TBI Q&A: Morag Atchison

Morag Atchison.
Soprano Morag Atchison answers The Big Idea community questions about her role in Macbeth.


Morag Atchison’s typical day can include teaching in the morning, opera rehearsals in the afternoon and vocal coaching at night. “It means that I’m constantly on the go, however I have learnt to compartmentalise my work and if it means that I’m up late working on music, so be it..”

The soprano is currently preparing for her role as Lady-in-waiting in the NBR NZ Opera season of Verdi’s Macbeth.

TBI Q&A: See the comment box below to read Morag's answers to The Big Idea community questions about her work. 

During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?

The evening, I’ve always been a night owl.

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?

Classic but girly. I have aspirations that my home and style is similar to the ideals of Ralph Lauren with a bit of Cath Kidtson thrown in, but this hasn’t quite worked.

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?

The moment I step off stage. Knowing that the hours of work I have put in to the concert/recital/opera have been worth it. The adrenaline rush I get after performing is quite exciting.

How does your environment affect your work?

Well it’s rather chaotic, my focus is never on one project or job. I can be going from teaching at the university in the morning, to an opera rehearsal in the afternoon, to acting as a vocal coach in a choir rehearsal in the evening. It means that I’m constantly on the go, however I have learnt to compartmentalise my work and if it means that I’m up late working on music, so be it – the housework is always last on my list!

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?

Definitely the big picture – though at the 11th hour the details are more important.

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?

If you want to survive and thrive in the arts in NZ, you have to learn to do and be prepared to do anything and everything.

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?

This is a really hard question to answer as each project I do is so different. Most recently it would be watching the NZ Secondary Students’ Choir perform at the finals evening at the Kathaumixw International Choral Festival in British Colombia this July (I was one of the vocal coaches on the tour). The choir performed with such heart, determination and emotion, they sang as one voice and spoke to the audience, they did New Zealand proud. It was a special evening, one I will never forget and one I know each singer will take with them through their lives whether they end up working in the music industry or not.

Who or what has inspired you recently?

Elizabeth Connell who sang Elektra in the recent performance of the opera of the same name with the APO. It was an honour to watch her sing, rehearse, and perform on the same stage as her. She has a flawless technique, stage presence and she uses her entire body when she sings. I hope that I am able to sing half as well as her when I’m in my 60s.

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?

I think it would be medicine. I have done quite bit of research into the anatomical structure of the voice and its inner workings and find it fascinating. It’s phenomenal that such beauty can come from something the size of a walnut. Unfortunately I would have had to been a lot better at maths and science.

What place is always with you, wherever you go?

The willow tree at the bottom of my Grandma’s garden at the old farm. I spent many hours as I girl under that tree playing dress-up and acting out my own stories; I had the freedom to let my imagination run wild.

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?

In a live setting. When I’m at a concert I am there for the music, there are no other distractions, my phone is off and I can be totally immersed in the performance. A live performance is where I can hear the true musician.

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?

A blind for my Ralph Lauren inspired home.

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

Take a day off! I don’t take that advice often however, there is always too much to do.

What's great about today?

I’m working as a musician and it’s not raining (yet!).

What’s your big idea for 2011?

Get the draft of my doctoral thesis written.

More info:

Morag teaches voice at the University of Auckland, is a vocal tutor for the NZ Youth Choir; the NZ Secondary Students’ Choir and Auckland Chamber Choir, and tutor for vocal and choral workshops around the country. She is also working towards her Doctorate in Musical Arts at the University of Auckland.

Morag began her studies at the University of Auckland with the late Beatrice Webster MBE and then went on to postgraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music, London with Alison Pearce and Antony Saunders.  She is the winner of an ABRSM PG Scholarship and the Madeline Finden Award, a Samling Scholar, the recipient of a Creative NZ grant, finalist in the Kathleen Ferrier Competition and a prize winner in the Royal Over-Seas League’s International Music Competition.

Operatic roles include First Lady, Magic Flute (NBR NZ Opera); Blumenmädchen, Parsifal (NZSO, International Festival of the Arts); Donna Elvira, Don Giovanni with Sir Colin Davis (London Royal Schools’ Opera); Annina, La Traviata (English Touring Opera); La Ciesca, Gianni Schicchi (Aspen Festival, USA); Le Feu, L’Enfant et les Sortilèges (Limburgs Symphonie Orkest, The Netherlands) and most recently Sandrina in Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera at the Hamilton Gardens Festival for Opera Unleashed and the Fourth Maid in the APO’s concert performance of Strauss’ Elektra.

The NBR New Zealand Opera’s Genesis Energy season of Macbeth, opening in Auckland on 18 September and Wellington on 9 October, is a restaging of Tim Albery’s award-winning production, created for Opera North in the UK in 2008.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

2 Sep 2010

The Big Idea Editor Cathy Aronson is a journalist, photo journalist and digital editor.

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