Karen Fitz Gibbon - Soprano
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Sydney-based soprano Karen Fitz-Gibbon believes that endless curiosity and a commitment to communication are two of the most important attributes a musician can have. “Music is a landscape you can spend several lifetimes exploring,” she says, “but it is at its most powerful when it helps us to feel and experience things which are difficult to put into words.” Karen attempts to embody these attributes in her own career through exploring and championing modern works, uncovering and performing forgotten music for the first time, and gleefully making the performance experience as immediate and relevant to her audiences as possible, whether it be through opera, oratorio or art song.
Karen completed a Bachelor of Music (Voice) at the ANU School of Music, Canberra, under teachers Celina Lindsley and Louise Page, graduating with first class honours in 2011. Whilst still an undergraduate she was selected as one of two students to premiere the ‘lost’, alternate ending to Richard Meale’s opera Voss, as part of the Canberra International Chamber Music Festival. For the excerpts of the role she was coached by Marilyn Richardson and Geoffrey Chard, the original leads, and the recording of the performance is now archived at the National Library of Australia.
That same year (2009), Karen sang the role of Abigail in emerging Australian composer Josh McHugh’s award-winning opera Grimm and the Blue Crown Owl, a role written specifically for her. These seminal study experiences have given her a lasting love for bringing new music to audiences.
Simultaneously, Karen was developing a taste for oratorio, singing as a soloist with Oriana
Chorale, The Canberra Choral Society and The Canberra Symphony Orchestra. In 2009 she sang with UC Chorale (conducted by Tobias Cole), a performance for which she won a Canberra Critics Circle Award.
The beauty and line of baroque repertoire is another area of particular interest to Karen. In 2010, she performed with the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs for the first time in their Limelight Award-nominated production of Purcell’s King Arthur, and in July 2011 sang with them again alongside Sara Macliver in their Fauré Requiem concert. On the operatic stage, Karen sang the role of Belinda in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in a production under the musical direction of world expert on historically-informed performance Dr Geoffrey Lancaster AM, which incorporated reconstructed fragments of the lost accompanying masque, and presented Dido in its original full-length form, never before heard in Australia.
Karen made her live national radio debut on ABC Classic FM’s Sunday Live in 2010 and, after winning the ANU School of Music Chamber Music Competition, was invited to record a programme of French art song (2011) and of lieder and modern Australian song (2013) for ABC Classic FM. Whilst researching her Honours thesis (a recording of previously unrecorded Australian art song, sourced from the archives at the National Library in Canberra), Karen unearthed unpublished work by Dulcie Holland which has now been published by the composer’s estate and EMI, further demonstrating her interest in bringing new musical experiences to light.
At the close of 2010 Karen was invited to become one of the inaugural participants in the Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Program run by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. This initiative tracks the careers of young artists through their development via recorded interviews at five-yearly intervals.
It is not only the new and untried, however, which hold Karen’s attention. German lied and art song from around the world are an abiding passion for Karen, and 2012 will see her present numerous art song recitals with her accompanist and collaborator Ella Luhtasaari, including a feature concert of lieder for the National Library of Australia showcasing the original manuscripts in their “Handwritten” exhibition (on loan from the Berlin State Library). This exhibition features many of the most lauded composers in the cannon, from Bach and Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann, to Mahler, Mendelssohn and Mozart.
In 2011, Karen completed a national tour with Co-Opera, singing Susanna in their production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro for 40 performances over six states. Bringing the magic and fun of opera to regional audiences, including cyclone-affected communities in North Queensland, has been one of the greatest adventures of her life to date, and convinced her of the value and relevance of the art form to people from all walks of life. A taste of the immediacy and accessibility of the touring experience is something she strives to bring to audiences even from a more formal platform. “Taking the audience along with you on a journey – that’s an even greater privilege than having the voice in the first place.”
In 2012 Karen toured to Germany, Switzerland and Austria with the same company, after participating in yet another Australian premiere, of American composer Jeremy Beck’s monodrama Black Water - first for the Adelaide Fringe Festival and then in Melbourne, Ballarat, Canberra and Sydney, before touring to Singapore and Malaysia.
Karen spent 2012-2013 studying as a postgraduate student under Barbara Bonney at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, before travelling to St Petersburg in Russia to play Aurora in the first production of Stefano Landi's 1619 opera La Morte d'Orfeo in modern times.
In 2014, Karen reprised the role of Belinda opposite Fiona Campbell in Dido & Aeneas for the Peninsula Summer Music Academy, performed with Sydney Independent Opera, was a finalist in the prestigious biennial Mietta Song Competition and made her debut as a soloist with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra before spending a month in Brisbane studying at the Lisa Gasteen National Opera School on full scholarship.
To commemorate the 2015 Anzac anniversary Karen was invited to give a lecture recital for the National Library of Australia, and more recently (fitting around the birth of her first child) she has given recitals for the Italian Embassy in Canberra, at several wineries, and premiered and recorded a new song cycle written by New York based composer Josh McHugh.
In 2016, Karen is performing for Mopoke Theatre Productions and Ensemble Galante in Adelaide, giving a solo recital for ArtSong Canberra, and debuting the role of Tatyana in Eugene Onegin for Co-Opera. She is also performing with Ensemble 642 at the Peninsula Summer Music Festival in January 2017.
“She performs with a calm generosity of spirit that is a pleasure for audiences to experience. Her preparation is always thorough and her personal standards are extremely high. I have no doubt that Karen’s career and reputation will continue to grow.”
– Tobias Cole, Conductor Canberra Choral Society and Opera Australia Countertenor
“Karen is a compelling and communicative performer who works with the utmost dedication, intelligence and determination.”
– Alan Hicks, Kammer and Former Head of Vocal Studies, Canberra School of Music
“I was impressed not only by the technical level of her singing but also by her understanding of baroque music in terms of style and affect.”
– Brett Weymark, Conductor and Artistic Director, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs