Opera in Preview
After an 11 year absence from performing with Opera Queensland, Cheryl Barker makes a return, treading the boards up here in the sunshine state, to play the title role of Floria Tosca in Pucciniâ€™s â€˜Toscaâ€™. â€¨â€¨
â€œTheyâ€™ve invited me to come back and Iâ€™m happy to be here,â€ Barker says. â€œItâ€™s such a lovely company to work for and everyone is so friendly. Iâ€™m having a great time so far and Iâ€™ve got a lot of friends in Brisbane so itâ€™s a perfect chance to catch up with them.â€ She muses, â€¨â€¨â€œIâ€™ve been doing other repertoire lately that are completely different genres to verismo opera, a lot of 20th century music instead, but â€˜Toscaâ€™ is in the verismo style and to repeat a role thatâ€™s very dear to me and to play a great character - itâ€™s like putting on a lovely warm pair of socks.â€
â€˜Toscaâ€™ explores the themes of jealousy, love, betrayal and passion through its characters Floria Tosca, her husband Cavaradossi, the corrupt chief of police Baron Scarpia, and prisoner Angelotti. The characterâ€™s lives intersect when Cavaradossi takes in escaped prisoner Angelotti, unknown to Tosca. With Scarpia hot on the trail of Angelotti, Cavradosi does not tell his wife of his plans to help the escaped prisoner. Through deceitful means Scapria convinces Tosca that Cavradossi is having an affair. Tosca confronts Cavradossi and all is revealed, setting off a chain reaction of betrayal, murder, love lost and emotional turmoil.
Barker says Floria Toscaâ€™s fire, as well as her vulnerability, is what appeals to her when playing the iconic character. â€¨â€¨â€œSheâ€™s fantastic because she behaves in a way that most women would, certainly the way I would, and sheâ€™s full of passion and fire but sheâ€™s vulnerable at the same time,â€ she says.
â€œSheâ€™s just a real woman and because it was a play to start with, the text is straightforward, nothing is wasted and the music enhances the drama.â€â€¨â€¨ Although the character appeals greatly to Barker, and the range of themes and emotions she gets to explore is an amazing opportunity, the pressure to play the title character still presents its challenges. â€¨â€¨â€œThereâ€™s always a pressure playing title characters because you know that the buck stops with you so itâ€™s important that you give of your best even if youâ€™re not feeling great or a bit tired,â€ she says.
â€œItâ€™s all resting on your shoulders, thereâ€™s huge pressure with opera, the same as if youâ€™re playing football with the crowd all there.â€â€¨â€¨ Even though the pressure is always there, Barkerâ€™s many years of experience and her vast array of performances in the theatre industry have given her the ability to tackle the role with confidence. â€¨â€¨â€œI think as you mature as an artist you can bring some depth to the character. Iâ€™ve played many different characters since my first performance as Tosca about 15 years ago and they all add to your performance palette that you can draw on as not only a character but also vocally,â€ she says. â€œThatâ€™s one good thing about getting older, the only good thing I think.â€â€¨â€¨
Barker is more than adequately experienced in the performing arts but she canâ€™t stress enough the importance of preparation. â€œIf itâ€™s a new role you might sometimes take three months to prepare for it. You have to learn all the notes and the meanings and then memorise it. You donâ€™t just turn up, you actually have a lot of preparation and work to do before you start rehearsals,â€ Barker says.
â€œThe preparation and rehearsals are a very involved process and thereâ€™s a lot of hard work to be done.â€¨â€¨ Itâ€™s the same sort of process if you were a professional athlete, opera is exhausting physically.â€â€¨â€¨ â€˜Toscaâ€™ is not the first of Pucciniâ€™s work that Barker has been involved with, having worked with some of Pucciniâ€™s other operas in the past. Barker shares Pucciniâ€™s passion for theatre and itâ€™s that passion that draws Barker to his material.â€¨â€¨ â€œPuccini really understood women, he wrote gorgeous music and tunes. He was really particular about the text and understood theatre and he understood passion,â€ she says.
â€œHe wasnâ€™t afraid of gutsy things. At the time some of the subjects must have been shocking, he was out there. I think to actually perform, you have to be uninhibited with your emotions. You canâ€™t be prudish or too reserved to play these roles in order to give them the full passion that they need.â€
It has been a long road for Barker to achieve such a level of success but she strongly believes it has been worth the journey and is right where she belongs when on stage. â€œIt was a lot of auditioning and it was a slow, steady progression but I think it was my destiny.â€
â€˜Toscaâ€™ opens at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC on October 15 and closes Opera Queenslandâ€™s season on October 29.