It's been over a week since my success at the Eisteddfod and I can confidently say that the past few months have been the most enjoyable time of my career, possibly even life. I have had a lot of varied experiences this year, some better than others, which got me to thinking... Out of all of the projects, performances and jobs I have done, what makes one truly special and enjoyable?
Back in April I went out to Berlin for a month to do a language course. As great as the course and city was I came home feeling confused as to whether I had actually enjoyed myself or not. I didn't know anyone out there so I stayed in Airbnb's, just renting a room in someones house. Unfortunately, I didn't warm to the people I stayed with and I didn't spend much time with the people on my course. However, I saw some wonderful concerts, operas and tourist attractions but I was always on my own. Thankfully about a week before I was leaving Milly, who was a few years younger than me at the RNCM, got in touch to say she was coming to Berlin. It was so lovely spending time with someone I really got on with which made me realise something... It's the people your with that make an experience special or not.
I flew back to Manchester and within days went up to Leeds to start a new project with Northern Opera Group. Northern Opera Group gave me my first paid operatic role back in 2016. I loved working for them a year ago and I enjoyed working for them even more this time round. The project was really interesting and the music was a grower but the best part was the people. They were just a hilarious, lovely and inspiring team. With such a small group of people working intensively for a week and then performing five shows over two days, sky-high tensions and claustrophobia could have set in. Thankfully that wasn't the case and that was because everyone was so positive, organised and hard-working.
I then went home to Cardiff for a few weeks and went on holiday with my parents, which is always eventful. Dad mainly gets the brunt of the jokes but equally gives it back. My favourite being, 'You would be a good sprinter if you lost a bit of weight!" Well maybe I could say the same about you, Dad! We had booked into what seemed to be a standard all-inclusive, beach, pool complex. However, when we arrived we realised we were about 100 metres from a Loggerhead Turtle nesting ground. It was definitely worth waking up at 7am for a run on the beach to see the turtle tracks coming out of the water. Then on the last day we found some turtles hanging out in the sea. FYI, you shouldn't touch them and remain five meters away at all times. That kind of amazing experience is made even more amazing when the people you are with think it is also amazing. Did I mention it was amazing?!
It was then time to venture down to London to start working on my professional operatic debut as 'Pagagena' for Longborough Festival Opera. As I had worked with the director before I was pretty relaxed about the first rehearsal, though I did make quite an entrance by tripping over the door frame and almost face-planted the floor. It broke the ice to say the least. I really REALLY enjoyed myself during those 6 weeks. I had quite a difficult time when I stayed with people in Berlin but the people I stayed with in London and the Cotswolds were just wonderful. I am often overwhelmed with generosity (as you know ESO) and this was no exception. The cast were also the loveliest and everyone was so encouraging and supportive. I really didn't want it to end.
Sadly like all productions it had to end and I had to start preparations for the National Eisteddfod. I hadn't competed in an Eisteddfod in a while and was nervous because my track record wasn't the best. I often felt penalised for not being able to speak the language so I put in a lot of effort to make sure that my Welsh was perfect. I turned up to my first competition prelim feeling very nervous about not being able to speak the language. I was then approached by someone who wanted to interview me and I said, "I'm sorry I can't speak Welsh", which was when Josie d'Arby appeared saying, 'Neither can I!' That definitely relaxed me until i found out after you sing, you have to have an interview. "Damn." I thought, "My cover has been blown." The interview was conducted in English and I felt pleased but uneasy about whether I would get through. I sat for about four hours watching everyone else sing (I was first) and waiting for the result. I was the last name to be called out of the list of four finalists. I was ecstatic and couldn't quite believe it. I was still slightly nervous about the other competitors. I knew they could all speak Welsh and worried I would be shunned from the group for not being able to speak it. I was very wrong and they were all super lovely. Luckily they were all of the same mind as me; what's the point in being competitive backstage, it doesn't have an affect on the outcome. I even met someone who is going to be in the same year as me at Royal Academy!
I couldn't believe it when I won. I remembered seeing another non-Welsh speaker winning the prize years ago and I never thought that could be me. It was made extra special by having friends in the audience who were super thrilled for me. They were backstage waiting to congratulate me and I couldn't choose better friends to share a moment like that with. Then my phone blew up with messages on social media of congratulations. I didn't realise how many people had been watching! I couldn't sleep that night but still had to get up in the morning for another final. I was knackered and didn't sing as well as I could of. I came second which I was pleased with. If I had won I would've had to stay until the weekend but I was ready to leave. I then travelled up North to see my dear friend and sing in her concert which was a great way to round off a very successful week. This experience has changed my opinion of the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol. Everyone is really welcoming and they don't mind if you don't speak Welsh. They are just happy to share this fantastic cultural tradition with you. I am definitely keen on competing in the Eisteddfod again next year when it's in Cardiff and all you Welsh, non-Welsh speakers should too!
I now look back on all my fond memories and am thankful for all the beautiful, positive and supportive people who I am lucky to call my friends and family. They made those moments extra special.
I'm moving to London tomorrow to start a new chapter in my life and I should be packing...