’t met him yet,” she tells me. “I’m one of his guests – not the only one! But still, it’s very exciting indeed. It’s wonderful. I do have one little concern – I’m wondering what we’re going to do about the height issue. Like most tenors, he’s on the short size, and I’m not. In fact, I can’t tell you the amount of jobs I’ve almost got until they’ve decided that, at 5 foot 10, I’m just too lanky!”
Somehow I can’t imagine Señor Carreras, or indeed anyone else for that matter, will be complaining too loudly.
Natasha is also in the middle of a busy run-up to Christmas, as she’s starring in some of Raymond Gubbay’s classical spectaculars. Although these concerts do have a reputation for being “classic lite” Natasha argues that this is not the point.
“They are great – what an atmosphere! These concerts are people’s treats; everyone’s having a party, so there’s great energy. And they’re fun to sing of course, a real medley of favourites. It’s a laugh; there are fireworks, I get to sing with the Hallé. What more need I say?”
Natasha is a huge fan of Gubbay, a man she describes as “wonderful” and “shrewd”, and she’s also grateful to him for the opportunity to perform again at the Royal Albert Hall.
“The first time I performed there was in Carmen in the round,” she remembers. “It was bedlam backstage. I’ll never forget the first time I walked out on stage, feeling my heart pounding in my corset! The hall has such a wonderful history, and such an eclectic one too. I love the fact that there have been boxing matches and pop concerts there, not just classical concerts!”
It’s fair to say that Natasha has an open mind when it comes to musical influences. She describes her family as very musical – her mother, Lynn Marsh, runs vocal workshops and is a composer, and her pianist father is the musical director of the European School in Abingdon, Oxford. She has two younger brothers, Dominic an actor and Ben a history lecturer, who are also musical. At Christmas they would spend many hours making music and thinking they were the Von Trapps! It was obviously an environment perfect for a blossoming singing star. But opera?
“To be honest I didn’t really get opera at first. To me it was just large people singing and not moving much. I did loads of musical theatre at school and I joined the National Youth Music Theatre when I was 15. It gave me a great grounding in theatre craft – it was very professional.”
After studying music at Birmingham University, Natasha applied to the Royal College of Music. She won a scholarship that, Classic FM suggests, must have sealed her fate.
“Yes – it was an electric atmosphere and being surrounded by so much enthusiasm made me really catch the opera bug. There was also the challenge of learning all the languages you need as an opera singer. I had five, six, seven hours of coaching a day. I loved it.”
And are her family equally enthusiastic, or do they still hanker after the Von Trapp-style singing from Natasha?
“Well, they certainly all know what they’re talking about. They like opera, though my mum has a problem with the acting, which she feels isn’t very natural. Of course, there are physical constraints to singing opera; you can’t run around a stage while you’re singing an aria, but I tell her that physically it’s thrilling, it gives you such a heady feeling. And besides, although my voice is operatic, I still think there’s loads of other repertoire out there that I can sing.”
She’s keen to make her mark, but surely her record label must be hoping she’ll be the next Katherine Jenkins?
“I don’t want comparisons to anyone,” she says.
“I’m trying not to brand myself too much. My album has a really eclectic mix of music. I’ve tried not to be too mainstream, but accessible nonetheless. To do that, I’ve chosen lots of tracks that are cinematic and that have a Mediterranean feel.
“I love European films, such as Il Postino and Jean de Florette. In fact, we got a lyricist to write a song, Si Un Jour, to the famous theme of Jean de Florette for the album. The album is all about love and I had a ball making it. Abbey Road, the London Symphony Orchestra… it really was a dream come true.”
With her album and the workshops she runs in schools, Natasha is on a mission to get young people into opera.
“It’s an environment that can seem so alien, which is a shame. I get frustrated because opera is so simple. Usually they are great ‘boy-meets-girl’ stories.”
Talking of boy-meets-girl, imagine my surprise to discover, at the end of a lovely hour with Natasha, that her husband is actually an old friend of Classic FM’s! The marvellously named Dobs Vye was one of those annoyingly talented types at college, always starring in university musical productions. It was known he’d gone on to compose music for television, but that’s not all. Natasha and Dobs are actually a two-album couple; as well as her own album, Amour, Natasha also sings on the first track of Dobs’s new album, Public Symphony, released around the same time.
But Classic FM has to ask surely living and working with your other half puts pressure on even the most blissful of couples?
”Well I do admit that on work days we sometimes drive each other insane with noise pollution in our little Shepherds Bush house,” admits Natasha. “An opera singer screaming arias downstairs while a composer blasts out sound effects and rock music upstairs can get interesting! But we both bring new perspectives to each other’s work, which is always helpful and insightful. And sharing the passion for music is what counts.”