Fighting for equality in classical music: meet Gabriella Di Laccio

Gabriella Di Laccio is an international award-winning soprano, recording artist, curator and activist, who has become one of the leading voices on the fight for equality in classical music. Recognized by Sir Charles

Mackerras as “a singer of outstanding talent”, Gabriella is a most unique and innovative artist whose

expressive qualities have earned her recognition and praise from international audiences. Listed as one of

the BBC’s 100 most inspirational and influential women in the world in 2018, Gabriella is the founder of

the project DONNE: an internationally recognized initiative that celebrates, advances and amplifies women in music.

Photo by Vanessa Sotto, Courtesy of Gabriella Di Laccio

Where does your love for music stem from?

I don’t come from a family with a musical background. But I do feel that music has been a part of me since I was a toddler. As far as I remember I was always singing. And even though I grew up in a small town in the south of Brazil, with not much access to live classical music, this genre has always moved me. There is a quote by Picasso, which I really love:

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

I feel that my greatest luck in life was to be able to stay closely tuned to my childhood’s dream, to my passion for music, which is undeniably a fundamental part of the puzzle that makes me a whole person. I am equally lucky for having parents who never questioned my dream. They allowed me to remain close to the little artist I wanted to be as a child. I was allowed to dream impossible dreams. I felt free to do it. I am forever grateful for this.

When did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career in music?

I always knew but for a long time I didn’t think it was possible. When I turned 17, it started to become clear that I couldn’t have a life without music. By then I had been studying music and singing for more than 6 years and I had a very strong voice inside me, pushing me to be brave enough to take that important step.

Were there any female musicians, in particular, that you looked up to as a child?

Sadly not, which is why promoting women in music is something very important to me as an artist. As a child, I was fascinated by Mozart and Beethoven. Mozart because I simply loved his music, the fact that he was a child genius and could create masterpieces at such a young age. Beethoven, also for his music but most importantly, for the fact that he persisted in spite of the great adversities he had to face in his life. I guess that somehow, I was looking for reasons to believe that nothing is impossible. If a composer could be deaf, maybe I could have a professional career in music.

Growing up in Brazil, was there much representation of female performers and composers? How did this affect your view of what you could do and what you wanted to achieve?

Brazil is a very musical country with so many incredibly talented artists. The richness of Brazilian jazz, our bossa nova, is world-class. I simply adore Brazilian music and its rich influences. I knew female performers of Brazilian popular music, but not composers. This was a men’s world in my view. Most certainly, I didn’t know of many female Brazilian classical singers with an international career. This definitely affected my views about having a professional career as a classical singer. It became very clear, very early on, that this wasn’t ‘easy’. If I decided to go for it, it would be a huge challenge. Looking back, I think this has prepared me to be 'ready for a fight’. Tell us about your journey from Architecture to Music, from Brazil to the UK? How did you gain the courage to change your path and begin a professional career in music/opera?

It took me a few years to have the courage to go for it. After I left school, I started a Degree in Architecture. I would have gone for Engineering actually, but I was told this was not a girl's profession. I loved maths, calculus and art. Architecture was an easy choice. I thought I would be an architect who played the piano and sang opera. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I had made the wrong choice. Two years later I left Architecture and enrolled full-time in my Bachelors of Singing degree and started to give my first steps into my professional career. I was 19. I never looked back. In my early 20s, I had a chance to work with a British conductor who had established himself in Brazil for many years. He was adamant I should come to London and continue my studies at the Royal College of Music. It was so hard for me to believe that this could be possible at the time. There were so many challenges: the audition, the finances, the visa… But when I was accepted, I simply thought: OK, now you have to make it happen. I arrived here with so much focus on learning and becoming the best artist I could be. It has been a fantastic journey.

Photo By Anatole Klapouch, Courtesy of Gabriella Di Laccio

What have been the main highlights in your career so far?

I feel so blessed for being in this world of music and for all the joy I receive as an artist. To be able to do what you love is a real privilege, one that I don’t take for granted. Every time I step on stage is a highlight, a real gift, one that I dreamed for a long time. Every performance is important for me, it doesn’t matter where I am around the world and I try to make each of them count. It’s my job to share this art with my utmost dedication and bring an experience to the audience, that they can enjoy it and hopefully be moved by it.

What would you like to achieve in the future?

Being able to inspire people has always been my ‘why', my purpose, what made everything worthwhile. For many years I thought that doing that with music was my way of achieving this goal. Now, I see that I can do so much more. It’s not enough to create beautiful moments when I am on stage. My singing career is priceless, it really is. But my voice needs to sing ‘off-stage’ as well. I want to be able to use my position to generate change and positive impact. To amplify. To inspire others on my journey. If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

Embrace your uniqueness. Don’t try to blend in. Keep working hard on your technique as usual, respect the style. But find your own truth as a performer.

Photo By Andres Landino Courtesy of Gabriella Di Laccio

When I arrived here, I was simply too different. Talk about culture shock: I kissed all my teachers on my first day at the Royal College of Music. I was criticized for moving too much when I was singing, for having ‘active eyebrows’, it was a long list. This is quite normal when you are a music student. But all those comments had a very bad effect on me. I felt less than my colleagues and for a very long time, I tried to play the stereotypical character of an opera singer. More British, more European. In other words, not myself. It took me a few years to find my way back to ‘me’ and be proud of who I was as an artist. I really believe that it was only then that I could truly inspire. What advice would you give to young girls, interested in music, who are considering their future?

First of all, know why you want to follow this path. This is a career that requires courage. You will need to stay closely connected to the reason why you want to be in this world. But if you can’t live without music, without sharing your art and your individual voice with the world, do it! You will never regret it. Remember that there are no arrival points in a musical career. We are always developing, always changing and it’s very important that we do what we do with integrity, dedication and joy. Make sure that you know what is that you want to say as an artist. Look inside yourself and discover your own voice. Trust your instincts. There will be ups and downs in your journey and sometimes you might feel like giving up. And that’s ok. But if you choose to persist, the lessons you will learn will certainly make you stronger as a person and as an artist. It is a real privilege to live in this wonderful world of music. Strive to become an artist that encourages positive change and don’t forget to help others on their way.

You founded a project called Donne to promote women in music. Tell us about the project and why you started it? How did the concept come to you?

Donne for me was like a big scream that came out when I simply could not hold it in anymore. Around 5 years ago I came across the International Encyclopedia of Women Composers, a publication from the 80s by Aaron Cohen. There, he listed more than 6000 women composers from BC to 20th century. I was shocked first, then really ashamed. I could n