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BWW Interview: Jacqueline Dark on RUFUS WAINWRIGHT'S PRIMA DONNA at Adelaide Festival Theatre

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Opera singer, Jacqui Dark, came to Adelaide with her best friend, another operatic performer, Kanen Breen, in a sensational Cabaret Festival show titled Strange Bedfellows, a dark and powerful work with clear links back to the Berlin Kabarett of the time of the Weimar Republic, leading into WWII. She returned soon after as the Mother Superior in a tour of The Sound of Music, to rave reviews all over the country. She is in Adelaide again, working with Rufus Wainwright in the Adelaide Festival, appearing in Prima Donna - A Symphonic Visual Concert. To say that she is versatile is an understatement, having had enormous success in cabaret, musical theatre, and now returns to her primary career, opera, in which she is highly regarded. Kanen Breen joins her in this production.

BL Jacqui, you have successfully covered such a diverse range of genres. How did that all come about?

JD I honestly just love singing - it's such a huge part of who I am, and I'm happiest when I'm doing it. It's all about connecting and sharing with an audience - making them feel something or challenging them in some way - and I don't really mind which genre I'm doing that in. I love them all! I started out in music theatre and fell into opera almost by accident, but love both passionately. Cabaret has always been a huge obsession of mine and I'd always wanted to write one, so Bedfellows was an absolute gift. Not only did I get to write and perform a cheeky little cabaret show, but I got to do it with my best friend, who just happens to be one of the most insanely talented performers in the country. How lucky am I? I'd love to be able to keep performing across genres and break through this misconception that people need to be pigeonholed into one genre or another - we need more cross-genre pollination!

BL How did you come to be involved in this particular production?
JD I was rehearsing Opera Australia's Ring Cycle with Neil Armfield directing, and one day he snuck up to me and slipped a score under my arm, saying "Could you have a look and see if you could sing this ... ". I took the music home that night and glanced at it, became a little terrified that it ranged from bottom G to top C's, and then gave myself a good swift kick, told myself to be brave, and fell completely in love with the character of the Prima Donna. I took the score with me to rehearsals that week and sang through bits just to see if I could really pull it all off vocally, and my voice just seemed to melt into it. It's insane, genius writing - syncopations within syncopations, sweeping phrases that swoop across multiple octaves, and honestly she just never stops singing! It's beautiful and challenging and terrifying ... and one of the most rewarding and gorgeous pieces I've ever sung.

BL Tell us about the work and your role in the performance.

JD The opera revolves around an ageing opera diva (me - ahem!). She is preparing for her comeback after losing her voice during a performance many years before. A young journalist arrives to interview her and, inevitably, she mistakes his devotion to her as an artist for love, and falls for him with tragic results. She is such a beautiful, broken, vulnerable character, and the things she sings are conversations I've had with so many of my colleagues over the years. Who are you when you can no longer sing? What is left in your life when your career comes to an end? Sadly, for so many artists, the sacrifices made for their art leave them alone and bereft, and that is the situation we're portraying here. The final two numbers absolutely rip my heart apart. The famous finale Les feux d'artifice, which sees the diva watching fireworks spark and die draws inevitable comparisons with her life and, as she remarks: "The fireworks are over ... they don't last for long." That line DESTROYS me!

BL Is there anything else that you would like to tell us?

JD I just feel so fortunate to be singing this piece and for the lucky set of circumstances that led to be being cast in the role (some didn't feel so lucky at the time, but apparently the universe knows best and I've ended up where I'm supposed to be!). Rufus is an inspiration and a genius and I still can't believe I'm working with him on this - I pinch myself every day. The whole team - Guy Simpson, Andrew Goodwin, Eva Kong, Kanen Breen, of course, and the ASO - are extraordinarily wonderful to work with, and the whole atmosphere in the room is one of encouragement and creative passion. Nothing is better than the feeling of a team working together fearlessly to create something that they'll all be proud of, and I could not be prouder to stand amongst this incredible group of artists! I have no words to express my gratitude to Neil for trusting me with this brilliant character, and to Rufus for writing it.

BL You will back soon to appear with State Opera of South Australia in Cavalleria Rusticana, which will be paired, as usual, with I Pagliacci. I look forward to seeing you back here for that performance.

JD I can't wait to make my debut with SOSA. I have so many friends here and SOSA are producing some amazing work, so it's incredibly exciting to be joining the family. Hopefully, I'll be back here a lot more - I've fallen totally in love with Adelaide!

Suffice to say that Adelaide has, in turn, fallen in love with Jacqui Dark.

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