May 11, 2023
Arts & Culture

State Opera’s leading ladies

As we approach the inaugural Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, SALIFE catches up with Cherie Boogart, Jessica Dean, Alexandra Scott, Fiona McCardle and Desiree Frahn from the State Opera of South Australia.

Cherie Boogart, Jessica Dean, Alexandra Scott, Fiona McCardle and Desiree Frahn.

Zoe How were you introduced to opera?
Fiona While I always loved singing, I don’t feel like I was really introduced to opera until I was in my early 20s studying classical voice at the Elder Conservatorium of Music. All my fellow students loved opera and would work on arias, and later that year I went to my first full opera at the Festival Theatre – State Opera’s production of Hansel & Gretel. Four years later, life came full circle, and I performed the role of The Witch in the Elder Conservatorium’s production in Elder Hall.
Desiree I was introduced to opera by my very first singing teacher. I was telling him that my ballet teacher had put the most amazing music on in class, written by this guy called Tchaikovsky, and how you could hear the dancing and story in the music. He walked over to the record player and said, “Did you know he also wrote stories you can sing?”, and out of the speakers came the soaring notes of Eugene Onegin.
Jessica My gran was a lovely soprano in her youth and performed in lots of operettas and G&S, so there was a definite influence from her. But I also grew up seeing lots of fabulous musicals which sparked my love of theatre and singing. I discovered opera through my singing lessons and once I’d seen footage of Maria Callas, Cecilia Bartoli, Natalie Dessay to name a few, I was hooked. It’s the combination of all art forms on the grandest of scales.
Alexandra At six years old, my mother took me to see Opera Australia’s production of The Gondoliers. I was hooked.
Cherie I was introduced to opera when I was accepted to study classical voice at university. I went to a very small school where music wasn’t offered as a subject, so I was clueless really. I sang The Rose and Kumbaya at my audition. But I knew I had an instrument and wanted to sing. I’d heard Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma and wanted to make music like that.

Zoe What are some of your earliest memories of performing?
Desiree It’s funny, in my memories I can’t separate the rehearsals from the performances. I absolutely fell in love with the rehearsal process during my first show. Two things that do stand out – the almost magical contrast of walking from the darkness in the wings onto the fully lit stage, and the eerie intensity of a large space filled with hundreds of silent, expectant people. Definitely not the same as putting on a show for your grandparents in the living room.
Jessica I played the piano from a very young age and actually did the first three years of my degree as a pianist, so my performing life started on the keys! Singing and theatre was always a great love though, from performing in school choirs to providing music for school plays. That passion took over and voice became my focus.
Cherie My earliest memory of performing is when I got the uncontrollable giggles onstage for a school play, circa 1985. Happy to say that doesn’t happen anymore.

Zoe What was your first experience with Gilbert & Sullivan?
Fiona My first experience of G&S was going to the 1995 tour of Simon Gallaher’s The Pirates of Penzance. It was a whole family affair, and we all loved it and continued the tradition with family outings to The Mikado, and HMS Pinafore. They are very excited to be able to see me in the G&S Fest in May.
Jessica My first G&S experiences were as a child going to Jon English and Simon Gallaher’s re-vamped productions. They were such wonderful fun and I was mesmerised!
Cherie My first experience with G&S was performing the role of Tessa in The Gondoliers when I was 19 with the Adelaide Gilbert and Sullivan Society. I remember being very camp and having a riot.

Zoe What do you love about G&S works?
Desiree The joy! Infamous for their topsy-turvy nature, these operettas soar from highs to lows and back again with intricate singing, complex choreography, moving moments, and a smattering of moral pointers. But through it all you can always feel that sense of simmering joy – from the composer, the librettist, the performers, the audience – that’s what makes G&S special.
Jessica They are so witty, funny, charming, and honest. Every time you watch a G&S, no matter how many times you’ve seen it before, you discover something new that makes you smile. And the tunes are amongst the very best.
Alexandra I love that they remain relevant and poke fun at society. They wrote strong and bold roles for women that are fun to explore.

The G&S Fest runs from May 11 to 21.

For more on State Opera’s leading ladies, pick up the May 2023 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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