|Stefan Vinke as Paul and Cheryl Barker as Mariette in Die tote Stadt|
Allerta! speaks to Cheryl Barker about performing one of the most “fiendishly difficult” roles in the soprano repertoire.
Korngold’s Die tote Stadt, in which you perform the pivotal role of Marie/Mariette, is seldom performed. Why is that?
It’s very hard to cast. The piece is fiendishly difficult for both the tenor and the soprano – you need voices that are able to cut through the heavy orchestration, and can cope with the extreme tessitura, both high and low. It is especially difficult for the tenor; the role requires a Heldentenor and they are few and far between.
Why would Australian audiences enjoy this opera?
It has a rich and luxurious orchestration and some of the music is absolutely ravishing. It is based on Georges Rodenbach’s novel, Bruges-la-Morte, and the action takes place in the beautiful Belgian town of Bruges, at around 1900. Bruce [Beresford] is setting the production in this period; the costume and set designs are gorgeous.
What has it been like working with Bruce Beresford?
It is wonderful to work with him as I have admired his work, both for film and stage, for so long. In this production he is using film images and all sorts of fandangled technology; audiences are in for a real treat, both musically and visually.
|Cheryl Barker as Violetta|
in La Traviata 2004
In learning the role of Marie/Mariette, were there any particular challenges?
Everything about this role is a challenge! Musically it is hellish to remember – Korngold was a child prodigy and quite young when he wrote this, obviously without consideration for mere mortals trying to memorise the difficult rhythms and intervals!
What did you enjoy most about the learning process?
I have loved getting to know this piece, as I love the character of Marietta, who is strong and feisty with a huge zest for life. I will have to get my dancing shoes on as she is a dancer – I’ve been jogging with my dog each morning to try and get fit.
Later this year you will be reprising another huge role for OA, that of Strauss’ Salome, in Gale Edwards’ new production. Have you had any discussions with her about the role yet?
Salome is probably my favourite opera and I can’t wait to see what Gale is going to do with it – I have only heard rumours. It is a great role – one has to keep control of one’s voice, but I love the gutsy earthiness of Salome; she can get down and bloodied!
At this stage of your career, you are singing the big roles in the soprano repertoire all over the world. How do you pace yourself?
This is such a fickle business – you are constantly beholden to the whims of Opera Managements and I figure it is great just to have a job these days. It is not a case of pacing oneself, rather of making sure you are up to the task by focusing on what you are doing.
|Cheryl Barker with husband|
currently starring in the title
role of ENO's Caligula
Is it becoming easier or more difficult to combine an international opera career with the demands of family life?
This year is difficult as Peter is singing in London for most of 2012, which means that I am a single mother trying to be there for Gabriel. He is nearly 13 now and has lots of activities after school and sport on weekends. I don’t know how it will all pan out with rehearsals – I will have to rely on the kindness of strangers! When I sang in Strasbourg (Strauss’ Four Last Songs) just before the beginning of Die tote Stadt rehearsals, Gabriel went to his grandparents for the school holidays, the first time we left him in Australia without us. I think he had a great time!
Do you still get nervous?
Always nervous! I am aware of the responsibility to give my best to the audience at all times. And as you become better known, there are also more expectations of you – the pressure on singers like Renée Fleming must be horrendous. It doesn’t help that everyone has their say via the internet these days; it’s a slippery slope to start reading internet comments on your work, but tempting.
Are there any mountains left to climb, or do you feel that you have achieved what you’d wanted in your career, and that at this stage you are enjoying the fruits of years of labour?You know, I have been so lucky to have been able to earn a living as a singer for the past 25 years. I have seen a lot of people fall by the wayside; I never take a single job for granted.
Die tote Stadt is showing at the Sydney Opera House from 30 June - 18 July 2012. Click here for more info, video and tickets.