“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”
It seems only appropriate to quote the woman that always gets mistaken for opera, Oprah Winfrey, on International Women’s Day. Today we want to take the opportunity to celebrate and empower the women in the Australian opera industry.
Cosi Fan Tutte (All Women Are Like That) is an opera by Mozart constantly questioned for being sexist and misogynistic. But today we want to flip that on it’s head. Whilst it may be stereotyped that female characters in opera are weak and stupid, this is definitely not the case for the women in our industry. We are so lucky in Australia to have such an incredibly diverse and supportive group of women playing all sorts of roles in opera. Whilst we believe a light should be shed on these women every day of the year, we decided to get their advice to help shed light on the young women who have their eyes set on opera: Our future generation of opera singers!
Jessica Gethin, Conductor
The main things I have learnt and developed over the years have been not so much about my musical development but overall life experience. Find positive mentors, work hard, speak up, develop resilience and trust yourself would have to be my top five.
Jenna Robertson, Soprano (President of OperaBox)
Here are my thoughts and some background. I have experience working in the arts in Australia and also spent 10 years in international oil and gas. During my time in the oil and gas industry I was winner of the 2013 Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) Women in Resources Awards – Outstanding Young Professional Woman, spent 6 years as a mentor in Chevron’s Women in Engineering program, and was keynote speaker for their graduation ceremony in 2015. I appeared as guest panel speaker for both CME and Women in Mining WA events. I also am President of OperaBox, an opera company in WA, who will in 2017 present our 7th original opera production, and 2nd WA Premiere, in 6 years. In both resources and arts industries I have given and would give the same advice.
Firstly, I think it’s essential to spend time to understand yourself and what makes you happy, and to re-assess this often. Understanding yourself and what you love doing, and understanding who you are and why is in my opinion, the foundation of finding a career and life that you love. If a performing career is what you love, I believe this is also fundamental to being an authentic and unique artist. There are many challenges in building and sustaining a career in the arts in Australia, and I would say not to waste energy focusing on that, but to put your energy into making sure you are the best you can be in stagecraft and technique, finding opportunities to stretch yourself and learn by doing – as this is when we grow the most – and lastly, don’t be scared to create your own opportunities if needed. I have been able to use my business and people skills to produce and sell our art form as well as performing in it, because I enjoy this. If creating your own opportunities is not for you, business skills can serve you well also in taking care of managing your own business and career in the period between graduation and working with an artist manager or agent, so it’s worth spending time to learn some of that too.
In terms of being a woman in the arts, in oil and gas, or in the world, I really believe it’s best not to focus on someone’s gender or the statistics of men and women in certain industries, and instead to nurture and encourage all individuals equally and let their delivered results speak.
Harriet O’Shanessy, Soprano (Founder of Freeze Frame Opera)
To all aspiring singers
I’d like to steal from Tim Minchin’s advice… I know he’s a man, but he’s a good one… and I can’t say it any better than this master wordsmith….
“Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.”
Taryn Fiebig, Soprano (Opera Australia)
International Women’s Day, a day put aside to acknowledge all the tremendous hard working women in the world. And in particular the women in the arts who express the stories of all women from all walks of life doing all manner of things. What a lovely thing to remind ourselves of our sisterhood, motherhood, partnerships and the importance placed on us to keep the world turning.
Ileana Rinaldi, Australian Mezzo Soprano
Ileana Rinaldi studied at WAAPA, Australian Opera Studio with Greg Yurisich, joined WA Opera in 2000 and has sung in China and Japan. She has also performed with Lost and Found Opera and most recently with Opera Australia.
Never apologise for showing your core. Just be – warts and all. It makes you more human and more reliable. You must only use this power for good. Our job as artists is to bring people’s emotions back into their own cross hairs. We live in an increasingly emotional bereft and de-sensitised world. It is up to us to re-humanise the world.
Feminism is a fight for equality and as such we must nurture each other in the arts equally to provide as much of an inclusive working environment as possible.
Jacqueline Dark, Mezzo Soprano
Jacqueline Dark has sung with Opera Australia, Vienna State Opera and many others. She recently appeared as Mother Abbess in The Sound Of Music and returned to her Helpmann Award winning performance of Fricka in Der Ring Des Nibelungen.
“In this profession you’ll face many setbacks and rejections, so keep a strong hold on who you are and remember your worth. If you missed out on a role, it may have nothing to do with your ability or talent, and everything to do with what the creative team were looking for on that day, so hang in there and try again. As a wise man once said, success is largely a matter of holding on when everyone else has let go. Be the one holding on. Hold on to your love for the art form, your love for singing, your desire to share stories and feelings with your audience. Hold on to all the good stuff and let the other things pass behind in your rear-view mirror. Find the other good folk surrounding you and hold onto them too – they’ll be your family and you can support each other when you need to. Be kind. Be generous. Be honest and strong. Actually, all of this applies to normal life as well! Good luck!”
Whilst most of the opera we watch is indeed written and composed by men, it does not mean that the characters we play are weak, stupid or have little to no substance. It is very much the contrary – we are so lucky in opera to be given the chance to encompass roles like Tosca, Minnie (La Fanciulla del West), Fricka (Die Walküre), Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro) and so many more that show women as strong and powerful. We are also just very lucky to have strong and powerful women in this industry with us, helping each other out and continuously lending a hand.
So today – let’s celebrate us! For the amount of work we put in knowing that there are so many other sopranos (And mezzos!) out there equally as qualified. For never giving up and working through the tears towards something better and bigger. For constantly supporting each other and seeing each talent for what it’s worth…
Women are like that – and how lucky we are to be women!
Written by Katherine Goyder
Thank you to Jessica Gethin, Jenna Robertson, Harriet O’Shanessy, Ileana Rinaldi and Jacqueline Dark for their time and input.