THROW BACK! Lizzie Marvelly was on the cover of UNO Central back in spring 2010. Read our cover story in issue 40 to find out what she’s up to, now. And read the original feature below. Enjoy!
WORDS CHARLES MARTIN IMAGES QUINN O’CONNELL AND MONTY ADAMS
She is vivacious, talented, a sentimentalist and a proud New Zealander. Our UNO reporter talked to young classical singer, Lizzie Marvelly, just after she had returned home to Rotorua, following a extensive and successful tour of Europe.
Musically, she is very well connected. During her recent European tour Elizabeth Marvelly
was accompanied by popular tenor Paul Potts. She is also a friend and admirer of Hayley
Westenra and was mentored by the late Sir Howard Morrison. Signed by EMI Classics
records at the age of 17 her first album reached the top ten and was gold certified within five days of release. Four years later this young classical singer can already look back on a successful and satisfying career and for the future the world is her oyster. She was described by the Prime Minister John Key as ‘a national treasure’ and in a tribute by the late Sir Howard Morrison: ‘Nobody can fault her work. She is the whole package’.
Her strong, true voice is now familiar to most New Zealanders through public performances and television appearances including a guest spot singing a medley from ‘Sound of Music’ on the Dancing with the Stars show. Elizabeth was born in Rotorua, the only child of Brett and Vlasta Marvelly, and grew up living in their classic and historic five-star hotel, the 113 year old Princes Gate. She fell in love with the stage at a very early age growing up in this majestic old Victorian building surrounded by a steady stream of entertainers, musicians, cabaret performers and celebrities who frequented the establishment. “I count myself lucky to have lived there and I’m sure the excitement and atmosphere of the stage and performing rubbed off on me. I was never a lonely only child. My parents were always busy but very supportive and I was always surrounded by a whole variety of interesting people”, she said. “I guess I headed for the piano from about the age of two and I can certainly remember making up songs for my teddy bear from a very early age.”
LIGHTING THE FLAME
This interest was identified and encouraged. She took piano lessons from the age of three and joined a choir taking solo parts as an eight-year-old. Elizabeth loved Broadway shows and it was about this same time she attended a performance of Phantom of the Opera. “That really lit the flame for me and I decided even at the age of eight on a stage career as a singer”. She took formal lessons in singing, piano and speech and drama including an associate teaching degree – all the disciplines so important for a future as a classical or opera performer. Her father Brett co-operated fully in steering his daughter along the path to a musical career and used to drive her the three hours to Auckland for weekly singing lessons. Meantime she displayed the very normal traits of a New Zealand kid at her primary and secondary schools in Rotorua, almost bordering on the tomboy.
Ballet dancing aside, Elizabeth also played a mean game of cricket as both a batsman and bowler, played soccer right through until the end of her high school years, was into volleyball and tennis, and reached New Zealand cadet level as a water polo player. This keen sporting interest has remained. Enthusiasm for her favourite team, the All Blacks, was reinforced when she sang the national anthem (and the Australian one once, she shamefully admits) at four tests including one at the San Siro Stadium in Milan before a crowd of 85,000. She has also performed the anthem for the Kiwis at the ANZAC league test in Melbourne. Daunting? “Yes, very!” she laughed. “It is quite a challenge walking out in the middle of a ground before a hushed but huge audience who are all waiting for an acceptable – but preferably impressive – version of our anthem. The really daunting part is that you have absolutely no control over the sound system or voice levels. Also, of course, if you forget the words, you’re toast. That’s probably my worst nightmare.”
Elizabeth finished her last two years of secondary schooling at Kings College in Auckland while continuing her singing training under the watchful tutelage of Frances Wilson for the last four years. “It’s back to the hotel environment again for me”, she laughs “as I have my singing lessons in the beautiful surroundings of Frances’ own boutique hotel, Mollies in Herne Bay”. I wondered about the value of a teacher and what they teach? “My voice is still maturing and developing and a knowledgeable tutor is very important to attend to the anatomy of the voice and recognise faults or shortcomings that need attention or correction and just as an ongoing monitoring process. It is an important part of any professional singer’s life, and there’s still so much for me to learn”.
I suggested that the repertoire for a young classical singer or even an established performer was critical to the success of a career. Who decides what? “The selection of songs is obviously very important because they characterise the sort of performer you are – classical, operatic, popular or whatever – and how accepted you are by the audience. While I can decide whatever I like to sing, the record company and the producer do have a say because of course there are commercial considerations. In their opinion, it’s no use recording something that nobody wants to buy”. Elizabeth really enjoys recording in a studio. “I would love to just live in a studio and record all day”, she said. “You are constantly seeking excellence and so every recording is an exercise in abandonment – you could go on for years with the same project but you would never achieve perfection. Stage performances are one-offs – you, the audience and that single performance that can’t be changed, warts and all. But a recording lasts forever and if there are imperfections, they are present every time the recording is played. That’s why I think that the recording studio is more challenging in many ways than a stage performance. For the stage you have a good robust warm-up and you have to be physically fit and strong. In the studio you are looking for that special quality and freshness which can often be achieved early in the morning when the voice has a different quality and texture than later when it is used and getting a bit warmer. It is a very fascinating and interesting business”.
A SAFE HAVEN
Talking about audiences, Elizabeth said that to her the stage was a safe place where she was at home and comfortable. She liked to interact with the audience the way she did with her friends. It is very clear that friends are very important in her life. That’s why she was back in New Zealand after an extensive European tour (Paul Potts is “a lovely guy with a great sense of humour”) to catch up with friends and recharge her batteries. She looked forward to the warm and familiar things of home, including her beloved three-legged (motor mower accident!) black Labrador called ‘Lace’. She was also preparing for the release and promotion of her latest recording called, simply, ‘Home’. “It’s a collection of songs that mean a lot to me and remind me of all the good things that make this country so important to me. It also includes one original song I’ve composed especially for this album. ‘Home’ embodies in music all those things that are so important to me as a New Zealander – and I hope you like it too”, and there goes that warm and ready laugh again.
Her tastes in music are broad and catholic. “My mum loves jazz and I was raised with a strong jazz influence – Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra – the greats of the industry. I love opera too – it is one of those disciplines where it is essential you know exactly what you are singing about. Language and pronunciation are important, but it’s no use singing operatic arias unless you are thoroughly familiar with the words and their meaning. I also enjoy the acting and drama that are part of opera”, she said. “But in saying that, opera is not my future chosen path. I would probably describe myself as a well-rounded classical singer, very open to other musical experiences – I like to write, to compose – but I really don’t know where my career path may lead except that I won’t be a specialist operatic diva”. That comment lead me on to discussing with Elizabeth the whole question of cross-over music and performing. She explained what she saw as the difference between ‘popera’ – established opera singers performing popular songs, as Kiri Te Kanawa did occasionally – and‘crossover’ which was simply a classical singer moving into the more popular song field. She came into that category. Finally it was time to get a bit more personal. No, the 21-year-old is not attached, but yes – she loves hanging out with her friends and having plenty of laughter. My impression of this Parnell-domiciled young star from Rotorua was of an attractive, confident and intelligent young woman with a keen sense of humour. She describes herself as “a deep thinker who is a little bit nuts and who likes to spend time just being a kid”. She’s a thoroughly nice kid – and a very talented one at that.