Natalia Dopwell

Dynamic soprano, Natalia Dopwell, is an opera singer and Creative Director of  the Classical Music Development Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (CMDFTT).  She is also a main prize winner in the last Americas' Operatic Competition, held in Peru,  and is one of the finest exports from the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, in the field of Classical Music Songs and Opera. Get to know more about her in 20 Shades.

1. How do you define creativity and what does it mean to you?

For me, creativity is about seeking out opportunities. I am a bit of a one stop shop, as I am a singer as well as producer of performances with the Classical Music Development Foundation of T&T (CMDFTT). Producing my own shows began in order to fund my college education at Manhattan School of Music and has since become a career. 

I guess, for me creativity is seeing potential where others seen a barren wilderness. For every one person who tells me that they are inspired by the fact that I am able to create a career for myself singing opera while based in Trinidad, at least ten other people will question how on earth it could even be possible, as they don't see a market for it here. So for me, creativity is the ability to see beyond what others are producing and consuming, and decide to follow your own path, and offer something different.

2. How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?

I think the urge to create is innate, and expresses itself in whatever channel presents itself during your formative years. I think that what you are exposed to influences the channels that you create, and whatever means are available to you affects the quality and quantity of work you are able to produce.

3. When did you realize that you wanted to express your creativity? Was it encouraged by others (e.g., parents)?

I was always a boisterous and noisy child, and my mother realized that I had a good voice, but she didn't like the idea of me making a display of myself unless I knew what I was doing. So at a very young age she sent me to voice lessons, and the rest is history.

...So for me, creativity is the ability to see beyond what others are producing and consuming, and decide to follow your own path, and offer something different.

4. What is your standard for evaluating your own creative work and the works of other people? Do you think that monetary rewards can be compatible with creativity in general? Are monetary rewards relevant to your own work?

In the classical arts, the standards are set very high. Its not just a matter of singing or playing in pitch and rhythm, but there needs to be soul, there needs to be interpretation and historical understanding of the appropriate style of expression for the time-period of the work you're performing. If you're singing in a foreign language you need to not only pronounce the words properly, but you need to understand the words you are saying, if it's from a larger work, you need to understand the story, figure out whether the words your character is saying are actually double entendres. If it is a comic song, you need to bring that comedy to the way you're singing. If it is a sad song, your audience should be in tears by the time you're finished. Those are the standards that I set for myself, and I encourage the members of the CMDFTT Young Artist Collective to strive for those standards also. If I go to see a performance, that is also what I expect to see and hear.

As for money, I don't believe that finance should be the main goal in creating art or creation becomes circular. An audience cannot demand something unless it has witnessed it and been exposed to it previously. Therefore if the artist only produces what an audience demands, then the audience will end up consuming the same product over and over, which for audience and artist alike, is extremely boring. It is the role of the artist, therefore to be an inspiration to an audience, and not the other way around.

5. Do you think your own perception and evaluation of your creative endeavors are influenced by the views of other people? What role do you think the culture that you live in plays in your creative efforts?

I think the greatest test of my performing ability is singing in front of an audience of children. They are the most honest, and unbiased audience you can every perform for. If you are boring you will lose them in an instant. 

Here in Trinidad we are lucky that despite our small size and isolation, we have so many varied cultural infulences that we are able to draw from many different sources. Our diversity also frees us from being locked into only one form of cultural expression, and allows us to define ourselves.

6. What do you do when you experience a creative block?

I am someone who needs to be busy to function, so anytime I find myself with little or nothing to do I start thinking up projects. At any one time I am usually working on four or five scheduled projects and planning future ones.

7. How do you make the leap from a "Spark" in your head to the action you produce?

Often the spark comes from other people who come to me and say that there is some particular work they'd love to see staged in Trinidad, or an offer from an international performer, and most of the time my job is simply to figure out whether its financially feasible, if there will be time to promote it, and if there will be a suitable venue available. If those three things don't stand in the way then we get the ball rolling.

8. Do you have any special rituals that you do in order to achieve your creative goals?

Not really. I am usually too busy before and during a show (because of also being a producer) to sit in a dressing room and hum, while sipping honey and lime. I concentrate on avoiding foods that would cause acid reflux (anything oily or peppery) as well as anything that might irritate my throat (nuts, granola bars, corn chips etc.), avoiding anything that would lower my immune system (alcohol especially) and on keeping hydrated with lots of water in advance. For the last hour before a performance I sip apple juice instead, as water is thinner than the consistency of saliva, so it can actually make your throat feel dryer.

I think the greatest test of my performing ability is singing in front of an audience of children. They are the most honest, and unbiased audience you can every perform for. If you are boring you will lose them in an instant.

9. Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If it has changed, please explain how?

