Opera, could it possibly be the grandest of all art forms? Grand not only in terms of sheer scale and spectacle, but of the narratives and stories that are most often explored, delving into the deepest realms of our emotional subtext, exploring love and murder, hate and vengeance. Victorian Opera once again delivers with their latest offering to Melbourne audiences the masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor written by composer Donizetti’s in 1835, a time when romanticism “was on top” it’s a dark and somber classic that will open at Her Majesty’s Theatre on April 12th.
At Horti Hall in Carlton, writer Jessi Lewis met with recent Green Room Award winner Carlos E. Bárcenas, who plays the lead role of Elgardo, they discussed his ongoing work with Victorian Opera, a shared love for the art form, and the resonance still held between classical works and contemporary audiences.
Carlos, let’s start off, how did you come to be involved with Victorian Opera, and in your time with the company, what are some of those definitive moments that really stand out as highlights?
I’ve been with Victorian Opera doing these gigs in chorus since 2008, I was interested in singing but I had another career back in Columbia. When I came to Australia and I started to audition for these companies, and when I came and auditioned for Victorian Opera they gave me these gigs singing in the chorus, after completing a bachelor in music, I then auditioned for my masters in Opera Performance and got into the course. The course was run by Victorian Opera and the Conservatorium at Melbourne University. I worked for two years as a developing artist with the company and was heavily engaged with their work.
In terms of my highlights, I guess each production has something special. My first solo thing that I did with Victorian Opera was the Master Peter’s Puppet Show, and it was at the beginning of my masters and also the first time I was doing a leading role; having that responsibility was really exciting at the start of my masters. It wasn’t a big a show but it was enough to get me there. Then when we did productions like The Flying Dutchman and La Traviata the full scale productions. Even though I did not have a principal role, just being around great artists, those environments were a great highlight.
Definitely this point of my life has been really exciting, this is my first big opera in a leading role I really like. All the process of rehearsals and the role, and working on it has been one of those points that is quite high up there.
And of course one of my other highlights is when I met Jessica when we were doing La Traviata
Tell me, what’s it like working alongside Jessica Pratt, being such a seminal force in the operatic world, what have you gained from the time you’ve shared together on stage and in the studio?
For me, I have to say I consider myself really lucky, I knew I wanted to do opera, I knew I wanted to be good at what I do, in the sense that you always want to improve, always want to be able to do what you can do as a singer. When she came into the picture, it was like something I hadn’t experienced on stage, in the way she sings and her artistry. She showed me other ways to sing, it’s been an eye opener. I think it’s been really amazing, she’s been really generous, she has given me all her information, her help and time. I don’t have the words to say thank you to her.
Is it possible to pinpoint exactly what drew you into the world of Opera, what is it that really inspires you about the art form?
It’s a really earthy connection, everyone has different ways of relating to different art or their passions. It’s something about the singing that really touches my inner soul, and I really enjoy it when I’m doing it, not enjoying it like “this is glorious” but you feel like you belong to something. I’m part of the world, part of something, part of this ball of dirt.
My first relationship with music in the operatic world was with Bel Canto, and this (Lucia di Lammermoor) is one of the big operas of that repertoire, I’ve seen it on stage before and there is something about the music that is really well written. There’s something about the story that could be simple, but it’s really real and I know can sometimes be quite fantastical. Something about the story is really believable, even though it’s highly romantic it was written in a period when romanticism was at the top. The role that I play, Edgardo, is a really strong character in his way but he also has all these shades that are childish, he falls in love with someone for the first time and being that committed to it. But he then also comes in and out of all these shades of anger and despair, to the point where at the end he takes his life because he couldn’t bare being alive on earth without her love. She’s his last thing on earth, all his family are already dead; it has that kind of passion and darkness or whatever you want to call it.
I really want to thank Victorian Opera, they have been extremely helpful to me, I never dreamt in my life when I was learning biology back home that I would be singing. I now realize how hard you have to work; how hard you have to do things. I encourage singers to work, it’s hard, it’s not easy but when you get to do it, it’s really worth it. All the people who have been in my life, my friends, my family, my ex-wife, they have always been there for me, so I am really am thankful.
Tell us, what can audiences expect from Victorian Opera’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor?
They can expect a really truthful production, concentrated on the real emotions of the text and of the music. It’s a really beautiful old production from the 1970s where the costumes are beautiful, and the set is really traditional. I think what is important here is the truthfulness of the story (director) Cameron Menzies have been doing some amazing work on giving justice to the text and the music. The cast are all really good, they bring something else to the role to, and I think that’s important with Bel Canto, when you have performers that breathe life to into it. Bel Canto is where you can put everything you want on stage, but at the end of the day what it still becomes is truthful with the music and the text, the singers and the orchestra and the conductor.
Do you believe Opera still holds relevance with contemporary audiences, or do you perhaps sense a shift towards more mainstream art forms?
I think opera will never disappear, like many art forms it will go up and down, I think it’s valuable to keep something like opera, because if you think about it, it’s a complete art form in a way, you get all the pieces the symphony, the orchestra, you get the acting, you get the singer, sometimes you get dancers, all the technicians, you get the lighting, you get a lot of people involved in making a production, its amazing. Some of the straight theatre, maybe I’m ignorant but you cannot compare it to opera, still people prefer to go to the movie theatre or musical theatre these days because that’s what this generation wants maybe? I don’t know. I think the basis of everything that we see now, we will realize with time that we need to keep all this, it’s important. I know that the money you put into opera is a lot and it is expensive and you don’t get a lot of money back, but in general life you do get it back. In this day and age, we have become real neo-liberal thinkers where everything we do needs to come back to us. Sometimes you do get more, maybe it’s not money but think of the people you employ doing an opera, how many people you touch, or how it affects the lives of people who come, opera really is something special.
Lucia Di Lammermoor, opens Tuesday April 12th at her Majesty’s Theatre, it’s promises to be nothing short of the spectacle and grandeur one expects from a night at the opera, for more information check out Victorian Opera’s website- http://www.victorianopera.com.au