Paola Cuffolo is a mezzo-soprano and operatic director. She began her solo singing career as a soprano at the Junior Guildhall School of Music and Drama under Eileen Price, where she won the Singer's Prize in 2006. As a soprano she took part in and won several national competitions, and performed at the Glastonbury Extravaganza in August 2008 alongside The Feeling and Kate Nash.
Paola was accepted to read Music at St Peter's College, Oxford in 2007, where she was holder of the Paul Geddes choral scholarship. Whilst at Oxford, Paola was extremely active in the operatic scene, co-founding St Peter's College Opera, with whom she sang the roles of Despina (Così Fan Tutte, 2009), Adele (Die Fledermaus, 2009), as well as Maragond (Fierrabras, 2009) Frasquita (Carmen scene, 2009) and Mrs Grose (The Turn of the Screw, 2010) for other student companies.
After graduating from Oxford in 2010, Paola studied on the Opera Performance course at Birkbeck College, University of London, from which she graduated in 2011. This gave her the opportunity to perform under professional directors such as Michael Hunt, Tim Hopkins and Caroline Gawn, as well as course director Philip Headlam. She then began learning with Susan Roberts in July 2011, and became a mezzo-soprano.
In February 2012, having begun directing whilst at Oxford with Così fan Tutte and Die Fledermaus for St Peter's College Opera, Paola was offered the opportunity to return to St Peter's to direct their production of The Marriage of Figaro, which was described in the Financial Times as having been 'performed [...] with astonishing verve'. Gaining in experience, Paola was then fortunate to be able to assist director John Ramster at the AIMS International Music School in August 2012 on scenes from Louise, La Bohème and L'Enfant et les Sortilèges.
In May 2012 Paola and producer Nicholas Simpson co-founded Opera Lyrica. With them, she has directed performances of Der Schauspieldirektor/Die Zauberflöte, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and their national tour of Acis and Galatea, which was said to have 'achieved something really quite special' (Joe Richomme, Fringe Opera). Most recently, Opera Lyrica enjoyed success with Così fan Tutte at the 20th Century Theatre, Notting Hill, in September 2014, which was thought to be ‘highly intelligent’ and ‘fresh and engaging’ (Planet Hugill). They are about to start rehearsals for their newest production, a baroque double bill of Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas to take place in February 2015, and they have plans to revive both of these productions in the summer alongside a new production.
Paola continues to sing and direct freelance. She currently studies singing with Susan Roberts. Most recently, she was one of five participants to be selected for the First International Masterclass with Rockwell Blake, which took place in Plattsburgh, NY in August and culminated in a public recital. She is also a finalist in this year’s Schubert Society of Britain’s Lieder Prize, which takes the form of the London Song Festival’s Masterclass with Ian Partridge CBE in November 2014.
Paola is delighted to be a regular lecturer for Opera Prelude, and has hugely enjoyed the lectures on Tosca, Verdi and Shakespeare, and Handel she has prepared this year.
Q&A with Paola Cuffolo
Most challenging moment on stage?
No fault of the director actually! I broke my leg about a week before playing Mrs Grose in The Turn of the Screw, so I had to sing the part from a wheelchair with my left leg at a 90 degree angle at all times. This resulted in quite a challenge when at the end of act one the Governess had to push me at great speed through the audience in a small auditorium, singing 'Flora, are you there?' as loudly as I could all the while. Though perhaps that was more of a
challenge for her...
The reason I ever became a musician in the first place is Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore. I remember hearing it for the first time as a child and thinking that the music was so beautiful and that the people performing it seemed to be having so much fun that I thought "that's what I need to be doing."
I would love to play Tisbe in Rossini's La Cenerentola. I know she's not one of the prime donne, but I think the sisters have such a fun relationship between them to play out on stage, and the idea of functioning as essentially one unit with another character, from whom you are also always trying to distance yourself, is very appealing.