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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 not believe I had missed this very important piece of information during so many years of music education. But the more I started to talk to my colleagues, professors, academics, etc. the more it became clear that I was not the only one ignorant of the facts. It didn’t take long for my shame to turn into quite noticeable anger. I couldn’t understand that there was this incredible artistic gold mine out there and yet their music was not being played, included in concert programmes or even taught as part of the academic syllabuses. More than that, there are thousands of inspirational stories of women that we should be telling the younger generations. To inspire them, to promote more female role models, to collaborate to make more people feel that they belong. After a while, it became very clear that I had to do my part as a woman and as an artist. So, on International Women’s Day 2018 I started the project Donne (which means Women in Italian). The aim of the project is to promote and support women in music. It is a platform of learning and inspiration for anyone who wants to know more about the amazing stories of so many neglected women composers.

Photo By Anatole Klapouch, Courtesy of Gabriella Di Laccio Less than a fifth of the contemporary classical music performed in the UK in 2018 was written by female composers. Why are there so few female composers and what needs to be done to encourage more girls to take up composing?

That is a very interesting question. Are there really so few women composers? There are definitely less than men, for social and historical reasons. But there are SO many more than people realise. Through the present day women have made a significant contribution to music but more often than not their contribution has been overlooked. We cannot ignore the fact that many of those women who are recognised today, had to face more hardship and resistance to their achievements than men – it has certainly not been a level playing field. Even when their work has been praised, women are less rewarded for it. This is still a real problem and the main reason for the creation of the project Donne. We need to continue to promote contemporary role models. But equally, we need to raise awareness about the huge inequality that we currently experience when it comes to knowing the women of the past and hearing their music. Women composers existed. They have existed for centuries. Look for them on our website, discover their stores, tell their stories to others. We should all question institutions, radio stations and artists who are not including diversity in their programmes. The change starts with each one of us. Girls: trust your instincts and compose! There have been many before you. You can be one. 100% confirmed!

Photo By Anatole Klapouch, Courtesy of Gabriella Di Laccio

What is the ultimate vision for Donne?

World domination - only joking (well, kind of).

Our main goal is to leave a legacy of inspiration for future generations on how we include, support and promote women in music. I learned a lot since the beginning of the project. One thing has become very clear: a small/medium size project is too easy to be ignored. We are fighting centuries of patriarchy. Sure, we are slowly making a contribution towards equality in the music world. But it’s too slow. We are in the 21st century after all and there are no more excuses for lack of diversity and equality. Not knowing how to act is not an excuse for not acting.

The ultimate vision for Donne is to grow so we can’t be ignored anymore. Equality and diversity can’t be options that you decide to opt in. It simply needs to happen every day. I believe every artistic institution should have a diversity board. I believe every concert programme should present diverse composers, not only the works of the amazing geniuses we all love. I believe that schools should revise their syllabus in order to include more women in history in their curriculum. My dreams have always been big, sometimes called impossible. I have the same dreams for Donne. In order to achieve them, we need to grow and become a bigger drive in the fight for making the music industry a more equal, diverse, and inclusive community for all. 

You were listed as one of the BBC's 100 most inspirational and influential women in the world in 2018, what did this mean to you?

Such a great honour! Many of my personal idols were on that list! Most of all, this means that I have a greater responsibly to use my position to help and inspire more people on my way and make real contribution to change.

What's next for you and how can we support your work and Donne in particular? I have a few concerts coming up and I am also very excited to have three new commissions written for me, which will be premièred in 2021. But as we are in the middle of a pandemic, live performances are still an adventurous challenge. I used to face the audience, now I face the camera. Like so many artists around the world, I am learning to adapt, develop, stay creative and innovative on how I bring music to people. People sometimes don’t realise how much they can help by simply connecting, following and sharing their favourite initiatives with more people.

I would strongly invite The Female Lead community to visit our website, explore our content and connect with us on social media. We want to reach and in inspire as many people as possible and in order to that, we need your help. Be our secret ambassadors and be a part of raising awareness about the amazing contribution of women in the history of music. Explore the multimedia platform on Donne’s website. There is a lot of information, curated playlists, videos and resources for anyone who wants to know more. A special recommendation is our Big List of Women Composers: more than 5000 names there - and the list grows every day. We need to make a strong point to support and promote contemporary women but equally recognise those women who fought hard for what we have today. We can’t rewrite history, but we can certainly change our present and build a better future for the generations to come. The more privileged we are, the higher should be our commitment. Our Beyoncés and Adeles have a long line of women who fought before them - I invite you all to learn more about them and help us to inspire more people to do the same.

Photo by Vanessa Sotto, Courtesy of Gabriella Di Laccio

To find out more about Gabriella you can follow her on Instagram @gdilaccio or visit:

To find out more about Donne visit: Donne’s Website: Instagram: @donne_uk

Facebook: @donneuk Twitter: @donne_uk

Donne is a charitable foundation. If you want to become a partner on empowering and supporting women so that they can enrich the tapestry of music and inspire future generations get in touch with Gabriella at


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