Lisa Gasteen (AO) is the Brisbane soprano who conquered the world’s opera houses singing the great Wagner and Verdi heroines. She found her mentor in the legendary Margaret Nickson, the doyenne of Australian singing teachers, who shaped entire generations of Queensland singers. Before she arrives at  ANAM next week to work alongside Simone Young (AM) and the ANAM Orchestra in our Gala Concert, we asked Lisa to share a bit about the influence her teacher had on her:

“Margaret Nickson was my teacher over a period of 28 years, which seems incredible now. During that time there were lengthy absences. For instance, when I was away studying at the National Opera Studio, London for a year or living in Italy for five years, or working with any of the opera companies all over the world. I would from time to time try other teachers to help me but they actually were no help at all. In fact I’d usually find the work with others detrimental to my singing. Margaret had the most amazing ear and could pick me up on the slightest flaw in my production. She would say, “Don’t look at me like that Gasteen, it may sound very nice but it’s not right”. So I’d do it again — the ‘right way’! Her concern was for my stamina and she knew how the smallest impediment to ‘right’ production could (and often would) snowball. One mistake uncorrected, then another, then another and there goes the climax of the phrase along with ease of production leading to fatigue, and then to disaster resulting in a really unhappy night on stage. Then the confidence takes a battering and fear becomes an unwelcome partner. On and on it goes. Margaret worked with me in preparing all my roles until her death (I think in 2002) from Motor Neurone Disease. Even when she was in care and confined to a hospital bed, barely able to move even her hand and unable to speak, we had a lesson in the house of the head doctor which was next door. I remember my accompanist and I wheeling her in this incredibly bulky and heavy hospital bed through the grounds and down a hill, the wind blowing her hair. She enjoyed being out in the air but I was terrified of losing hold of the bed (and her along with it) and having to chase it down the hill into the bushy gully. So, having made it to the doctor’s little house, the bed barely fitted in the door and took up most of the space in the lounge room where the piano was situated. I had to stand in the doorframe of the kitchen on the other side of the house. I sang Ecco l’orrido campo, the big graveyard aria from Un Ballo in Maschera by Verdi. The doctor was very interested to observe our communication, as she was unable to speak. That was our last lesson together. She gave me so much but I realise now that I also gave her much. It was a very close relationship and no one else knew my sound as she did. After the death of my mother, she became a mentor in life as much as in voice. She was a wonderful warm character. Very giving, very passionate, very joyful, very intelligent, very generous, very honest, very empathetic, very, very talkative, very brave and so much more. She was big in all ways other than her physical stature. Margaret Nickson gave me a technique which stood me in good stead throughout my career and lasts to this day. I suppose because she was my only actual teacher (apart from those few unhappy experiences with others) the technique I have is ‘pure’ bel canto. She was taught by a Garcia pupil. I think having, from the very beginning, an aural aesthetic or ideal, goes a long way to how she taught and, with luck, is how I teach and continue to teach. If the basics are not correctly put in place, it takes a long time to rectify.”

Excerpt from “It’s a hat-trick! ANAM’s vocal trifecta” (Music Makers vol 19, ANAM)


SCHOENBERG Verklärte Nacht
MAHLER Rückert-Lieder
BRAHMS Piano Quartet in G minor (orch. Schoenberg)

Lisa Gasteen soprano
Simone Young conductor
ANAM Orchestra

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre
Tickets & more information: anam.com.au / 03 9645 7911

Simone Young’s residency is supported by Lepley Properties
Lisa Gasteen’s residency is supported by Peter Jopling AM QC
Gala Concert beverage sponsor: Jamsheed Wines


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