When a young performer graduates from an institution, there’s a sense of fear as to what lies in store for them next. Some will be lucky to get work with their local opera company, whilst others might not have any clue what to do. Over the last 10 years, Perth’s operatic scene has been developing past it’s own opera company, giving young performers a chance to learn and sing on the job. Having smaller opera companies in Perth has given Perth audiences an opportunity to see shows that possibly wouldn’t be mounted by large companies.
From Humperdinck’s fairytale fantasy “Hänsel und Gretel” to Donizetti’s romantic retelling of “Anna Bolena”, OperaBox continues to mounts ambitious and exciting productions for Perth audiences since 2011, giving us an opportunity to see this well-loved works! 2017 is no different as Massenet’s magnificent “Manon” is brought to life! Vibrant and full of passion, Manon tells the story of Manon Lescaut, an impressionable young woman who is torn between love and her desire for the lavish Parisian high society. Based on a French novel that inspired both Massenet and Puccini’s operas, Massenet’s opera focuses on the emotional journey of the heroine as she struggles with her conflicting desires and her choices.
We spoke to Operabox president and Perth’s very own ‘Manon’ – Jenna Robertson – To not only find out more information about the show, but to give us a glimpse into Robertson’s career as an opera singer.
- If you weren’t an opera singer, what would you do?
I worked as an engineer internationally for 10 years before I stopped that and began working full time in the arts. Other areas that still attract me are directing and creative leadership.
- How has your time as an engineer influenced your work as a performer?
Working as an engineer gave me life experience, which is so important to bring to interpretation of operatic roles and music. I travelled and worked in many countries and learned from working with people from all over the world. I also gained organisational, business, and people skills that I now use every day in the arts.
- Most underrated composers:
Vaughan Williams, Alban Berg, Arvo Pärt
- Three pieces of music you love:
La Traviata overture. (Those strings at the beginning? Verdi is a genius!)
O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams
- Three pieces of music you’d happily never hear again:
Je ve vivre from Romeo et Juliette. (Although the poison aria later in the opera is one of my favourites..)
I’m so sorry, but there is a lot of Mozart’s music where I just don’t feel anything when I listen to it!
The Grease megamix
- The best show you’ve seen live was:
Schatten (Euridike sagt) directed by Katie Mitchell at the Schaubühne Berlin… I went multiple times!
- If you could see any tv show, movie, book turned into an opera, what would it be?
Game of Thrones would make a pretty epic opera! I can already imagine Cersei’s aria and Daenarys’ dragon music. (It would have to be conducted by Christopher Dragon of course!)
- A highlight of your career was:
Being cast as Violetta and performing her with Opera New England, NSW in 2016
- An embarrassing or awkward moment in your career was:
I was doing an onstage costume change – during the above La Traviata – when the person changing me accidentally pulled my undies off! Luckily I had on a nude pair underneath!
- In your spare time you enjoy:
Breaks from technology
- Three guilty pleasures:
Dairy, Playing loud dance music, Coffee
- Six historical people you would most like to meet for dinner:
Anne Boleyn, Beverley Sills, Maria Callas, Barack Obama, Marie Duplessis, Giuseppe Verdi
- What would be your biggest bit of advice for young artists?
I’m still early in my career BUT my advice would be to take every opportunity to perform and be in front of people and not to waste any time and energy comparing yourself to anyone else, but on improving yourself.
- Why does OperaBox exist and what have you learnt in the years that its been running?
OperaBox fills an important role in Perth for both arts professionals and opera loving audience members. We create opportunities for those wanting to work in opera and theatre – from singers, to orchestra musicians and arts managers – and we produce rarely performed operatic repertoire for opera lovers to come and see. I can’t possibly summarise in this post what I’ve learned in the 6 years I’ve been working with OperaBox, but the main challenge we all face is how to do a lot with never enough resources!
- Why did you decide to stage Massenet’s Manon in 2017?
Manon is an opera that is performed relatively often in Europe and USA, and for good reason – it’s a GREAT piece! But it has not been performed much in Australia. In WA, it was performed once at the Australian Opera Studio with piano, but has never been presented in WA with orchestra, so we wanted to give that to the WA audiences! Also we try to keep diversity in our offerings and we had never done a French opera, so we wanted to do something different again…
- What are you most excited about for this production?
For me personally, it’s to be able to sing the Saint Sulpice scene, Act 3 Scene 2, opening the second half of the performance. It’s one of my favourite duets in all of opera that I’ve been waiting years to sing till my voice could attempt it. Now I’m 33 I am having my first go at it!
- We are so incredibly grateful to have groups such as OperaBox, Lost and Found Opera and Freeze Frame Opera creating opportunities for us to watch more opera. Why is it important that we support these groups?
- In any city, the small to medium sized arts companies help our culture thrive and grow as we can take bigger gambles with things like repertoire and provide important places for developing Australian artists to work, develop and take risks.
- What is the benefit of live performance in comparison to watching it on YouTube or, in the case of some operas, at the cinema?
There is NOTHING that can compare to experiencing the live human operatic voice – feeling the voices vibrate through you and a whole orchestra playing their heart out in front of you. No recording can ever replicate that and it has to be experienced to be understood. Theatre and especially opera takes you to another place, inspires us and makes us think. For me going to the theatre, movies or opera is like a reset for my brain – I can think of nothing else while there and I always feel better afterwards. The arts heal us and inspire us.
- What can students learn from watching performances from small local companies such as OperaBox?
It’s a good opportunity to experience an opera that is not performed very often. Also, to watch people who are doing things for the first time, just as they soon will be – all the singers in the cast are doing this opera and their roles for the first time, all the orchestra are doing this opera for the first time and our conductor, creative team and production team are also all doing this opera for the first time!
- If you were talking to someone who had never seen an opera before, how would you ‘sell’ this experience for them:
Manon is a love story that everyone can relate to. Massenet’s music allows you to be swept up in the passion and drama of this opera. Although it’s in French, there are English surtitles projected throughout the show so it’s easy to follow.
OperaBox’s production of ‘Manon’ will be running the 1st,3rd,5th and 7th of September at the Marist Auditorium at Newman College (With the exception of the 3rd – which is at Darling Hall). Performances start at 7:30pm and tickets can be bought from bit.ly/ManonTix or phone 0406 258 450. Click here for OperaBox’s website to find out more and make sure to follow their Facebook page.
STILL NOT SURE IF THIS OPERA IS FOR YOU? Why not come to our exclusive preview run by Opera Lovers WA!
We are so often uncertain about what to expect from a show before we go in – what kind of sounds we can hear, the things we will see and the overall experience. Opera Lovers WA are now giving us an opportunity to dip our toes before the dive. Come watch the Manon cast on August 30th at 6pm perform some snippets of the show for our intrigued audience members at the Puccini Room at His Majesty’s Theatre. Members: $30 Non-Members: $40 Students: $10 (!!!!) Wine and light refreshments included. Go to the Opera Lovers website to find out more or visit their Facebook page
Written by Katherine Goyder with special thanks to Jenna Robertson for the interview.