CHARLOTTE BETTS DEAN
Victoria has no shortage of music festivals, but it’s rare to find one that truly caters for everyone. Now in its sixth year, the Peninsula Summer Music Festival has something in its program to tempt every taste. There’s jazz, chamber music and, as a treat for the younger patrons, an orchestral guide to farmyard animals.
The choice of performers is just as varied. Across nine days, more than 80 musicians from Australia and abroad will perform in 19 events. Some of these stars are practised hands, while others have only just emerged, blinking, into the spotlight.
One such fledgling, 22-year-old soprano Charlotte Betts-Dean, hasn’t yet graduated from university but has already performed for an impressive number of opera companies. Recently, her profile was given a boost when she made the finals in two prominent Australian music competitions.
“Those competitions can be quite tough,” Betts-Dean says. “They’re hard going, mentally and emotionally, but that strengthens you as a performer. It toughens the hide a bit and allows you to grow.”
Betts-Dean’s opera career is in rapid bloom, even if the genre does seem a strange choice for a young musician. Breaking into the world of classical music can be a long, hard slog. Wouldn’t she be better off practising pop standards and signing up for The X Factor?
“You have to remind yourself that these things take time; it’s not like rock, in that you can be 22 and already at the top of the charts. It’s very much a slow process, developing the voice and maintaining it as an instrument. It requires a lot of patience, diligence and determination. It sounds unglamorous, but that’s the way it is,” shw says.
Of course, Betts-Dean never really had a choice when it came to her career, being from a thoroughly musical family.
“My sister and I were raised on string instruments. My father played viola in the German Philharmonic, and my mother was a musician as well. It was just part of my life from a very young age.”
Initially, Betts-Dean followed her father in picking up the viola but, after joining a school choir, soon discovered her talents lay elsewhere.
“I found myself very much at home singing, rather than playing in the orchestra. It felt very natural to me and I thought, that’s how I can best express myself.”
Nichaud Fitzgibbon, whose Twilight Jazz performance will close the festival, is also from a strong musical dynasty. Her family members have been jazz and showbiz greats for the past four generations, and Fitzgibbon spent much of her childhood in her father’s legendary Melbourne club, Smacka’s Place.
“When you think about most families, if there’s a doctor in the family, the son becomes a doctor. With music, if it’s in the family, it’s a natural inheritance.
I always loved it as a child, but it really wasn’t until after my father passed away that I started singing professionally.”
Having now worked in the industry for nearly four decades, Fitzgibbon is one of Australia’s most-respected jazz singers. She’s best known for a smoky, crooning kind of jazz, but is equally at home performing bossa nova, swing and blues.
For the peninsula festival, she’s hoping to show off this range, by performing standards from the Great American Songbook.
“I think, for an outdoor concert, it’s nice to be providing a little bit of everything. People have varying tastes. We just want to play beautiful music, enjoy it ourselves and pass that on to the audience.”
For Fitzgibbon, enjoying yourself is key to being a great entertainer.
“I like to get excited by the music. I’ve been to concerts by great people and been bored because it wasn’t entertaining, things were too mellow. That’s not my kind of thing. What really makes me happy is seeing the audience with the smile on their face, because that’s when you know you’re connecting with people.”
Betts-Dean says she hopes to use that connection to broaden her audience’s musical palate.
“I’m going to be singing a collection of art song, which isn’t opera as such, but I want to shine the torch on other kinds of classical singing. There are a lot of kinds of music that don’t get performed very often, and I’d like to change that.”
If that sounds like a career mission statement, that’s because it is.
“A lot of singers are focused on one thing, but I’m interested in a variety of music and genres – I’m also a member of a jazz ensemble. That’s definitely one of my aspirations: to branch out from the norm of what a classical career is.”
This broad-ranging approach, we suspect, is precisely what makes Betts-Dean an ideal guest for the Peninsula Summer Music Festival.
Peninsula Summer Music Festival, December 29-January 6 at venues across Red Hill, Flinders, Moorooduc, Rosebud, Merricks North and Mount Eliza. Events are separately ticketed, $15-$130.
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