Eight inspirational women are making their mark on contemporary Australian music, writes Julie Houghton.
If we believed all we see in the media, it would seem that successful singers in Australia are young and nubile 20-somethings, made to fit an idealised notion of how women should look.
Thankfully, all is not what it seems, and there are many women happy to own being over 25 and creating their own successful paths in the world of Australian contemporary music.
Meet charismatic singer Silvie Paladino and The 7 Sopranos, a group of fabulous women who cover a diverse age range.
Since 18-year-old Silvie burst onto the stage in 1989 as tragic young Eponine in the hit musical Les Miserables, she hasn’t looked back, and is one of Australia’s best known music theatre and concert singers. As a regular at Melbourne’s Carols by Candlelight, Silvie is a household name.
Over the past decades, Silvie has starred in a host of hit musicals, but it was her leading role as Ellen in Miss Saigon that changed her life. Prior to this, Catholic-raised Silvie says she knew Jesus in her head, but not her heart.
‘During Miss Saigon, I encountered Jesus in a very powerful way, through a song called “More the Wonder”,’ she tells Warcry.
‘I wanted to know that Jesus in the song. My faith journey has been slow and the Lord has been so patient with me. I always say I opened the door to God, but left the fly screen there!’ she quips.
Today, Silvie says she feels closer to God than ever, and she loves the way her faith and work are often intertwined, as in her just-released second album with The Salvation Army Melbourne Staff Band, I Give You My Heart. Her beautiful voice soars in the fine mix of spiritually-based songs and other well-loved tunes.
Silvie is a firm believer in using her gift in music to make a difference to others.
‘I’m very blessed to be given the opportunity to meet so many people and to share who I am as a person. God has given me a very public platform where I can express my life and commitment to him,’ Silvie says.
But this sincere and dedicated performer doesn’t only do this on stage and in the recording studio—she is also the Australian ambassador for Watoto, an orphanage in Uganda, which she visits when she can.
‘Watoto rescues babies off the street, from mothers who don’t want them or can’t raise them. They then raise them and rebuild their lives, giving them a home, family and an education.’ she says.
Watoto also helps HIV-positive women with medicine, jobs and the opportunity to have a good life, and to discover how Jesus can transform lives and give hope, says Silvie.
Silvie prizes her family over everything, and loves watching a good movie and going shopping with her little daughter, but there is something on her bucket list.
‘I hope to work more in ministry overseas, and I’d love to sing with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir—they are amazing and their music has encouraged me during so many tough times,’ she says.
Someone who has enjoyed a successful operatic career overseas is Queensland’s Tarita Botsman, who returned home to gather together a group of seven hugely talented women to pool their vocal chops and form The 7 Sopranos.
It was a unique opportunity that led Tarita to create Australia’s own female classical super group.
‘In 2009 I was asked to put together a group of singers for an event in Cambodia, so I suggested seven sopranos, so The 7 Sopranos sang on the top of the Angkor Wat in Cambodia to 2000 guests,’ Tarita tells Warcry.
‘I witnessed how much the audience was transfixed by the power of our performance and decided to run with it and keep going!’
While Tarita originally sang with the group, as time progressed she realised she needed to focus on managing the group, who recorded a self-titled album through ABC Classics, and have just released their second CD, Popcorn—Songs from Stage and Screen.
On the CD is a remake of a 1933 song ‘Keep Young and Beautiful’, and in the video clip, glamorously dressed and coiffed singers update the song with important messages for 21st women, including ‘A girl should be what and who she wants’, and ‘Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes’.
‘The 7 Sopranos are real women, not supermodels; they are all healthy and strong and it’s great to celebrate messages like “Be yourself” and “Embrace your curves” in our film clip—positive messages so women of all ages are perfectly aligned with my aims for the group,’ Tarita says.
The group members are all classically trained opera singers—Zoe Drummond, Clarissa Spata, Claire Candy, Kyla Allan, Jessica Low, Deb Rogers and Kathryn Bradbury. Kathryn has two young children and one of Tarita’s aims is to encourage young mums to continue their singing careers around their children, as both she and Kathryn have done.
Another important reason for having The 7 Sopranos is the increasing lack of work for singers in Australia, and Tarita hopes that the group will raise the profile of its members.
‘With funding for opera companies being cut, singers being imported and full-time opera chorus numbers dwindling, we are losing our opportunities to find the next Dame Joan Sutherland or Dame Nellie Melba—we are seeing a huge vocal talent drain out of Australia, and for a country with a proud tradition of creating and celebrating their internationally recognised opera singers, it’s a huge pity,’ Tarita says.
‘In this difficult and bleak environment, The 7 Sopranos helps singers to tread the boards and work on their craft.’
It seems that Tarita’s work with her supergroup is paying off, as with the release of the new CD it didn’t take long to get 60,000 views on YouTube. Which just proves that Australians want to support and hear these fabulous female voices we have nurtured.
We are indeed blessed that singers like The 7 Sopranos and Silvie Paladino call Australian home—long may it be so.
Silvie Paladino performs in The Salvation Army’s Our Christmas Gift concert on 26 November in Melbourne’s Hamer Hall and the I Give you My Heart CD is available at salvationarmy.org.au.
For more information on The 7 Sopranos visit www.the7sopranos.com.