About the artist(s)
A lyric coloratura soprano with a flair for contemporary music, a range of over three octaves and a taste for a challenge, Joanne Roughton-Arnold emigrated from New Zealand to the UK to pursue a career as a violinist. She began her vocal studies at Trinity College of Music, London, before going on to become a prize-winning vocal student at Birmingham Conservatoire. She is Artistic Director and co-founder of formidAbility, a new opera company breaking ground in accessibility and inclusion in opera for those with disabilities both onstage and off. For more about Joanne, read her full bio below.
Highlights from Joanne’s conversation with The Enormity of Now are below.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Joanne Roughton Arnold. I come from New Zealand. I left New Zealand for the UK to study as a violinist. Now, I’m a professional opera singer and I teach the violin. I sing a lot with the Paraorchestra [integrated orchestra of professional disabled and non-disabled musicians, the first of its kind in the U.K.]. In 2019 I started formidAbility, an opera company putting disabled and non-disabled artists together, to create work that speaks to as wide a demographic as possible.
How did you get here?
I did my postgrad at Birmingham Conservatoire. When I was there, I was open about being visually impaired, because when you’re in an institution, you get a lot of support. When I left, I was given a reference that said I have done everything that sighted colleagues had done – including negotiating props and staging with minimal extra technical time – and was never a risk to myself or somebody else. Because my impairment isn’t obvious to the casual observer, the advice I received was to audition and then, once I’ve sung, to say that I’m partially sighted and have a reference that shows I’m not a health and safety risk. The reaction was normally embarrassment, and no work. So I stopped saying anything and began to book work. My first contract was Opera Holland Park. I worked really hard not to say anything and keep my disability hidden. I didn’t tell Opera Holland Park about my sight until my fourth season. I spent a long time being afraid to show that I had a disability because I was afraid of not being asked back.
How has the journey of your art/career engaged your voice – personally, artistically, politically?
Personally, my journey has been a real voyage of discovery. Learning that my voice had potential was wonderful and scary at the same time. Artistically, thanks to all my orchestral playing, I’ve never been afraid of dots on a page. Politically, I’m using my voice for disabled artists, diversity, inclusivity, and using it to break down barriers on stage and in the audiences.
What is the voice that you found while finding your voice?
I found my own ability to express myself without fear. Because it’s you, whilst using your voice, it unlocks something on the inside, an inner voice, a soul. And that enables you to send your inner voice to another human being without anything in the way.
A lyric coloratura soprano with a flair for contemporary music, a range of over three octaves and a taste for a challenge, Joanne Roughton-Arnold emigrated from New Zealand to the UK to pursue a career as a violinist. She began her vocal studies with Esther Salaman and Paul Hamburger while a postgraduate violinist at Trinity College of Music, London, before going on to become a prize-winning vocal student at Birmingham Conservatoire, then continuing her studies with renowned operatic soprano Nelly Miricioiu and international vocal coach David Harper.
She is Artistic Director and co-founder of formidAbility, a new opera company breaking ground in accessibility and inclusion in opera for those with disabilities both onstage and off. formidAbility engages a healthy mix of disabled and non-disabled professional artists to create powerful work that challenges perceptions of disability and inclusion in the arts. The company’s first production was a double-bill pairing Hotspur by Dame Gillian Whitehead with Schoenberg’s iconic Pierrot Lunaire. Joanne shared the stage with dancers Isolte Avila and David Bower of Signdance Collective International in this world-first merging of opera with Signdance and the Rationale Method of audio description.
She is passionate about showcasing New Zealand music to a wider audience. In 2015 with support from Creative NZ she commissioned Dame Gillian Whitehead and Fleur Adcock to write Iris Dreaming, a one-woman chamber opera based on the life of celebrated New Zealand writer and feminist, Iris Wilkinson. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, she performed and produced the world premiere as part of the 2016 Grimeborn Festival at London’s Arcola Theatre. She gave the New Zealand premiere at the 2017 Adam Chamber Music Festival, later broadcast by Radio NZ.
She sings regularly with the Paraorchestra under Charles Hazlewood: The Nature of Why which was shortlisted for the 2019 Royal Philharmonic Society Awards (Perth Festival, Southbank Centre, The Lowry, Kneehigh Festival, Blackpool Empress Ballroom, Bristol Old Vic); Kraftwerk: Re-werk (WOMAD, Colston Hall, The Marble Factory) and Minimalism Changed My Life (Southbank Centre, Bridgewater Hall).
In 2015 she made her first appearance at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in the virtuosic role of Semele in a research and development workshop on Roberto David Rusconi’s new opera, Dionysos. She gave the world première of Lisa Illean’s Artificial Night with the Octandre Ensemble and has made concert appearances at HM Treasury (Churchill Room) and Handel House Museum.
Her other operatic credits include Annina in La Traviata with the Chelsea Opera Group and Nelly Miricioiu (Queen Elizabeth Hall), La Zia in Madama Butterfly with Opera Holland Park (Christine Collins Young Artist), Methodist Preacher in A Pastoral Messiah (Unexpected Opera) and Sarah Whitehead in Malcolm Williamson’s English Eccentrics under Lionel Friend.
She can be heard as the soprano soloist on the soundtrack for Rising Phoenix, a powerful Netflix documentary on the Paralympics nominated for four Sports Emmy Awards.
She was a Crear Scholar in 2017 and 2018, singing in Malcolm Martineau’s annual residential masterclasses on the west coast of Scotland.