Creativity Amongst Crisis: Syrah Torii, mezzo-soprano

Performing in Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s 2020 production of Gianni Schicchi. Photo credit: Greg Lorenzutti

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries:

Back in July, I put out a call to my immediate musical network to see who would be happy to be interviewed on how they have adapted during Melbourne’s lockdown. The last seven months have been disorientating and frequently exhausting. Prioritising your mental and physical wellbeing is more important than ever.

This prompted me to start an ongoing series called Creativity Amongst Crisis. Our subject today is young mezzo-soprano Syrah Torii. Syrah is currently undertaking her Masters of Music online, and has seen firsthand how institutions have been forced to shift their approach in this changing landscape.

Firstly as an intro- can you tell us a few sentences about yourself, what your musical practice is, and how you’re currently working on it.

I’m a young mezzo-soprano currently studying my Master of Music in Opera Performance at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. I studied Linguistics and Spanish for my undergrad, I love languages. I also completed a Diploma in Music in Classical Voice, which I initially began to learn about vocal technique so I could be a speech pathologist who worked with singers. Instead, my passion for voice and classical music blossomed! I love singing music from different countries and time periods, and in different languages.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of this time of COVID-19, as a performing artist and more generally day to day? Can you tell us a little bit about the experience of having your course converted from necessity to online-only education?

Due to COVID-19, two of my favourite parts of being a performing artist – rehearsing in-person and performing live – have been put on pause. All of my coaching sessions, lessons, assessments, competitions, and Eisteddfods are now held in the virtual world. While I am easily adaptable to change, nothing compares to the energy of a live performance. I still miss working in a rehearsal room with other people. In lockdown day-to-day, there is that blurred line between when I am ‘at university’ and when I am ‘at home’, but I’ve got a daily routine that I follow to keep things balanced.

Amelia Le Plastrier (left) and Syrah Torii in Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s 2018 performance of Gloria. Photo credit: Drew Echberg

My course has been through a lot of changes this year – from moving online in first semester, to a few weeks of in-person rehearsals for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte back in June, to back online for second semester – but my cohort and the staff have been very resilient through these changes! It’s tough that you don’t get the full experience of working with people in person, and singing over zoom doesn’t capture the richness of sound. Despite these challenges, I think we’ve managed really well and made the most of these unique circumstances. We also made a film clip of the Brindisi from La traviata which was shared on The University of Melbourne’s Facebook page (, and it was received very positively by friends and strangers alike. I’m glad we could bring joy to people in these uncertain times!

Have you learnt anything specific that you may not have been forced to learn, were it not for COVID-19 restrictions and the flow-on effects?

Since live performances are on hold at the moment, the only way we can ‘perform’ is through video, so out of necessity I’ve delved into the world of self-taping, video editing, and sound recording and mixing. It’s been fun to get to know the tech side of performing, and it’s a skill that will definitely be useful in the future.

Do you have any projects in the works you’d like to share?

Our Masters course is currently working on Die Zauberflöte, and we’ll soon be meeting in person to record and film the scenes. I’m playing Third Lady and Third Boy – which involves quite a lot of German! It has been a few months since we were originally meant to perform the roles, so I’m excited to bring a fresh perspective to my interpretation. I’m also looking forward to singing with other people again!

Performing in Divisi Chamber Singers’ 2019 concert Tallis to Tavener. From left to right:  Lisha Ooi, Syrah Torii, Alex Owens

How do you sustain hope for the future, or overcome periods where you feel less motivated?

I engage with other artists’ work for inspiration. Recently, the Met Opera Nightly Opera Streams helped me get out of a slump, and earlier I was listening to a lot of Jacob Collier. I also love watching movies as I learn about ways of expressing that can be applied to my work. Hope and motivation can so easily be buried beneath pandemic related anxiety, sadness, and frustration, but lifting my head and witnessing other people’s work reminds me of why I love music and makes me hopeful again.

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