Congratulations to West Australian Opera on 50 fabulous years of presenting Opera in WA!
The Mikado – 1988
My first performance with WAO was as a member of the Chorus in Lindy Hume’s 1988 production of The Mikado at His Majesty’s Theatre – I recall tenor, David Hobson, made his singing debut in the role of Nanki-poo in this G&S favourite. Every costume for the Ladies of the Chorus was unique and designed so that each lady had a particular character to play – I thought of my costume as having a Suzie Wong feel although it wasn’t a fitted cheongsam but, instead, fitted blue calf length pants, a ¾ sleeve red and white quilted jacket, long black wig, with a lot of height on top, false eyelashes and long, red fingernails plus red stilettos…it took approximately an hour and a half to do make-up and dress before each performance! I will always remember the Men of the Chorus, dressed in suits and carrying briefcases, being mightily impressive performing Lindy’s ‘one man forwards, one man backwards’ moving line sequence for their stage entrance.
Madama Butterfly – 1993 & 2015
I’ll never forget a Saturday morning production rehearsal of Andrew Sinclair’s Monet inspired production of Madama Butterfly in 1993 when, with glorious sunlight streaming in through the Edwardian rehearsal studio windows at The Maj, the Ladies of the Chorus were singing the music for Cio-cio-san’s stage entrance. We had not met Nancy Yuen, singing the role of Cio-cio-san, as yet, and, unbeknownst to us, she had arrived for rehearsal that morning and just at the point where Cio-cio-san sings for her stage entrance Nancy’s voice filled the room and she joined the rehearsal as Cio-cio-san – it was a most memorable introduction to this consummate performer. To have had the privilege of singing the role of Aunt in the internationally celebrated Anthony Minghella production of Madama Butterfly, presented by West Australian Opera and the Perth International Arts Festival in 2015, alongside its original Cio-cio-san, Mary Plazas, plus Adam Diegel, Jonathan Summers and Maria Zifchak, was a career highlight.
The Magic Flute – 1994
I received the best birthday present ever in 1993 when Terry Craig, then General Manager of WAO, called and offered me the role of Second Spirit in Lindy Hume’s 1994 production of The Magic Flute with Sara McLiver as First Spirit and Helen Searle as Third Spirit. I recall Lindy wanted me to play the part as a girl, however, I asked if I could play the Second Spirit as a boy as I had my character worked out and was going to base him on my young nephew, Ross, and Lindy said yes. So, Sara was a girl (perfect given her long, thick, curly hair!) and Helen and I were both boys! For our ACT I entry Lindy wanted us to simply ‘appear’. This was difficult given that His Majesty’s Theatre has only one trap door and, to use it, the trap needs to be left open which means a hole is present in the stage floor until the trap door entrance is made and the trap closed thus limiting movement of the performers already on stage. This, plus the fact that three of us needed to enter at the same time, meant the trap door was not a workable option. The solution? We were each pre-set on stage under a cluster of autumn leaves. The hardest thing about this was that we were not able to move at all as we would have been visible to the audience so we had to remain totally still – I was lucky not to have found this uncomfortable to do. Given my position on the stage nearest Prompt Corner, during one performance I was able to see through a crack in the leaves and could see the clock on the wall, behind the Stage Manager, and was able to time that we were lying still for 50 minutes each night before our entrance. When our entrance came we simply stood up as if we had appeared from out of the ground…it was just like magic!
Alcina – 1996
In 1996, I performed as one of the Ensemble Chorus of four for Handel’s Alcina, a co-production between West Australian Opera and Perth International Arts Festival, staged at the Octagon Theatre. The Cast were all Western Australian and the costumes were designed by WA’s own, Aurelio Costarella. The stunning Lisa Harper-Brown sang the title role and, one night, when waiting backstage to go on (dressed in her transparent negligee – a couture costume first for WAO I think!), Lisa applied some hairspray to her hair…it was only when she came off stage that Lisa realised she had picked up a can of spray adhesive…needless to say her hair was well and truly in place! The poster for Alcina was particularly striking…it was of Lisa Harper-Brown in full body paint pictured with one of the Cheetahs at Perth Zoo…the photo shoot was done about 4:00am one morning as that is when the Cheetahs are most relaxed. Who says you don’t need to be brave to be an opera singer?!
Batavia – 2004
An opera closer to home, in 2004 it was an absolute pleasure to perform in Batavia composed and conducted by then Artistic Director, Richard Mills, and based on the very dark, real life story of the Batavia shipwreck at the Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Western Australia near Geraldton. Although an emotionally taxing storyline, Batavia was exhilarating to perform in with its soaring music, superlative cast including Bruce Martin, Michael Lewis and Emma Matthews, direction by Lindy Hume, and stunning set designed by Dan Potra. The sense of being a part of something uniquely special was palpable amongst the Batavia cast especially as we were performing an opera composed by the Company’s Artistic Director and one whose story was a part of the history of WA. Batavia is definitely on the ‘please, let’s do it again’ list!
Falstaff – 2011
As for fish, fowl and fruit in Simon Phillips’ production of Falstaff in 2011 – how could I ever forget the market scene when the Ladies of the Chorus had to move between stalls in a synchronised and stylised manner – my dance background came in handy here as I recall rehearsing that particular scene at home, much as I would have a dance routine, until it was perfect. And the Ladies being on our knees in ACT III as little fairy folk with lighted wands while Katja Webb, as Nannetta, sang ‘Sul fil d’un soffio etesio’ was a hoot ! James Clayton was impressive in the title role not only for his singing but also for his consummate professionalism in that he brought life to the adage that ‘the show must go on’ singing so wonderfully despite the sadness of his mother’s death during the last week of rehearsal.
The Pearl Fishers – 2016
It was a treat to perform current Artistic Director Brad Cohen’s edition in Michael Gow’s production of The Pearl Fishers in 2016. Due to illness, there was a change of tenor to sing the role of Nadir in the last week of rehearsals which led to the General Rehearsal being Jonathan Abernethy’s first and last rehearsal as Nadir prior to Opening Night. When Nadir first enters on stage there is a flurry of anticipation from the female villagers, the Ladies of the Chorus, as to who is arriving on the scene. At the General Rehearsal this anticipation was particularly exciting and almost palpable as Jonathan’s arrival on stage as Nadir was the first time he had been seen by the Chorus! Jonathan knew the production well, sang like a dream and didn’t miss a beat – all truly exceptional considering he had only arrived in Perth from Europe at 2:00am that morning!