Singing her dreams: operatic star Carly Paoli on preparing for Cadogan Hall

The mezzo-soprano tells Tempus about her debut album, Disney influences and performing for royalty

* Carly Paoli performs her rendition of Ave Maria

Classical music star Carly Paoli might be best known for her light tone and emotional interpretation, but the mezzo-soprano says she is as much influenced by Judi Garland as her Three Tenors mentor José Carreras. And as the British-Italian singer prepares for her debut UK headline show at the Cadogan Hall on 15 February, we're anticipating a few unlikely treats thrown in.

"I've been able to let my imagination run wild on the musical programme for Cadogan Hall, and the song choices reflect on different stages of my life," Paoli tells Tempus ahead of her performance, reflecting on her love of MGM musicals and Italian opera alike. "Don’t tell anyone, but I might be remembering that Disney magic."

Paoli's rise through the classical charts has seen her collaborate with names such as Andrea Bocelli and José Carreras, and stars of traditional musicals such as Elaine Page. After performing a rendition of 'Ave Maria' by Romano Musumarra and Grant Black at the Baths of Caracalla, the song became The Vatican's official song for the Holy Year of Mercy 2016 Jubilee Celebrations.

Add to this her ambassadorial role with luxury Swiss watch brand Bedat & Co, which she began in 2014, it is no wonder that the engaging star's debut album Singing My Dreams leapt to number two in the UK Classical Charts last year. Now, Paoli tells Tempus all about her influences, ambitions, and performing for the Prince of Wales

You're headlining at Cadogan Hall on the 15 February. Are you excited to perform there?
I think you could say I am beyond excited. I have sung in lots of amazing venues, but to perform in London in front of a home crowd is thrilling. All of my special guests are great friends – Steven Mercurio was the conductor for the ‘La Dolce Vita’ dedicated to Italian film music, Andrea Griminelli was a guest at my first big concert in Rome in Caracalla, I was joined by Federico Paciotti in ‘Music for Mercy’ at the Roman Forum, then there is the Abiah Symphony orchestra with 65 top musicians, and to top it all off, my choir, Tring Park 16, come from my old performing arts school. So, you can see why I can’t wait for the concert to happen.

It's such a well-known venue – are there certain locations that are a real highlight to perform in?
I think all performance spaces have their own something special. The minute I walk on a stage, wherever it is, I feel this incredible sense of anticipation – that something amazing could happen. If I had to pick one, it would be hard to beat the Roman Forum. A concert had never been held there before and there probably won’t be another. To stand on that particular stage and look out over the audience to all the history that surrounded us, is something I will never forget. >>

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* José Carreras performs with Carly Paoli

You've performed with some incredible talents. Could you share a few moments, stories or highlights of your time working with them?
Andrea Bocelli is a wonderful person to work with. He has performed in nearly every concert hall around the world, but is still a very generous person to be on stage with. Elaine Paige – well, what a legend. It was a great experience to sing ‘I Know Him So Well,’ with her and to watch her perform. It’s been wonderful to sing with some real musical legends. José Carreras for example was such a gentleman and generous with his time and talent.

Your debut album, Singing my Dreams, was a great success – is it difficult to break through as a classical artist?
The release of my album was something I felt I had been working towards all of my life, so when it finally happened it was a dream come true – which I think explains why I called it ‘Singing My Dreams,’ because I felt that was what I was doing. Every career has its ups and downs, but I suppose the trick is to make sure that you grasp every opportunity that comes your way. If you think ‘this is it,’ you stop progressing. You can say, ‘this is incredible,’ and savour the moment. But then you need to move on to the next challenge.

You've had great success in Italy. Was it a conscious move to concentrate there first?
I gained a lot of experience performing in Italy. My mother’s side of the family all live in Puglia and I used to spend all my summers out in Spongano where my grandfather lived. In Italy every town has a piazza and every piazza has a concert. I believe I sang in nearly all of them. My mum would drive me around the region and I learned an awful lot singing in those concerts. I was then invited to sing at Caracalla in a concert sponsored by UNESCO, where a representative of the Pope heard me sing my original version of ‘Ave Maria.’ This lead to the song being adopted as the official song for Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year. The Roman Forum concert followed and from there I was invited to sing in Italy on numerous occasions. I was obviously very happy to do so, but I am just as happy to sing in England. I suppose I have the best of both worlds due to my dual heritage.

You were invited by the Prince of Wales to perform at Windsor Castle and later St James's Palace – what was that like?
Well to perform for Royalty is obviously a great honour. Prince Charles was lovely and very appreciative. At Windsor Castle, José Carreras was a surprise guest and Prince Charles was obviously genuinely delighted. You can’t pretend that singing for Royalty is exactly like any audience, but you prepare in exactly the same way as for any concert. There is perhaps a little more protocol than performing in the O2, but you can see your audience at St James’ Palace. At the O2 you hear them. >>

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* Andrea Bocelli performs with Carly Paoli

What inspired you to pursue a career in classical music?
Actually, I was hugely influenced by Hollywood and Disney musicals. As a child, if I thought about singing I would sing songs from Disney films or MGM Musicals. However, my voice seemed to have a naturally classical set up and eventually I realised that style of singing suited me. But in the end, what matters is that the audience feel a connection with my performance and that I’m able to communicate to them through singing.

You're an ambassador for Bedat & Co – how did that collaboration come about?
A representative from Bedat & Co heard me singing and asked me to be an ambassador for the company. I was very honoured by their request. Their slogan is ‘for women of character’ so to be given that accolade when I was just a young singer was quite simply astounding. A woman as strong and remarkable as (founder) Madame Bédat is someone to look up to. She made her mark in the very masculine world of Swiss watch makers. I think she is someone to admire especially in the times we are living through now. It’s hard to say which of their timepieces are my favourite as they are all beautiful, but I confess to loving the Extravaganza. There is such great art and drama within that range.

Opera has a reputation for elegance and luxury. What's the key to creating that atmosphere for opera-goers?
Going to an opera house and seeing a production is an event. Operatic plots are very intense and passionate. I think you can be swept away for two or three hours into a world that is unlike anything you know. Think of poor Butterfly or the magnificence of Tosca or the glitter of La Traviata. When I am singing in a concert I want to take my audience on a journey through each of my songs so the lyrics are incredibly important.

Who are some of your heroines or icons?
Judy Garland was one of the first singers who truly mesmerized me, she was such a storyteller when she sang. I think that was the allure of the Judy magic. Beginning singing lessons aged nine, it became clear that my voice was more classical, but I insisted on singing even Mozart with an American accent through hearing her so much. Children often learn through mimicking.

What's next for you?
I have lots of events planned in the UK and abroad. Eventually I will think about my next album. The very next thing after the concert though, I am going to treat myself by catching up with friends and family.

Carly Paoli will perform at Cadogan Hall on 15 February

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