The Hastings area has no shortage of talent – and Wauchope born and bred local Monica Oriel is no exception! Monica’s fabulous voice, her determination in the face of adversity and pure hard work have opened the door to a fantastic musical future.
Tell us a bit about your background growing up in Wauchope …
I was born in Wauchope and lived in the same house until I was 18. It was such a wonderful place to grow up, surrounded by friends and family. I loved the beach and the bush, fishing in the river and spending all summer in our swimmers. My parents, grandmother and aunt still live in Wauchope, so I come home to visit as often as I can.
When did you first discover you were musically gifted?
To be honest, I don’t remember a time I wasn’t singing. There was always music in our home, of every genre. When I was 6, at St Joseph’s Primary School in Wauchope, Sister Mary Catherine used to take me out of class. We would sing scales at the convent, and then the ladies from the choir would arrive and we’d rehearse for Saturday night mass. I was always asked to sing solos in high school, which didn’t make me very popular!
What formal training have you done to help you with your singing career?
I started singing in Wauchope when I was 15, with James Hannah. James taught me to love classical singing, and I’ve never looked back. I was awarded Honours in my AMEB 8th grade for singing when I was 17, but that’s the extent of anything formal. I’ve worked with private teachers for years, and I think that’s been the best thing for me. It’s made everything very personal.
How would you describe your musical style – and what are some of your favourite pieces to sing?
Traditional classical. I sing predominantly operatic arias. My voice type is light lyric coloratura soprano, which means I sing very high with a very clear quality and sing all those fabulous runs. Some of the most beautiful, delicate bel canto music is written for my voice type, and I love singing Puccini, Mozart and Bellini.
You’re based in Sydney now. What prompted your move to the big smoke?
University. I left Wauchope in 2006 to study a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at UNSW. I was also accepted into a Bachelor of Music at the Conservatorium, but declined the offer. I don’t regret that decision. But life is never quite as simple as you plan …
You’re currently studying with well known music teacher, Anthea Moller. How has working with Anthea benefited you?
Anthea is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I’ve been with her nearly two years now, and she has changed everything for me. When I came to her, I was 21 and ready to give up. I’d been told I’d never be a singer and that I didn’t have a voice. You really have to be so careful when deciding whose opinions are worth listening to! Anth brings years of experience and expertise, both as a performer and a teacher, and knows exactly what I need before I even realise I need it! I truly wouldn’t be where I am today without her. I can’t thank her enough.
You’ve experienced your share of hardships personally – having battled to overcome a bout of viral meningitis. How has this experience changed you overall – and did it actually have any impact on your decision to study biomedical science at university?
I don’t really talk about when I got sick – it was rock bottom for me. One morning in 2006, I woke up feeling really dizzy with a headache. I was admitted to hospital with a temperature of 40.1 degrees, wrapped in two doonas and unable to open my eyes because of the lights. I had a lumbar puncture and a chest X-ray. I had an adverse reaction to the pain killers and spent 8 days in hospital in Sydney. I couldn’t sit up in bed or stand without a blinding headache and my neck and back seizing up, and I lost 11 kg while I was in hospital. I was 18 years old – I’d just moved to Sydney, started uni, made new friends, and suddenly I was lying alone in a dark room unable to move my own body.
My parents brought me back to Wauchope, and I ended up having a spinal procedure. It took me months to recover. I was studying Medical Science at the time with the view to becoming a doctor, so it had a huge impact on me. I lost my faith in medicine. I left the degree to study Law, but I missed the science, so I’m back finishing my Bachelor of Biomedical Science part time.
You’ve also had your share of positive experiences too! What have been some of the performances you’ve given that you really enjoyed?
I enjoy every performance! But this year has been very special to me in regards to performing, having sung at the Children’s Cancer Research Institute at Doltone House with Australia’s Got Talent winner, Jack Vidgen. I also had my hometown debut at Blue Poles Art Gallery, which sold out in 5 days! And then most recently, there was the Mother’s Day Concert at the Sydney Conservatorium with the Seven Sopranos …
What’s it been like being a part of the internationally acclaimed group, the Seven Sopranos – especially considering you’re the youngest member!
Incredible. Some of the girls sing for Opera Australia, some are currently singing with Opera Queensland, and then there’s me! We worked with the amazingly talented Simon Kenway in our recent Mother’s Day Concert, and everyone was so generous and welcoming. I learned so much. Being surrounded by professionals in your field is a dream for anyone, but when you realise you can hold your own, it’s a really special moment. We had such fun, with our Sydney MX newspaper cover photoshoot by the Harbour Bridge and singing the Flower Duet through the Pitt St Mall, handing out fliers in red sequined ball gowns. The response was amazing. We’ve had lots of interest for overseas work, so I’m keeping my passport handy!
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future – where would you like to be in 5 years’ time?
I’m hoping to be back in the recording studio soon, and I’d love to release an album as a solo classical crossover artist. I can’t wait to travel with the Seven Sopranos, and I loved my solo concert at Blue Poles, so I’m hoping to perform more in the Hastings. The last 6 months have been so exciting – I can’t begin to imagine where I’ll be in 5 years!
Interview by Jo Atkins.