JM: Let’s start with the obvious question: was opera something you were brought up with?
EX: Not really. I went to a musical primary school and high school, and I was lucky enough to take singing lessons when I was about 12 or 13. Opera was something that just sort of happened.
JM: But you went on to study astrophysics – where does that fit in?
EX: I knew that voices take a long time to mature, so I started my science degree and then thought “I miss music”, so I began studying physics part-time and singing full-time. You’d be surprised how many opera singers have studied science!
JM: What differences have you seen between the attitude to opera in Australia and the UK?
EX: There’s a lot more work over here, and the Royal Opera House is the most efficient place I’ve worked – they look after us very well! But Melbourne is very cultural. It has the biggest percentage population of opera lovers in the world, so it’s well-supported there.
JM: Reviews for Opera North’s Seraglio have not only praised your singing, they’ve also had good things to say about your comic abilities. How important is it for opera singers to be good actors?
EX: I’d say it’s a prerequisite. Opera has to be the whole shebang – singing and acting. Comedy in particular isn’t easy for a lot of singers, so they lean towards serious roles. But I was fortunate that my training at the Victorian College of the Arts included acting and movement, which some of the more academically-focused degrees don’t.
Melbourne is very cultural. It has the biggest percentage population of opera lovers in the world.
Audiences nowadays want to see something more realistic, so they want singers who look like the characters they’re playing, they want a strong image. The difference between opera and the musicals that look the same in every city is that opera has to be constantly reimagined, so you can go to an opera you’ve seen before and get something different out of it.
JM: Would you say that The Abduction from the Seraglio is a suitable opera for someone who hasn’t seen one before?
EX: I think so! Mozart’s music is very easy to get into, it’s highly comic, lots of gags, and the costumes are great! I’m even dressed as Wonder Woman at one point. It’s not a show that should be taken too seriously. I’d say it’s up there with Carmen as a good first-time opera.
From a singer’s point of view, Mozart has a great knack for writing for the voice. He can write the most beautiful emotional melodies, but he’s also great at comedy.
I’m even dressed as Wonder Woman at one point.
JM: Have you enjoyed working with Opera North?
EX: Yes, they’re a really nice company. Great fun, and it’s impressive how many shows they put on each year!
JM: And you’ll soon be coming to Scotland?
EX: That’s right, I’ll be singing Adina in L’Elisir d’amore. It’s going to be a really cool show. The music is cheeky and fun and there’s lots of recognisable stuff in the score. It’s an iconic piece, but it’s another one that would be a great first opera – you can sit back, relax and enjoy the bubbly fun from start to finish!
JM: What would you perceive as the average opera audience?
EX: It’s hard to put your finger on. Yes, you get the stereotypical older people and corporate sponsors, but there’s a lot of diversity. You see people of all age groups and demographics. Opera’s available at a lot of different prices, from as little as £10, and there are lots of different kinds of opera. It’s really not elitist in that respect – although it is advisable to book in advance, as the good deals are pretty popular.
Opera North’s The Abduction from the Seraglio is at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham from 12 – 19 June, then at the Grand Theatre in Leeds from 23 – 27 June. Tickets from £10 – £58. Sung in English.
See Elena’s in Scotland in: Scottish Opera’s L’elisir d’amore is touring Scotland from September to November 2009.