A performer of great versatility, the distinguished soprano Merlyn Quaife an Order of Australia Award in the Queen’s Birthday 2013 Honours List for significant service to music. Merlyn continues to perform opera, oratorio, Lieder, chamber music and contemporary music to great acclaim throughout Australia and Europe. She has also performed as soloist with the Singapore Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic and the Voronesz Philharmonic in Russia. Merlyn has appeared with all the State Opera Companies in roles ranging from the bel canto Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor to the minimalist Chiang Ch’ing in Nixon in China. She has performed with all the Symphony Australia orchestras, featured in repertoire of every conceivable style from Handel to Ligeti, as well as recorded a number of CDs including Aria for John Edward Eyre by David Lumsdaine which won her a Sounds Australia Award. Of recording labels, she appears on Naxos, Move, Tall Poppies and ABC Classics.
In 1994, Merlyn made her American debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, singing the title role in Gordon Kerry’s opera Medea with Chamber Made Opera, which she also sang to great acclaim when she created the title role in Melbourne, with subsequent seasons in Sydney and Canberra . This was closely followed by a new production with the Berliner Kammeroper which enjoyed three seasons.
Along with her wide array of operatic and oratorio projects, Merlyn is also a regular soloist at St Francis Church in the heart of Melbourne – a role she has enjoyed for many years.
Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice) has become a regular performance piece with orchestra or piano. Other major highlights have included Shostakovitch Symphony No 14 with the Sydney Symphony (SSO), Britten War Requiem with the Berliner Capella and Flower Maiden 1 in the acclaimed State Opera of South Australia (SOSA) production of Parsifal (the first fully staged Australian performance, under the baton of Jeffrey Tate). Merlyn has also performed the Schoenberg String Quartet No 2 with the Arditti String Quartet for Melbourne International Festival of the Arts and the Goldner Quartet for the Adelaide Festival.
Merlyn has had many works composed specifically for her and dedicated to her—Gordon Kerry’s Kindled Skies and the Christopher Willcock Akmahtova Stanzas being among the highlights.
Lipizzaners with the Stars, Australia wide, saw her combine her love of music with her passion for horses when she sang the fiendishly difficult Queen of the Night aria while riding. She has also been privileged to perform with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy in performances of Sibelius’ Luonnotar and Rachmaninof’s The Bells.
Education has also been an important part of Merlyn’s career. Between 1995 and 2007 she headed the Vocal Department at the Faculty of Music at the University of Melbourne. Since 2005 she has also been guest teacher at the Lotte Lehmann Woche Summer School in Pereleberg, Germany and has been invited for teaching / performing engagements in Vienna and the USA, as well. In 2014, Merlyn commenced at the Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music at Monash University where she leads an innovative classical vocal program.
Merlyn’s next major performances are listed on her diary page.
“ My love of theatre and acting was first fostered by Angela Hardman, the English Literature teacher at Lakeside High School. We always acted out the plays and she always gave me interesting roles to perform (often male as we were an all female class). When I finished school she asked me to stage manage the school play and the year after she got me to direct. I chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream and had a dream cast of talented young thespians.
“ My first singing teacher was Brian Hansford, with whom I began lessons when I attended Melbourne University as an Arts student, majoring in English Literature and Music History. This was followed by the equivalent of post-graduate study with Prof Hanno Blaschke at the Munich Hochschule under the auspices of aicoveted DAAD scholarship. I also worked with Mme Celia Bizony on Baroque ornamentation.
“ Felix Werder has been another huge influence in my musical life. I was part of his ensemble ‘Australia Felix’ for quite a few years and this started to really develop my critical sense of pitch and wild sense of musical adventure. We travelled by train throughout Europe and the discussions were amazing as were his quick tours through famous art galleries with whistle stops at all the key works. He also gave me introductions to so many wonderful composers and colleagues.
“ I have enjoyed the most interesting and varied career, surfing my way though buckets of varied repertoire and loving it all!!
“ My favourite piece is always what I am currently doing. Singing is my life blood and I hope to sing forever! ”