Opera in Preview
For their first production of 2011, Opera Queensland bring you passion and redemption in the wild, wild west.
When you hear "Puccini" you probably think of â€˜Madame Butterflyâ€™ or â€˜La Bohemeâ€™â€¦ or pasta. â€˜The Girl of the Golden Westâ€™ is one of Pucciniâ€™s least known works, praised for its orchestration rather than stand-out melodies, and yet it was Pucciniâ€™s personal favourite. Speaking of melodies, you are likely to recognise at least one from this opera. Andrew Lloyd Webber stole one from it, which became his beloved â€˜The Music of the Nightâ€™ (I knew there was a reason why thatâ€™s the only Lloyd Webber song I like!). Pucciniâ€™s estate sued. And there is your daily quota of opera trivia filled.
â€˜The Girl From the Golden Westâ€™ tells the story of Minnie, a woman who owns and runs a saloon in a mining town dominated by men. As one of the only women in town, many of the men see her as a mother figure and others are all but obsessed with her. In the time-honoured tradition of women everywhere, Minnie ignores them all and falls for the bad guy. Heâ€™s a stranger who rides into town and introduces himself as Dick Johnson (I wish Freud were here) and they hit it off straight away. Unfortunately, this enticing newcomer is actually the infamous bandit, Ramirez. How can Minnie reconcile her strong moral code with pursuing a relationship with someone who so foully violates it?
Zara Barrett plays Minnie, and sheâ€™s really enjoying the role. â€œI like her as a person,â€ Zara says. â€œSheâ€™s strong, but loving and generous. Itâ€™s a role you can really get your teeth into, because it does have everything. It has the full, dramatic scenes and the lyric, fine vocals. She becomes almost a young girl again at some points. Sheâ€™s a mixture of innocence (sheâ€™s never kissed a man) and strength of character.â€
It is quite a relentless role though and very vocally demanding. Minnieâ€™s presence is pretty much constant throughout, so thereâ€™s a lot of preparation involved. â€œYou start at the beginning and work your way through it slowly, and get into it vocally,â€ Zara explains. â€œIf you donâ€™t speak the language, you translate the role. If thereâ€™s a book, you read it, and you basically pace yourself and slowly put it together.â€
Most of this happens before the first rehearsal. â€œIn opera, you walk in with the role fully learnt, and an idea of character because of course itâ€™s always open to discussion with the director, and the conductor has his five cents worth too.â€
So when Zara took some time out to perform in â€˜Jerry Springer: The Operaâ€™ she was quite surprised. â€œIn musical theatre, they teach you the notes. It was fine, but I donâ€™t understand why they do that,â€ she says of the experience.
Zara has been fortunate enough to play some of the finest roles that opera has to offer, including the title roles in both â€˜Aidaâ€™ and â€˜Turandotâ€™. She was always going to do something with music as she grew up in a very musical family - her mother sang, her father played trombone for the air force and an aunt was an opera singer too.
As a child, Zara played piano, french horn and sang in choirs. Later, she went to the Queensland Conservatorium of Music to be a french horn player and study music therapy. It wasnâ€™t long however until she changed to classical voice. â€œThere was always that deep desire to sing. I always loved it.â€
I ask Zara what have been her highlights and least favourite moments in her career. She struggles to settle on just one favourite moment, but quickly pinpoints a worst. â€œA director made me wear really high heels, and my tenor was really short. I mean, he was short to start with!â€ (It should be noted that Zara is 185cm tall). I forgot to ask if she has to wear heels in this production so look like youâ€™ll just have to come and see it to find out.
So even if people arenâ€™t into opera, why should they come and see â€˜The Girl of the Golden Westâ€™? Zara has the answer. â€œItâ€™s a fun story! Thereâ€™s a gunslinging woman who falls in love!â€ I must say, sheâ€™s sold me. â€˜The Girl of the Golden Westâ€™ will kick off Opera Queenslandâ€™s 2011 season with a gun-toting bang!
â€˜The Girl of the Golden Westâ€™ plays at QPACâ€™s Lyric Theatre May 14-28.