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Playlist! Zoë Jackson takes us on her musical journey to the NI Opera Studio.

Soprano Zoë Jackson is a current member of the Northern Ireland Opera Studio.  We asked her to tell us a little about how she discovered her passion for opera and some of the experiences that led her to start a career as a professional opera singer. We hope that it might interest some of our younger followers who might be starting to think about their own career options. Here’s Zoë’s listening guide, with some of the pieces which helped lead her on the path from school to being a professional opera singer.

Zoë, what is the first piece of music you can remember which sparked your interest in singing?

As a child, I spent many a weekend watching The Sound of Music with my grandparents, so this musical has always held a special place in my heart. In my final year of school I was fortunate enough to play the role of Maria in our school production. This was my first time playing a singing role in a production and is when I truly fell in love with being on stage. I think there is something really special about playing a character on stage and this is a huge part of both musical theatre and opera: there’s so much more than the music!

Tell us about your next suggestion?

My first memory of this piece was my music teacher playing it to me at school. I remember being amazed by the virtuosic singing and it really was unlike anything else I’d ever heard before. It comes from an operetta called Candide by Bernstein. Operettas tend to be shorter and more light-hearted than traditional operas and often feature spoken dialogue. If you are new to opera, I think operettas and light operas are a great starting point!

Can you remember how you then started learning a little more about opera?

When I was in the sixth form, I completed my work experience with Northern Ireland Opera. Little did I know that a few years down the line I would be singing with them! During my work experience I spent a few days observing rehearsals for Verdi’s Macbeth. This was my first experience of opera in ‘real life’ and I remember being amazed by the extreme attention to detail and the talent of the performers. This is part of the scene which the company were rehearsing those few days and I loved seeing it really come to life in the full performance a few weeks later. I left my work experience inspired and desperately wanting to know more about opera!

Are there any pieces you learnt at school which you still perform now?

I first sang ‘Silent Noon’ for one of my singing exams at school and it is still one of my favourite pieces to perform. The text is so cinematic and emotive, which paired with Vaughan Williams’ beautiful music never fails to make me smile.

When did you first start to think you might be a professional opera singer?

When I was 18, I had the amazing opportunity to perform Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius at The BBC Proms with Sir Simon Rattle and The Vienna Philharmonic as part of The BBC Proms Youth Choir. I remember standing in The Royal Albert Hall thinking ‘wow, imagine if this was your job’! This is ‘Demons Chorus’, a particular favourite of mine, however I would highly recommend listening to the whole piece.

Tell us about your next playlist suggestion?

‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ is a probably one of the most famous opera arias in the world although the opera it comes from, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi is perhaps less well known. During my time at university I performed the role of Lauretta in the opera and the more I got to know this very funny, witty opera the more it changed my perception of this piece. When listening to or singing an aria I would highly recommend reading a synopsis of the whole opera and seeing where it fits into the story as it may change how you look at it!

Can you pick an overture which you find particularly inspiring?

The first thing we hear and our first chance to hear the orchestra in all their glory is the opera’s overture. This is a particular favourite of mine from Bizet’s Carmen: what an amazing start to an opera!

Do you have an opera you return to again and again?

I am a huge fan of Puccini so it is no surprise that some of my favourite operas are his works. My absolute favourite opera is La Bohème and rarely a day goes by when I don’t listen to it. This is Mimi’s first aria which she sings to Rodolfo on their first meeting.


To find out more about the NI Opera Studio programme, click here.

If you’re currently 16-21 and would like to express an interest in work experience at Northern Ireland Opera (likely to be in 2021 due to current public health restrictions), please email