Can you name a profession that requires seven years of training in order to gain full accreditation? I’m sure you’re all thinking about a doctor or a vet, but did you know that to become an opera singer and part of the elite company at The Royal Opera House you also have to go through the rigours of a long instruction period, writes Nicky Sweetland…
Well, one person who knows only too well how much dedication and training it takes to reach the dizzy heights at the top of the world of opera is Eltham resident Elizabeth McGechie.
Liz – who is originally from Mansfield – has spent much of her life honing her singing skills in order to ascend to the very top of her industry. And much of her success she credits to the fact that she joined a girls choir as a child. The discipline and devotion she learned paved the way for an illustrious career, first with Glyndebourne and then as a chorister at the world-renowned Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
And the town of Eltham also played a small part in her ascension up the operatic ladder. After seven years of training at what is now called the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Liz took up a summer residency with the British Youth Opera and with nowhere to stay in the capital, was given a home for the summer by a cousin in Eltham.
Liz tells me, “It gave me a taste for London and I think that gave me a basis for living in the area.”
After performing with Glyndebourne for a few years, Liz found herself returning to the locale.
“While I was at Glyndebourne the application came up for choristers for the Royal Opera House.” Liz began the grueling audition process, “I thought, I won’t get the job; it’s a world-renowned opera house; it’s the Royal Opera House, but I thought, just to be heard would be good.”
Needless to say, Liz got the job: “I’m now on my twelfth season and at 25 years you get a medal, so I’d love to get that.”
The position meant a permanent move to London was required and after living in Lewisham and Catford, Liz and her husband found their “forever home” in Eltham.
And as well as her job in the chorus at the opera house, Liz teaches singing from her home, just off Well Hall Road and tells me about what she loves about the area: “It’s still homely and we love the fact that there’s so much green space; it’s not too gentrified.” Liz explained: “I like the mix. I’m from a working class background so it feels normal to live among normal people.”
Being part of the local community is also quite high on her list of priorities and Liz is a big supporter of Eltham Arts. She can often be found in one of the more arty establishments in the town too, perfecting another of her artistic skills: “On a Monday if I’m not rehearsing, I go up to Pottery on Parade because I love knitting. It’s one of my dressing room hobbies because we tend to have a lot of waiting around in technical rehearsals when they are testing things out.”
But Liz is under no illusion about where her real dedication has to be fielded and it is no easy feat being part of one of the most acclaimed opera companies in the world.
Liz said: “I think you’ve got to have a certain type of personality to be in a full time chorus. You have got to be a team player and go with the flow. It’s a really, really heavy schedule; we do 21 different operas a season, so it’s about 200 performances.”