BY ANNIE PATRICK
Emma Pearson’s early vocal training started with a four year music degree at the University of WA, where she credits her singing teacher, baritone Andrew Foote, with giving her a thorough grounding in vocal technique. This was followed by acceptance into the newly formed Australian Opera Studio under the direction of baritone Gregory Yurisich. Looking back, Pearson believes that the greatest asset she gained from this two-year course was the ability to speed-learn an opera. Language coaching in Italian and German by Michael Schouten also opened up a new world and broadened her horizons.
Just before finishing at AOS she flew to New Zealand for the NBR Opera auditions, singing Fiordiligi’s fiestry Come Scoglio from Così fan Tutte as one of her audition pieces. She recalls: “They loved my energy and I felt free to be as fiery as I wanted.” She got the job, and toured to both islands of New Zealand, singing Fiordiligi, and was then invited to sing Mercédès in their mainhouse production of Carmen.
She capped her first professional year by winning two of opera’s most prestigious awards: The Mathy, and then the German-Australian Opera Grant. This led to her being a principal artist at the Hessisches Staatstheater, Wiesbaden in Germany from 2005 until 2014. On her departure from the Company the State of Hessen awarded her the honorary title of Kammersangerin. She is the youngest opera singer to have received this title.
Fortunately she was able to negotiate time off from Wiesbaden to perform in Europe and Australia in 2014. This was the last year of her contract and the ten years singing in German immediately paid off. After making her role debut as Sophie in a concert performance of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier in Valencia, Spain, Pearson stepped in as Sophie for OA’s production at the Sydney Opera House with Sheryl Barker as the Marschallin (now available on DVD). This led to Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute for OA. She was also invited to reprise Sophie in Valencia later in the year.
In 2015 she joined her husband, NZ bass Wade Kernot, who was based in Switzerland, and from there she freelanced in Europe, where she sang her first Gilda (Rigoletto) and Nannetta (Falstaff) before spending eight months training with a Zurich coach for another great Verdian role, Violetta in La Traviata: Pointing out that (after Germany) she wanted to spend more time on the Italian repertoire. Later that year she sang Violetta for Opera Queensland.
In professional terms, she sees ‘stepping in’ as the best kind audition, and many readers will recall her taking over the role of Susanna when Emma Matthews withdrew from WA Opera’s Marriage of Figaro in 2015. She had already sung the role for NBR New Zealand Opera with her husband Wade Kernot as Figaro.
Currently she is in Perth to perform Jennifer, with Wade as Arthur, the ex-pat. Greek tavern owner, in WA Opera’s production of The Riders. Coincidentally, Iain Grandage’s music composed for Jennifer reminds Pearson of Strauss’s Sophie: Same technique; colours and leaps (diminished 6ths abound); and she believes that The Riders is as well written for the female voice as Strauss’s great masterpiece (very high praise indeed): Adding that the coloratura sits well in her voice.
She also points out that although Jennifer is an elusive and enigmatic character in Winton’s novel, librettist Alison Croggon brings her to life. She portrays Jennifer is an outsider, who feels shut out, both artistically and by her family (Scully and Billie). Bird song, played by recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey, suggests that Jennifer wants/needs freedom to fly. The opera is open-ended and poses many questions. Perhaps for Pearson many of the answers still lie ahead in the weeks of rehearsal before Opening Night.
CAROL FLAVELL NEST, 8 FEBRUARY
Opera in the Park has become a much-loved institution in Perth. For two decades and more, the WA Opera Company has teamed with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra to come up with an event that is eagerly awaited and keenly supported. Whole families come with picnic fare, and it is amazing to realise that children, even those under five, are spellbound by the happenings on stage – or, more likely, on one of the two huge screens that allow the enormous assemblage to see what’s happening from many metres away. What’s more, the event is telecast throughout the state, and finds a ready audience.
This year’s choice of opera was a stroke of genius. Short, funny and full of lovely music, Gianni Schicchi kept the audience spellbound and laughing for an hour of brilliant entertainment. Mind you, I wish they hadn’t played a recording of O mio babino caro over and over again for nearly two solid hours before the show started.
But once the show did get underway, everyone was spellbound. Not only was the music beautifully performed, the characters were brilliantly portrayed. This little opera not only sports an entertaining plot about a forged will, but also a charming little subplot dealing with the romance of Rinuccio (Virgilio Marino) a relative of the deceased landowner Buoso Donati, and Lauretta (Kiandra Howarth) daughter of the wily Gianni Schicchi (Douglas McNicol). These three carry the plot along, with essential input from a team of other clearly-delineated characters. (Fiona Campbell as the domineering Zita was a hoot!) And all of them can sing like angels.
Who wouldn’t sing like an angel when backed by the wonderful WASO, under the baton of Brad Cohen, the opera company’s Artistic Director? Still a young man, Cohen has conducted orchestras worldwide. Opera is his metier, and he was obviously very much at home with Gianni Schicchi. Signor Puccini would surely have been proud to see such a well-produced and realised interpretation of his work.
The cleverly designed set enabled us to see into Donati’s bedroom and dining room while allowing easy entrances and exits. Sound was excellent. In fact, there is little I can say about this production that does not require superlatives, emojis and a lot of hand waving. Viva l’opera!
I really must stop seeing so many good shows, or my rep as a tough reviewer will be in tatters. Another one for five stars out of five!
Rating: 5 stars
Opera in the Park for the City of Perth
On Saturday 6 February 2016 over 20,000 people including audiences at Langley Park and those viewing a live simulcast in Northbridge Piazza, 12 regional locations as well as dozens of community resource centers across WA, enjoyed the much-loved institution of the West Australian Opera and City of Perth’s Opera in the Park.
Attendees were treated to a performance of Puccini’s comic opera Gianni Schicchi, accompanied by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. The short, funny and entertaining opera had the crowds spellbound, with a cleverly designed set, beautifully portrayed characters and stunning musical accompaniment.
The story of Gianni Schicchi follows the antics of the Donati family and the disruption of their greedy inheritance plans.
Artistic Director Brad Cohen noted that Gianni Schicchi, Puccini’s last completed opera had not been performed by the West Australian Opera before.
“West Australian Opera highlights Australian artists, whether locally or internationally based, in our work. We aim to present to you the highest quality operatic work, performed wherever possible by the best Australian artists. I hope that the freshness of our offering will both delight and stimulate you: our audience and our reason for existing” said Brad Cohen.
With family entertainment beginning at 6pm, large screens featuring English subtitles to ensure a good viewing experience for all attendees and an engaging choice of opera, the 2016 Opera in the Park was extremely successful in reaching out to a diverse audience. Abbott & Co Printers, proud sponsors of the WA Opera strongly support events such as this, which positively contribute to changing Perth’s perception of, and engagement with arts and culture.