It’s a long way from Bolivar-Richburg Central School to Buckingham Palace in London, but Joélle Harvey’s operatic career has taken her on that journey — to the moment she performed an aria at a 70th birthday gala for Prince Charles.
Harvey, who graduated from Bolivar-Richburg in 2003, sang Queen Cleopatra’s “Da tempeste” from George Frideric Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” (“Julius Cesar”) on Oct. 25. She appeared before Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, with such performing arts heavyweights as actress Dame Judi Dench and actor and director Kenneth Branagh.
How did all this come about?
Joélle’s mother, Debra Harvey of Richburg, explained that one of the planners of the Buckingham Palace gala heard Joelle perform with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in the United Kingdom this past summer and, through her management, asked her to perform for Charles.
With reviews like this, little wonder she got the call: “A few of (the) original cast return to their roles (in “Giulio Cesare”), but it's newcomer Joélle Harvey who impressed most at this opening performance. Cleopatra has eight arias (of which only one is cut in this production) and Harvey surmounted the challenge of each with panache, poise and wit. Her purity of line and ability to gently bend a note made ‘Se pietà’ truly memorable. Her coloratura was crystal clear, rattled off in thrilling fashion in ‘Da tempeste,’ where she was evidently having an absolute ball on stage. … A triumph.”
Engaged for performances this fall in the United States, Joélle had to make a quick trip “across the pond” to sing at the birthday gala — and meet Charles and Camilla.
“She went over on Wednesday … and had to come back on Friday,” says Debra, who wasn’t able to attend herself but was thrilled for her daughter.
Some of the biggest stars of British film and television also performed for Charles to recognize his support for the arts. Dench played Titania in an excerpt from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” while Branagh delivered the opening prologue from “Henry V.”
Debra says such musical accomplishment on the part of Joélle was hinted at when, as a little girl, she was able to sing from memory a full number, and on key, from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
“By the time she was in kindergarten, a teacher sent home a note telling us she should be in lessons,” Debra says.
By the third or fourth grade for Joélle, Debra and her husband Tim were sending Joélle and her younger sister, Melissa, to music camps. It was at a camp at SUNY Fredonia where the girls first were instructed by college-level music educators, including one from the University of Cincinnati, where both Joelle and Melissa would attend. There were also memorable performances at New York State Fair talent shows.
Joelle earned both her undergraduate and master’s degrees in vocal performance at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and then began earning numerous awards and accolades as a young soprano in the operatic world.
She has won the 2011 First Prize Award from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, a 2009 Sara Tucker Study Grant from the Richard Tucker Foundation and a 2010 Encouragement Award (in honor of Norma Newton) from the George London Foundation.
She has performed with the New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Mostly Mozart Festival, the Kansas City Symphony, the Utah Symphony, the Handel & Haydn Society, the National Symphony, the Dallas Opera, the Glimmerglass Opera, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Opera … and on and on.
She has also juggled motherhood with her career — she and her husband, Alex Fletcher, a successful manager for vocal performers, have a daughter, 2½.
Meanwhile, Melissa Harvey, also a soprano, is performing as a soloist this month in a French Baroque concert with the Catacoustic Consort group and then in December in Handel’s “The Messiah,” both in Cincinnati, while also appearing in Maryland next month and with the Columbus Opera in February and the Florentine Opera in Milwaukee, Wis., in March.
She is also featured on the Catacoustic Consort’s recordings, available on CD.