Mezzo-soprano Svetlina Stoyanova is settling in to her dream job with the Vienna State Opera. It is the latest milestone in a remarkable transition from psychology student to star of the stage, as Mark Good finds out.
The path to becoming an acclaimed opera performer is beset with twists and turns. Just ask Svetlina Stoyanova, who graduated in July after eight years of intensive study at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. It is a journey the Bulgarian mezzo-soprano almost didn’t undertake at all.
Svetlina moved to Scotland in 2010, taking up a place studying psychology at the University of Glasgow. A keen singer, she had been a member of the Bulgarian National Radio Children’s Choir for many years but had never had a singing lesson in her life. When exploring Glasgow, Svetlina stumbled upon the Royal Conservatoire and turned up at the front desk in the hope of finding a choir to join. It was during this fortunate visit that Svetlina sang for Professor Christopher Underwood – and her life changed forever.
“Just like that, I decided to change university courses and enrol as a vocal student here. Walking into the Royal Conservatoire that day was the best decision I ever made,” the 26-year-old reflects.
“I really didn’t know much about music at the time. I started studying with Margaret Izatt and she said to me ‘imagine you are a room and all the wallpaper needs to come down’ – that is what had to happen to me – I needed to start at the beginning.”
Svetlina’s tutors demonstrated admirable foresight, immediately recognising her potential. Over the next eight years, they worked with her to ensure she was equipped with the skills, technique and experience to flourish at the very highest level. A Bachelor of Music degree was followed by a Masters of Music before Svetlina decided to immerse herself in the Alexander Gibson Opera School.
Six years of her tutelage has been under Clare Shearer, whom Svetlina credits with playing a major role in her development as a singer and performer.
“My training with Clare has taught me so much,” she muses. “With her, I learned exactly how the body and the voice works and what I need to do when I go on stage.
“There were audition classes, performance classes, every sort of class – it could be overwhelming to begin with but those experiences were fantastic. The Masters in Performance programme gave me extra time to develop, whether it was honing my stage craft or developing my languages.”
Svetlina has clearly embraced every opportunity to come her way. Her first main role at RCS came in early 2017 when she performed as Nerone in Handel’s Agrippina working with director John Ramster.
In October 2017, she triumphed in the Neue Stimmen International Singing Competition, beating off competition from 1,430 contestants – and illness – to win the prestigious international contest.
“I thought I would give it a try. I went to Berlin for the first audition and made it through. In the next round, I wasn’t very well and was coughing a lot. I thought that was it, all over, but adrenaline kicked in. Before I knew it, I made it through, got to the final, then won.
Performing and winning such a respected competition – it was definitely a turning point in my career. It was only then that I think my mother finally felt it was okay that I turned my back on psychology to follow my passion for singing!
The momentum has continued, with Svetlina making her debut as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro at Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur. The Neue Stimmen win led to Svetlina being approached to audition for the Vienna State Opera – an institution with a global reputation for its significant repertoire and performing excellence. Just to audition on that stage was a dream come true for Svetlina.
“I remember standing on the stage about to start my audition thinking, even if I don’t get it, this is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. To then be successful and accepted into the ensemble – it is truly wonderful.”
Svetlina started her contract as a member of the ensemble at Vienna State Opera in its autumn season with early roles including Dryad in Ariadne auf Naxos and Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro.
With Svetlina settling into life in the Austrian capital, she reflects on her journey to this point: “I am so excited to be going to Vienna – but of course, sad to leave Scotland. Scotland has given me so much – a home, friends, my husband – and this is a huge new adventure for us both.
“This has all been possible thanks to the nurturing and encouragement I received here during my time at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and I will forever be grateful for that day I was welcomed into the building.”