CITIZENS OF SONG: INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA WINCKWORTH E LEAH CROCETTO

During this terrible period the music world has reinvented itself and there were born a lot of projects to keep alive our art. One of the most interesting is Citizens of Song, an idea by the irish singer Rebecca Winckworth, who was able to involve great colleagues from every part of the world and from every music genre to streams online live concerts and events. For the Christmas concert, called “Christmas From Afar” (December 19 – click here to watch it) she is joined by wonderful artists including the Opera Star Leah Crocetto. In these days we were really honored to interview Rebecca and Leah about this awaited online Christmas concert.

Rebecca Winckworth Founder of Citizens of Song

Let’s start with you Rebecca: Citizens of Song is a project that puts together musicians and singers from every corner of the world and from every music background and genre. How was born this project?

I was stuck in my apartment during the strictest and longest quarantine in the world, in Medellín, Colombia, South America. It was an awful time, stressful and frightening. And so, one night I came out and I sang from the balcony. I didn’t know that anyone was listening until I heard a huge applause and cheering. The next night, I hid away with no intention of singing, but at 8pm the neighbours came out again and started saying “Que cante, cante” and I received a text from a neighbour saying “Please sing! Don’t be so cruel!”. So I reluctantly went out and sang a song again and thus began 2 months of me learning and performing one new song every day for my entire street and even apartment blocks on other streets nearby would listen. The story hit the news and became a big sensation. I realised how this nightly music was bringing people together for a moment of peace during these extremely different times and I thought to myself, I need to replicate this on an international level with global impact! And thus naively, I launched into our first huge online concert which I planned for two weeks’ from then. I had no idea how much work was involved, but it was a huge hit!

The break-out of the Covid-19 stopped the live shows, and it forced us to experience of making music through the use of technology. What are your experiences with live streaming? difficulties and advantages.

It is absolutely challenging, and 100 times more difficult than a live concert, without a doubt. Everything from audience members being confused by Facebook events, to people’s neighbours deciding to hammer the walls just as someone is hitting the high note on their tenth time trying to record their performance, to a courier getting lost in a tropical thunderstorm with the precious harddrive of our concert en route to the streamer’s house…..you name it! However, the most beautiful part of this virtual setting is that it has opened up so many new doors and broken down georgraphic boundaries. Now a singer from South Africa can collaborate with an accompanist in Korea, an American Idol star performs in the same line up as a Met Opera star. New relationships are forming, new collaborations are being created and in ways we have been forced to think outside of the box and outside of our comfort zones, which is amazing!

Tell us what we can expect from this special Christmas concert.

Our Christmas concert is going to be, quite simply, spectacular! We have everything from a ballet company performing from Tchaikovksy’s Nutcracker Suite in a full theatre setting, to Symphony Orchestras, to our Opera Star Leah Crocetto performing an amazing interpretation of “Mary Did You Know?” with a full choir backing yet again from an empty theatre stage, to children’s choirs, to the current “George Washington” from Broadway’s Hamilton– Tamar Greene, to Les Miserables star Alfie Boe, singer-songwriter, Chris De Burgh, and we even have a reconciliation and peace choir from Colombia made up of ex-combatants and ex-guerrilla members singing alongside victims and those who lost loved ones in the Colombia war. There is something for everyone in this show!

How do you see the development of Citizens of Song after the pandemic?

I have a very clearly dream for Citizens of Song to keep growing into live shows, an album bringing together world sounds, and a documentary series which travels the world and shares stories of our music has changed lives. I can see that we are doing something right with this organisation, it seems to really be touching the hearts and souls of people around the world, so let’s keep spreading that music and joy as far as we can!

So Leah, we meet again now after the interview we did a few years ago (read here), in this special year and on the occasion of this very special Christmas concert. The Covid-19 caused them cancellations of many engagements: how do you see the situation in our business, especially in the USA?

There is no question that the situation in the arts, especially in the US right now, is dire. Companies are trying to pivot and reinvent their seasons, but for many companies, this is not feasible. Opera houses and companies do not get subsidized from the government in the Us so for many, opening at half capacity or changing venues isn’t an option. We rely so much on ticket sales here. The loss has been huge not only for me, but for my colleagues. I lost an entire season, and so many others did as well. I pray we can move through this and pick up the pieces and share our music with our incredible audiences.

Leah Crocetto/©Jiyang Chen

Christmas from afar presents a lot of different music genres: how is born your participation in this concert and in how much is important bring opera to a wider audience?

Opera needs to be brought to wider audiences! When Rebecca asked me to be a part of this I was totally wowed by the concept. Bringing WORLD MUSIC together in one concert is amazing and encouraging and exactly what we all need right now. Opera reaches out and touches everyone. I have never met anyone who has watched a Puccini opera and not been moved. It’s palpable when the power of the human voice vibrates within you and is shared through the hearts of thousands!

You are one of the most brilliant soprano of your generation: what are your advices to young singers, especially in this moment?

Well first, thank you so very much for the compliment. I love music and the way it makes me feel, and I pray I can share these emotions with those who hear me. My advice to young singers is this…Never stop working and listening. Never stop feeling the way music makes you feel. And try with all your might to share the love and the emotion. That is the only way to reach a broad audience. People are longing to feel. Music is the only universal language. Never forget that!

Next engagements (also online)

My next engagements will be a recital to be streamed on the Idagio network in late winter. As of now, Elizabetta in Don Carlo with the Dalls Opera, Aida with Opera Australia in Sydney and Melbourne, Anna in Maometto Secondo with Washington Concert Opera (dates TBD).

Thanks Leah and Rebecca and Toi, Toi, Toi!

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