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Mezzo-soprano, Jacqueline Dark, is appearing with the State Opera of South Australia in Cavalleria Rusticana, paired with I Pagliacci, this month. I spoke to her about her debut with our Adelaide company.

BL. Jacqui, you are about to appear in Cavalleria Rusticana, your debut performance with the State Opera Company of South Australia. Tell us something about the role that you will be playing.

JD. I'm performing the role of Santuzza, and I absolutely love her. She's a sensitive soul from a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business, and she has fallen in love with a young man who has proven to be a complete cad and is off shagging his old flame on the side. I'm adoring singing this role, as it is so real and immediate and relevant. Santuzza is rejected and heartbroken and lashes out in anger, with consequences that will haunt her forever. She is a strong and beautiful character and I hope that audiences identify with her completely. Which of us has not done or said something in a moment of devastated anger which we immediately wish we could take back? That is the moment this show hinges on. It's a verismo opera, so it's incredibly realistic and we all have to plumb very real emotional depths. The characters are immediately recognizable, from the Italian nonnas to the overbearing, aggressive husband, to the honest, naïve girl who gives up everything for love and ends up being damned for it. She's incredibly interesting to play as many of her reactions are the complete opposite of what mine, as Jacqui, would be. I find that intensely interesting and liberating and love exploring another soul who is so far removed from my own. I cannot wait to make my SOSA debut in this role. What a lucky girl I am!

BL. How do you approach a role in a production, from when it is first offered to you?

JD. First stop is the score. You cannot overestimate how much you can learn about a role by simply looking through what the composer has written and the journey the music takes alongside the words. I listen to the music and translate the libretto, to ensure that I know what every single word means, both in my part and the others, and then get down to the part I hate the most, what we singers call 'notebashing'. This is literally sitting at a piano for hours on end and playing and singing the role until it is in your voice and head. Once the basic notes are learned, you can start to play with interpretations and ideas about tempi and dynamics (which are then firmed up in consultation with the conductor and director and their own concepts of the role). I absolutely LOVE this process; it's the time when the character comes to life and coalesces in your head and heart. You go into the rehearsal room with the role learnt and your own preconceptions of whom the character is, and then incorporate a multitude of brilliant new suggestions from the creative team. I love this collaboration, it makes the character so much deeper and more complex as you sift through every permutation of ideas to hone in on the one that is the truest for you and speaks to you the loudest. I am incredibly lucky in this production to have the original director, Andrew Sinclair, and our wonderful conductor, Nicholas Braithwaite, who are both absolutely committed to bringing out the best in the piece and are extraordinarily encouraging and supportive of all the singers. Having the original director in the room means that you have license to adapt the production at will to suit new performers, and Andrew is always clapping in delight as we discover a way of performing a scene that has never been explored before, so that the show will exist in a form it never has in the past. It's living art, and every person in that room is a wonderful actor and brilliant colleague, it is luxury and heaven and I feel so fortunate to be a part of this amazing team!

BL. You have some sensational opera singers to work with in this forthcoming production, many of them regulars with the State Opera, and firm favourites with Adelaide audiences. That must be an exciting prospect, being a great favourite here yourself for your earlier work in other genres.

JD. Debuting with SOSA is a dream come true, as is singing this gorgeous role. I have fallen so in love with this team! Every single person is a quality human being, a great performer, and dedicated to bringing the best show we possibly can to the stage. It's the perfect creative environment, as we all feel we can experiment and play with our roles and know that if we fall flat on our faces doing something that just doesn't work, our colleagues will laugh with us and move on. Freedom to fail is a huge part of creating exciting theatre. You never know how far you can go with a role until you let yourself go there, and having a room full of positivity, enthusiasm, and colleagues who are going there with you is incredibly exciting. None of us are 'park and bark' type singers, we all operate from a very visceral place, so it feels as though we're percolating something very special here. Teresa la Rocca and Rosario La Spina are long-time friends, so we can immediately tap into a wealth of emotion and a small look can become very significant. We all get intensely involved in our characters, and there have been tears from pretty much everybody (especially me - I'm a famous crier and get WAY too involved in my characters, to the point where I actually get offended if anyone insults them!). We are all going to sincere emotional places and creating real people saying real things. We're throwing ourselves completely into our roles - I have The Bruises and physiotherapy bills to prove it! You really just have to abandon yourself and completely inhabit the character. I always remember Gale Edwards once saying to me, "I'm still seeing Jacqui up there. Get rid of her. Nobody wants to see you being you up there. Find the character." True, true, true.

There's an abundance of dark humour and a lot of love in the room, given that we're slapping, biting and killing each other on the rehearsal floor!

BL. Presumably, you are looking forward to showing Adelaide audiences what we have been missing.

JD. Ha! I don't think you've been missing anything at ALL! I've been working with your incredible Adelaide singers: Jeremy Tatchell, Teresa La Rocca, Catriona Barr, Joanna McWaters, and every day is an absolute joy. You also have the most awesome Festival and one of the most prestigious cabaret festivals in the world, and I'm honoured to be a part of both of those this year. I actually think I'm becoming an honorary Adelaidean (how do you spell that?), if you'll have me! I've even become partial to frog cakes and Fruchocs!

(Ed. Frog cakes from Balfours Bakery and Fruchocs from Menz Chocolates are a couple of Adelaide "delicacies")

BL. In 2015 you and Kanen Breen brought your cabaret production Strange Bedfellows to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and you have recently been back playing the Abbess in The Sound of Music, and a few weeks ago you had the lead role in a concert version of Rufus Wainwright's opera, Prima Donna - A Symphonic Visual Concert. You will also be back again in June, once again working with Kanen Breen, to present a new version of Strange Bedfellows. You seem to be spending more time in Adelaide than in Sydney. How are you finding it, having to balance your time between two cities, especially with a young son?

JD. I've been touring for a long time now, as this year all comes after a huge Sound Of Music tour and The Ring Cycle in Melbourne. It's definitely a challenge, touring with a young child (and, in fact, even just muddling through this crazy life in general as a single mum with a four-year-old), but I love him and love my life enormously, so you just take it day by day and work it out as you go along. I'm extraordinarily lucky to have Kanen in my life, as I cannot begin to express how much he contributes to our kooky little family. I'm also incredibly fortunate to have a gorgeous band of incredible friends who never cease to warm my heart with their support and generosity. While I've been here for Cav, Rosario and Teresa have been giving me lifts, shuttling me between rehearsals and picking up Xander, and both have cooked us dinner and welcomed us into their homes. We had a brilliant afternoon on The Farm with Nick Braithwaite and his wife, and the munchkin is still raving about picking apples to feed to the horses. I love that he gets to travel and soak up so many different experiences (he was an absolute rock star when I sang Salome in Hong Kong, and the locals were mobbing his pram to take photos of the curly blond-haired, blue-eyed little boy!), and he's been an honorary Do Re Mi kid and watched rehearsals of so many shows. It was kinda hilarious when he was watching us create our first Bedfellows show, as the bits he was laughing at were beyond inappropriate. I'm glad he was too young to understand any of it then, but we'll have to be a tad more careful now, or you never know what might pop out at daycare!

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