Music, Stage

Jacqui Dark from Ring goddess to cabaret chanteuse

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Jacqui (or Jacqueline, depending on how formal she’s feeling) Dark plays Fricka, the Goddess wife of Wotan, ruler of the Gods, in the Melbourne Ring Cycle. It’s a massive role, but on her nights off she’s premiering a new cabaret work at the Festspielhaus, a free venue on the Arts Centre forecourt, as part of the Ring Festival. We spoke to her just before she starts the third and final Ring Cycle.
jac-profile-webCongratulations on completing two full Ring Cycles. How has it been?
It’s certainly been quite a wild ride! I feel so privileged to be a part of this epic adventure and am so proud of my colleagues, who have worked their bums off and produced some extraordinary performances. It’s really been a bonding experience – you feel as though Team Ring has achieved something truly exceptional and the communal sense of pride shines through the communal sense of exhaustion!
This production has been in the works for a very long time. As a singer, how much preparation is involved?
Although the company has been planning The Ring for a long time, the singers only had their roles confirmed much later, so it’s been an intensive period of music, language and stylistic coaching. We rehearsed for two seasons  – for a normal opera, we only have around four weeks rehearsal, so it was a much longer rehearsal period, but then, there’s much more stage time involved! It was tricky, because we rehearsed earlier in the year in Melbourne, but then had to return to Sydney for a full season of other operas before coming back to Melbourne for this final home stretch of rehearsals. It’s been an incredibly full, tightly packed, exhausting and ultimately hugely rewarding year!
You’d be used to singing with some truly spectacular orchestras. But how does it feel to sing with the support of over 100 musicians?
Singing with this huge orchestra is the most extraordinary, life-changing experience. These musicians are incredible, and I remember sitting in the first sitzprobe for the first opera (Rheingold) and welling up with tears as I heard the first note. There’s something utterly visceral about this music that grabs you by the throat and tosses you about until you come out the other end completely wrung out but thoroughly satisfied. The feeling of singing on stage with that wall of sound underneath you, carrying you along like a huge wave on the ocean, is indescribably fabulous.
Fricka, who you play in Das Rheingold and Die Walkure is a pretty ferocious character. What’s your thought process before you go on as her? How do you summon up all that fury?
I’m lucky in that part of what I love about singing is living the role as I sing it, and I find it almost impossible to not get emotionally involved with whatever I’m performing. Fricka comes on with a kind of suppressed rage and builds to fury during the course of that fabulous second scene. I find her really easy to play, as she is utterly real – a scorned wife who has reached the end of her patience with a husband who keeps cheating on her and embarrassing her. It’s so easy to imagine how the shame and hurt have built up in her until she reaches the point where it all just pours out in an unstoppable stream. I find the scene incredibly real and human and very easy and cathartic to play.
As well as the Ring Cycle, you’re performing some free cabaret with Kanen Breen. Has the idea to team up onstage in a cabaret been floating around for a while?
I’ve been wanting to do cabaret for ages, as it’s an art form which I absolutely adore – I’ve just never had time with my crazy opera schedule. I certainly never thought I’d be able to talk Kane into performing one with me, even though he’s BORN to sing cabaret (he’ll deny this). We’ve had an absolute hoot writing this show and performing it. I can’t count the number of times that we’ve said “Oh, we can’t sing THAT!” and then grinned at each other and left it in. I had someone on twitter tell me “It was the dirtiest, messiest, campiest thing I’ve seen in a long time”, which means that we’ve pretty much achieved our goal of creating a dark, dirty, gritty, tacky, fun, sparkly, slightly obscene show where the audience let their hair down, laugh at things they know they shouldn’t and generally wallow in our bizarre imaginations for a little while. People seem to be enjoying it, which is pretty cool.
You’re a pretty brave woman for performing the cabaret, outside, in whatever weather in the middle of the Ring Cycle. I suppose you can’t afford to be too precious?
Brave/stupid. It’s a fine line! Yeah, it’s a bit crazy, but I’m loving every second of it. I’m lucky to have a tough old voice that just goes for days, probably because I’ve always just sung all day and night since I was a kid, driving anyone around me crazy. The cabaret couldn’t be further from the high art and massive epic that is The Ring, so it’s hilarious to perform them both together – like walking a tightrope. I feel like I have two personalities, as my character for the cabarets is about as far from Fricka as it could be. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s raw, intense, loud, heartfelt, angry, honest … so maybe there are more parallels that I’d noticed!
[box]The final Ring Cycle begins 6 December and finishes 13 December. Jacqui Dark will be making her final appearance at Festspielhaus with Kanen Breen on Thursday 12 December at 10pm. More information about the Melbourne Ring Cycle and Ring Festival is available at melbourneringcycle.com.au[/box]

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