Three Minute Squiz With… Penelope Mills

Soprano Penelope Mills is an opera anti-diva. Sure, she has a voice like nothing we’ve heard before and she can do all the songs (which we’re reliably told are called arias) in other languages while wearing huge dresses. But she’s very cool, kind and relatable, and we’re big fans if you can’t tell. A regular at the Sydney Opera House, Penelope has performed with some of the best conductors, orchestras and singers across the world. Please give a generous standing ovation to singing Squizer Penelope Mills.

Where and how do you Squiz?
During my lovely early morning few minutes of peace – hopefully before my 3yo wakes up.

Name four people – living or dead – you’d love to sit down to dinner with.
C.S. Lewis, Mozart, Jesus Christ and Queen Elizabeth II (but not necessarily all together).

What was the first album you ever owned?
Sting’s first solo album (cassette tape) – Dream of the Blue Turtles.

What was the first opera you went to?
I can’t actually remember, but the first one I fell in love with was Tchaikovsky’s Onegin when I was 23.

How on earth did you become a soprano?
Ha! My family would tell you I always was one. For me, performing certainly is one of those vocations that is a life-calling, a passion, a dream. Singing seemed to choose me rather than the other way around and even though I tried briefly to ignore it, I succumbed in the end. And very thankful I did.

Hugh Jackman tells a story about pee’ing his pants onstage. You’re too refined for such a horror. But any mishaps you’d like to share?
I once got lost backstage leaving my dressing room and the opera started without me. I could hear the introductory bars of my aria and was nearing hysterics when somehow I managed to wander out on stage just in time to start singing.

What skill or talent do you not have but wish you did?
I wish I was funny. On purpose.

How much time goes into preparing for a performance?
Ideally, I begin preparing several months ahead of a performance – studying, researching, language and music coaching and then I practice, practice, practice. As my Dad, the tennis fan, always says to me; “It’s just balls over the net”. So about that much, plus about 25 years.

No doubt you’ve performed at a few weddings in your time. What’s the weirdest song/aria you’ve been asked to sing?
I have always loved singing in wedding services. One of the weirdest songs I sang was the Andrea Bocelli hit “Time to say goodbye”. I had to ask the bride if she was sure that’s what she wanted.and she was.

What’s the best piece of advice your mother/father gave you?
My Mum doesn’t need to give me advice – she just lives by example. She’s the kindest, most loving and generous human being on earth. For every single performance of my career, she sends me encouraging messages and then says “watch those high heels and don’t trip!”

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
I think real virtues are sometimes underrated.

Any opera recommendations for beginners, intermediaries and experienced opera-goers?
Listen to what you love. Music of all kinds is a wonderful gift we all can share. Classical music is not meant to be intimidating even though I know some find it so. Essentially, it is human emotion at its most intense, expressed and highlighted by poetry and music. I honestly feel incredibly blessed to be able to sing some of the most magnificent music ever written! I’ll spend the rest of my career trying to honour the wonderful composers who wrote it.

Give us a favourite recipe. Or – What’s your favourite meal at your favourite restaurant?
My favourite meal is anything my husband cooks. Here is the recipe to his (now not-so) secret Christmas Mint Treats.

What would you say is the most currently overlooked news story Australians should know about but don’t?
Dr Munjed Al Muderis – the Iraqi-Australian orthopaedic surgeon who is using his gifts for enormous good.

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