Once again, Sydneysiders are to be blessed with a unique Pinchgut production of a rarely performed operatic gem, to star Rachelle Durkin, back in Sydney after acclaimed performances at the Met in New York. Directed by US rising star Crystal Manich, with the Orchestra of the Antipodes performing on classical instruments under the baton of the indomitable Antony Walker, Haydn’s Armida will be a feast for the senses. Fine Music recently caught up with Rachelle Durkin and here are some snapshots of the conversation.
FM: It’s fair to say that you have been an international opera artist of the highest calibre for more than a decade now. How do you stay on top of your game and what are the roles or performances you enjoy the most?
RD: I still put a lot of work into vocal preparation. Whether it’s having a lesson every week, practising an hour or so each day or studying a role with a coach, it’s important for me to be secure in the work I’m presenting on stage. Once I am prepared musically and I have incorporated my characterisation into the piece, there’s a sense of abandonment and freedom once I am on stage. Looking back, I’m lucky to have enjoyed most of the roles I’ve sung. Those that stick out in my mind are Norina in Don Pasquale when I went on last minute for Anna Netrebko at the Met; the heroines in Les contes d’Hoffmann for West Australian Opera; Alcina in a beautiful production at Opera Australia with Maestro Antony Walker, and Violetta for Opera Australia’s HOSH on the Sydney Harbour.
FM: As a student from Western Australia, who has gone on to perform at The Met and leading companies around the world, do you ever stop to reflect on how far you have come and how your artistic journey has unfolded? Could you have forseen the directions it has taken?
RD: All I have to do is walk outside my apartment in Manhattan and I cannot help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment. I remember working my butt off at the Conservatorium when I was a student at WAAPA, sometimes singing up to four hours a day, much to the despise of my roommates I’m sure. I guess I thought the hard work might pay off in some way, but I never envisioned I’d be living in Manhattan and working at the Metropolitan Opera. Winning the National Council Auditions and becoming a Lindemann Young Artist at the Met has to be one of my proudest moments, second to becoming a mum of course.
FM: How did the association come about and what do you most look forward to in working with Pinchgut on this unique production?
RD: I got a call from my agent in Australia asking whether I was free to sing Armida. Once I glazed over the role to see if it was a good fit for my voice, I jumped at the offer. It thrills me that the company shines a spotlight on earlier works. Though I love singing standard repertoire, early music has always been my forte. One of the main reasons is that my voice is very versatile and I’m in my element when singing extremely fast coloratura passages. Much of earlier music repertoire requires this. The role of Armida is a prime example and the piece itself is so stunning. I’m also excited to be working with Antony Walker again and to sing for the first time with the Orchestra of the Antipodes.
FM: Haydn’s Armida certainly does show us that love can be a cruel mistress! Does this role demand a lot from you in terms of performance? What do you draw on in order to convey substance in your characterisation?
RD: It seems I’ve actually played the role of Armida four times. Handel’s Orlando, Alcina and Rinaldo and indeed Haydn’s Armida are all loosely based on similar storylines from poems written by Ariosto and Tasso. A pagan sorceress seduces a Knight in order to gain ground in war, falls in love with him only to be betrayed. I love the challenge of portraying a villain on stage. Armida has many layers to her character and requires a lot of physicality but there is also a subtlety in moments of her defeat whether it being in love or war. The role of Armida will be a collaboration of my ideas and the ideas of director Crystal Manich. It’s important for me to come into rehearsal with a clean slate and open mind because no two roles are same. Armida will be an evolving process.