Jessica Pratt

Jessica Pratt sings ‘Lucia’ at La Scala

 

Performances: February 11, 16, 21

Article can also be found on classicmelbourne.com.au 

LuciaGenovaMarcelloOrselliFifty years after Joan Sutherland sang the role of Lucia di Lamermoor in Milan another Australian, soprano Jessica Pratt, makes her own La Scala debut in Donizetti’s opera in a production directed by Mary Zimmerman and conducted by Pier Giorgio Morandi.

The role of  ‘Edgardo’ will be sung by tenor Piero Pretti and it will be his first production of Lucia together with the Australian soprano. They appeared together in performances of Rigoletto at the Verdi Festival in Parma last year and are known as a duo by the tongue twister of an Italian nickname ‘PrettiPratt.’

Lucia is one of Jessica’s favourite roles. “It’s very liberating,” she says, “acting a like a madwoman in front of a few thousand people.”

She has sung the challenging role many times including performances in Berlin, Zurich, Tel Aviv, Ravenna, Como and at Teatro San Carlo in Napoli under the baton of Nello Santi. “Singing the role in the theatre which the opera was written for, where Rossini and Donizetti still have their assigned boxes from which they watched the operas was a great honour.”

Teatro di San Carlo   LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR musica di Gaetano Doni Jessica explains why singing Lucia is so gratifying. “I like her because she because she doesn’t cave to the whims of society and become an obedient wife. She is strong willed; going out alone, meeting with a lover in secret and fighting with her brother. She can’t bend to her family’s will and rather than accept the rule of men she goes mad. It is her strong will that destroys her.”

With regard to the technical aspects of the role she says that her fundamental aim in belcanto repertoire is to produce the drama and emotions required without disturbing the beauty of the vocal line.

“One of the most difficult things in the mad scene is to not let the emotions influence the sound. The line must always remain beautiful even while you are stabbing someone and screaming blue murder.” Jessica explains how “the cadenzas and the coloratura always have to have a dramatic intention behind them; they should never be sung as a technical exercise or just for singing’s sake.”

Opera was a part of the soprano’s life from very early on. Her father was a tenor and as a young girl she thought being an opera singer would be “the best job in the world.” She believed that becoming a professional opera singer would mean playing dress ups, wearing big gowns and going home with a bunch of flowers.

“As an adult I realize that these dresses are heavy and uncomfortable and I usually give the flowers to my dresser or make-up artist because I am flying out the next day. Now I am more attracted to the characters and exploring various emotions through music, language and the physicality of movement. It’s a complex and rewarding art form.”

She describes as one of her career highlights singing in the New Year’s Day concert at La Fenice in Venice.  “It was televised worldwide after the Pope’s speech and there were 4.7 million viewers in Italy alone.”

Teatro di San Carlo   LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR musica di Gaetano DoniShe is clearly very fond of Venice and it’s opera house and says that working there is always a very exciting experience. “They do lovely productions in Venice and the costume department is very close to my heart. I love all aspects of the theatre but especially the art of costume making. They put up with me hanging around and teach me little tricks and new skills. During my last production with them, the 2013/14 season opening of Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine, I embroidered the front panel of one of my costumes with beads which ended up being more than 30 hours of work. It is now going with the rest of the costumes to a museum in Madrid. I think I am more proud of that than of the DVD and the television broadcast of the production!”

Living and working in Italy, as in any foreign country, presents it’s own set of challenges and rewards. Jessica misses her family, “the fresh air, the nature and especially the open, easygoing friendliness of the Australians.” With some humour she talks about the particular challenge of going to an Italian post office. “ One day I would like to come out and not be in a blind rage. I don’t know if it will ever happen!”

Nonetheless she admits she loves a country that awards a Presidential Medal for coloratura singing, another accolade bestowed upon Jessica at the same time she was awarded the prestigious “La Siola d’Oro” prize last year.

The valuable diamond brooch in the form of a swallow is presented every two years to the soprano voted by Italian music critics to be the best interpreter of famous soprano Lina Pagliughi’s repertoire. Jessica joins illustrious artists such as June Anderson, Mariella Devia and Joan Sutherland, the only other Australian to win the award, and says with obvious pride that “it’s quite incredible to be included in such an historic list of singers, nearly all of whom are my coloratura heroes!”

“These were my very first diamonds. I had to get a safe at the bank to put the brooch into and I am trying not to act like Golum. I am resisting going to the bank just to look at my ‘precious.’”

COPERTINA_01Jessica’s other big treasure is her dog and constant companion Fede whom she adopted two and a half years ago, essentially rescuing him from a life of abuse.  He had a smashed leg and only one eye and had lived most of his life in a kennel. Fede is now well known in Italian opera circles and enjoys life at Lake Como when he is not backstage and in his owner’s dressing rooms.

So famous have the pair become that a children’s book entitled “Un paloscenico per due” or “A stage for two” has just been released by publishing company Squilibri. The book is designed to give children an understanding of classical music, and particularly opera, by telling Fede’s story of life in Italy’s most glamorous opera houses through his eyes.

fenice1Australian audiences do not have long to wait to see Jessica on stage. This May she returns to Melbourne to make her Australian operatic and role debut as Violetta in La Traviata with Victorian Opera under the direction of Richard Mills. She describes the role as “extremely complicated” for the soprano, “requiring three different voices. It must be studied and balanced from the beginning to end.”

