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A classical talent

Monday, 5th August, 2019

Dianne Cotterill highlights her operatic pose. PICTURE: Callum Marshall Dianne Cotterill highlights her operatic pose. PICTURE: Callum Marshall

By Callum Marshall

Dianne's introduction to singing and the Eisteddfod started out as a way to develop her voice and get better at performing in the church choir.

“I didn’t actually start training with my voice until I was in my mid 20s,” she said.

“I was in church choirs and then school productions, and I was always just a chorus member until I joined the Anglican Church and I was in the Anglican Choir.

“And Prue O’Donovan, who at the time was the priest’s wife and ran the choir, said to me ‘you need to get some voice lessons’, so, back in the early 1980s I was being taught by Prue O’Donovan.

“I started entering the Eisteddfod just as a place to sing and to see what people thought of my voice, and over the next ten years I sort of got to the top of the tree, I suppose.”

Dianne first entered the Eisteddfod in 1982, winning a couple of second place awards and a third.

While she performed well at her first few Eisteddfods, a purple patch of performances began to emerge in 1986. 

“I worked my way along until 1986, 1987 and 1988. I won the Musicians’ Club Aria Championship, which would have to be the highlight of my Eisteddfod experience,” said Dianne.

Her first place prizes came for performances of ‘O Mio Fernando’ from La Favorita (1986), ‘Condotta ell’era in ceppi’ from Il Trovatore (‘87) and ‘Softly Awakens My Heart’ from Samson and Delilah (‘88).

She enjoyed another win in 1992 with ‘Adieu, forets’ from Tchaikovsky’s Jeanne d’Arc/The Maid of Orleans.

A personal highlight from that time, however, was auditioning for the Australian Opera, said Dianne.

“I was being talent-scouted by somebody who got me to go over to the Australian Opera to do an audition. That was in the late ‘80s.

“This person was the adjudicator and her name was Nicola Snekker-Seymour and she’s become quite a good friend of mine. 

“She actually took me there to audition with Richard Gill (renowned Australian conductor) who recently passed away. 

“And he said to me, ‘what makes you think you’re a mezzo-soprano?’ because that was the way I’d been trained until that point.

“And I just laughed and he said, ‘why are you laughing?’ 

“I said, ‘I’ve never thought I was a mezzo, I really think I’m a soprano.’

“And he said, ‘I think you’re a lyric soprano, go away and do twelve months retraining and come back.’

Despite that high praise, Dianne said that, sadly, she would not be able to perform the operas properly.

“I did the retraining but I didn’t go back because I have scoliosis,” she said.

“And after I had a gone to a few summer schools for singers, opera workshops, it became quite apparent that I would never be able to stand up and wear the heavy costuming for the extended periods that you’re meant to as an opera singer.

“So I didn’t follow through on it and it’s one of my great regrets.”

But this has not kept Dianne away from the Eisteddfod though, as over the years she’s occupied several roles including committee member, vice-president, vocal coordinator and now assistant secretary, along with teaching singing. 

“I just loved playing classical music,” she said.

“When I was a child I was brought up on ‘40s and ‘50s swing music, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, and a bit of jazz. 

“But my grandfather was a big lover of classical music, especially Mozart, and I discovered that I absolutely adored it.

“I would stand in my bedroom conducting along to Puccini duets and stuff like that, never in a million years thinking I’d ever sing one.

“It’s funny because I’m back to conducting now because I conduct the Philharmonic Choir.

“So it’s come around in a circle.”

* The 50th anniversary Eisteddfod will take place from August 17 to 21 at the Civic Centre. The Eisteddfod Committee is also looking for photos or documentation of the first Eisteddfod to put up for display. If you have anything to share, you may email it to podnars@aapt.net.au or call Merrilyn Podnar on 8087 7633.

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