I have gotten far more comfortable on the stage and with engaging an audience over the years. I don't think I will ever completely get over the nervous tummy right before a performance, but I know now that its just the adrenaline that is necessary for an exciting performance.

10. What has been the greatest sacrifice that you have made for your craft?

Many, many sacrifices have been made over the years, but perhaps the most difficult for me was being in a long distance relationship during my 6 years at college in New York. We were married in 2012, had a son in 2013 and just celebrated 10 years together. In retrospect the time apart made our relationship much stronger, so the sacrifice wasn't wasted.

11. Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?

Support from my family, especially my mother and my husband.

12. Do you believe that it is important to be accepted by others as being creative or is just doing what you love to do enough to justify your work? Explain.

Respect is not only important, its necessary.  

As a singer, whether it's invitations to perform or collaborate, competitions or auditions; you need to meet and exceed the expected standards.

A producer needs to inspire confidence in cast members, crew and creative staff, as everyone's reputations are at some point, on the line.

13. Has rejection ever affected your creative process? Explain.

Rejection is just a part of life, but just like water finds the path of least resistance and heads in that direction, a creative person will find an outlet to continue. I truly believe that if you never fail, you are not trying hard enough.

14. Looking at what you have created in the past, would you change anything today? Why or why not?

I can't say that I would go back and change anything, because each production has taught me something.

15. Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?

My greatest feelings of doubt in my talent was actually before I left Trinidad to further my studies. I always felt like a big fish in a small pond, and wondered how I would measure up in the real world. Each time I head abroad and do well it reassures me that I'm still capable by international standards and it keeps me from becoming complacent.

16. What piece of work are you most proud of? Why?

It would be impossible to pick, as I think that we keep pushing the boundaries and getting stronger. 

The highlights would be the first time we invited an international artiste, Oliver Lewis, to perform at a CMDFTT event for Strings with Song; Featuring 11 Time Grammy Award Winner Pquito D'Rivera in 2012, our first operatic production in 2011 or taking our second production to Barbados, or our 2012 production of Dido & Aeneas which featured the UTT String Ensemble. 

On a personal level, I competed at the Music Festival and Competition of Lyric Singing in Trujillo Peru in 2012 and as the first representative ever from Trinidad, I placed 2nd.

But I am also extremely proud of our recent production of Die Fledermaus at the Queens Hall as it featured Ronald Samm, who is making history in the UK as the first black man to ever sing the role of Verdi's Othello, but who had never before had an opportunity to perform a full operatic role for his home country.

Rejection is just a part of life, but just like water finds the path of least resistance and heads in that direction, a creative person will find an outlet to continue. I truly believe that if you never fail, you are not trying hard enough.

17. Have you helped or mentored anyone else? Is there someone that you see (name drop) that you would like to Mentor? 

In 2011 we started the CMDFTT Young Artist Collective for that very purpose, as we saw a need for consistent training, and our classical singers had no local opportunities to perform operatic roles consistently.

Since then we've produced five operas here in Trinidad, one of which was also performed in Barbados. Several of the young singers featured in our previous productions are headed for international undergraduate training in classical voice.

18. To a young Creative emerging in your field, what advice would you impart unto them?

My best advice would be to leave your ego at the door. There's a stereotype of the 'diva' demanding star treatment that unfortunately crushes many otherwise promising careers. As a singer you must be prepared to take directions from your voice teacher, stage director, pianist, conductor, the costumer, etc and receive outright criticism from your audience, the press and anyone else who feels like expressing an opinion on your voice, your technique, your stage presence, your weight, what you wore, or even your life choices.  

That is the reality. If you can be humble and learn to see their good intentions, sift through the criticism for the useful information and dump the negativity, you will then be able to improve. If you choose to take their feedback as an insult and assume that you know everything, then this is not the career for you.

19. What would you most like to be remembered for?

I hope that I will be remembered as a positive influence on the next generation, and with every performance I try to bring joy to my audience.

20. If you were a crayon, what would be the name of your colour?

I'd hope to be a variety of colours and not just one! Depending on what is needed of me at any given moment, and also in what capacity you meet me, I can leave a very different impression, so lets just say my box of crayons could be called schizophrenic kaleidoscope!

Natalia and CMDFT will host Opera Festival 2015!  From June 19th to 28th at Queen's Hall Auditorium. Ten days of Classical music events and Opera!  There will be the light romantic comedy opera - Cosi fan Tutte (19th, 21st, 26th 28th June); UK/T&T Tenor Ronald Samm in Concert (Saturdays 20th & 27th June) and the Third Annual Music Competition with a grand Prize $30,000 to be won! (Thursday 25th June). Visit Classical Music Development Foundation of Trinidad & Tobago © for ticket prices and more details! Follow her on Facebook and subscribe to her website to keep updated on her performances. Check out this video of one of her winning performances.