First of all however she has ‘Lucia’ to get through. She is clearly excited. “A great friend of mine presented me with the original poster of Joan Sutherland’s ‘Lucia’ from 1964.”

“It’s for good luck,” she adds with a smile.

 

“La Traviata” in Melbourne: 17, 20, 22, 24, 27, 29 May

 

 

Trulli Magic…

 

IMG_8958

The region of Puglia, or Apuglia as it is known in Italy, covers much of the heel and the boot of the country. There is a lot to see of interest in the area including the capital city of Bari, known as the ‘Milan of the south’, the famous baroque city of Lecce, the white town or ‘citta bianca’ Ostuni, the fishing villages of Polignano a Mare and Monopoli and a stunning coastline of beaches and coves for swimming. Puglia is also renowned for it’s specialty food and wine. It is known as the ‘breadbasket’ of Italy as it produces more than eighty percent of the country’s pasta. Orrecchiete pasta, shaped like small ears, can still be seen being made on the old streets of Bari by local women. The region also produces the famous primitivo wine, much of the country’s fish and more olive oil than the rest of the country combined.IMG_8835

With all of this and more on offer I have flown down from Milan to spend a couple of weeks holiday. For the last few days I have been in the town of Martina Franca. This is another Puglian town with a noteworthy centro storico, famous in the summer months for it’s belcanto festival. I was lucky enough to see my friend, soprano Jessica Pratt, singing the lead role in the rarely performed Giovanna d’Arco by Verdi at the Palazzo Ducale. It was a wonderful night’s entertainment in a stunning setting. But now it is time for us to take a ‘real’ break.

We arrive at Masseria Fumerola early one afternoon at the very beginning of August. It is hot. Very, very hot. There is not a breath of air and it is siesta time, so the silence is palpable. The heat is almost a tangible thing. It eminates off the bright white of the conical trulli rooves, off the white, rough hewn stone walls and off the incredible, sparkling blue water of the swimming pool. The initial impression is one of stark beauty. Beautiful, gnarled olive trees offer shade from the unrelenting sun, gigantic flowering cacti grow in the hard earth and the scent of wild rosemary hangs in the air; it is possible we have arrived for a few days in paradise.IMG_8806

We are shown to our accommodation and settle in to our surprisingly cool trullo. Originally constructed out of dry stone as simple farm dwellings or shelters for animals, they feature one room under each cone and extra rooms in additional alcoves. In the 19th century the dry stone was easily deconstructed when the property tax inspectors paid a call. I think to myself that hopefully the 21st century Italian tax men are on holiday in August and that with any luck we can keep the roof over our heads for the next five days! The decor is authentic and neutral, in keeping with the rustic style.IMG_8956 Trulli are notoriously difficult to heat in winter and our lounge room features a large, stone fireplace which we won’t be needing. The bedroom is comfortable and the bathroom is large and modern. We have a private terrace complete with a lush, green lawn.

 

IMG_8947Staff at the masseria are unobtrusive and unfailingly helpful and smiling. Nothing is too much trouble during our stay. This place has the feel of a small, country house rather than a hotel. We spend much of our lives in hotels and this is exactly what we are looking for…the feeling of a home away from home. Breakfasts are on the terrace and feature home made Italian style cakes and pastries. Leisurely, simple lunches are taken near the pool in the former pig sty, no evidence of the past remaining. A friendly girl named Paula delivers fresh salads of mozzarella and bright red tomatoes with barley bread from Lecce accompanied by glasses of crisp, cool white wine. IMG_8888We sit on white painted chairs at rustic wooden tables. It is a perfect setting and I am reminded of my childhood Enid Blyton books in which food consumed outside by the Famous Five always tasted better. I can’t disagree with them here. Every flavour and colour seems brighter and more enhanced. Dinners are a simple affair on the terrace beginning with a spread of delicious antipasti: marinated artichokes, grilled zucchini, eggplants and peppers, creamy mozzarella cheeses, frittata, homemade focaccia, prawns and salamis. After a main course of fish or meat a gelato is offered, followed, if you so desire, by a limoncello in the lounge room. We chat amicably with other guests after dinner…it is almost like a family occasion and we thoroughly enjoy the intimacy of the whole experience.

The long, incredibly warm summer days are spent by the swimming pool. As the sun moves through the cloudless blue sky so we move our sun lounges to follow the shade. There are bikes for hire at reception although I notice they are in the same place when we leave as when we arrive. IMG_8935I am glad we are not the only sedentary ones. It is too hot to move too far or too fast. We both have plans to learn some music for upcoming jobs but the scores lie closed next to our sun beds and remain there unopened all week.

Evenings are glorious. A faint breeze blows and the sun turns the fields to a golden yellow. Swallows swoop down to the empty swimming pool looking for insects, wasps buzz and bats fly silently overhead. The joy here is in the simple pleasures.

More information at masseriafumarola.it

 Scroll to top