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Five Minutes with Jacqueline Dark

Blog | 14 Oct 2019 |
Jacqueline Dark is a powerhouse in Australian theatre and opera, and will star as Berenice in Vivaldi's Farnace for Pinchgut this December. We sat down with Jacqueline to chat about the things that make her (and her character) tick. 
Can you tell us about the role of Berenice? It seems she's a little more at the centre of the drama than Farnace.
Well, she’s the queen!
She’s an absolutely delicious character. I love playing baddies, but am particularly drawn to those with complex psyches (mind you, if they don’t have a complex backstory, I just make it up!). Berenice has this in spades – it’s embedded deeply into the libretto.
She’s a queen, but also a mother, and the psychological tension created by the clashing of these two roles will be brilliant to play. At times a megalomaniac, at times a heartbroken woman, at times a raging, merciless banshee – she runs the complete gamut of emotional states, which is a challenge and a thrill for me as a performer.
She’s a truly extraordinary character and I cannot wait to breathe life into her!
Is there a difference between preparation for a role like this, and preparation for a role in a musical? 
The disciplines are very different, but the preparation is similar to a point.
With any show, opera or musical, the first port of call is to learn the words and ‘dots’, and then to study the character and any related dramatic material (the time period and its quirks, location, character background and relationship to the rest of the cast, etc). Dramatically, I approach both genres in the same way – with honesty and a commitment to find the truth in the character and myself within that truth. I much prefer working in an ensemble to working alone, and love creating magic with colleagues, so I’m dead keen to hit the floor running with this amazing cast of singers! I abhor those old falsehoods about opera singers not being able to act – some of the finest dramatic performances I’ve ever seen have been on the operatic stage.
From there, the major difference is that musicals are amplified and you have to perform eight shows a week. With a major operatic role, you have to begin ‘singing it in’ quite early, so that everything is in muscle memory and ‘in your body’, and you build your stamina for whatever role you are performing. Singing acoustically, there are no safety nets and you rely only on your own physicality and vocal technique to successfully negotiate and project a role. This is physically and mentally demanding and requires much discipline (including offstage, especially on those days when you might like to go to a party but know you have a show the next day – you just have to be so strict with yourself!).
Musicals require a different discipline. You have the assistance of wonderful sound techs and microphones, so the physical demands of pumping out large volumes of sound are lessened, BUT you have to perform that show eight times a week, which is wonderful but relentless, and you very quickly build up show fitness and stamina of a different sort. I was lucky – the long-run musical that I performed in (Sound Of Music) required a classical sound, so I just sang in my ‘opera voice’ and trusted the brilliant sound folk to do their thing … although I did blow up a speaker at one point.
I tend to overact in every genre.
Your career has been largely based in Australia. Is there a tension between the draw of international work and the pull to build a local profile?
It’s been a tricky one to negotiate, especially since becoming a mother. I’ve performed with several international companies since then, but have also turned several down for various reasons.
I love working in Australia. I love the people here and I truly believe that Australian singers can stand amongst the best in the world.
I’m lucky to have a lot of strings to my bow – I love singing opera and musical theatre, and adore cabaret, so there are lots of performing options. I’ve also been writing some songs and shows of my own, which has been challenging but wonderful, so I’d love to do some more of that in the future. As Sondheim said – there’s so much stuff to sing! I’m happy as long as I’m performing, so I don’t have any strong desire to conquer the world – I just want to make music and tell stories as long as people want to hear them!
How has your physics degree helped you in your career? In everyday life? At all?
Physics stirs a profound sense of wonder and awe in me, and touches my soul on an incredibly deep level, in the same way that music does. Physics is incredibly beautiful, and science and music are natural companions. Both challenge you to look outside yourself and to find your place within something at once huge and overwhelming, and also intimate and incredibly human.
Studying science taught me how my brain works best – how I learn and the best ways to negotiate and retain information. I use those skills every single day. I have never lost that almost childish sense of wonder I feel when I encounter a brilliant new idea or an incredible piece of music!
Anything you experience that makes your mind expand and your heart stop for an incredible, beautiful moment stays with you forever, and I carry those moments with me through life. The benefits of learning to appreciate our universe and its wonders, and to look at everything through a multitude of perspectives, cannot be overestimated.
I’m actually drawing my physics and music bows together for a series of concerts with the brilliant Brian Cox and MSO later in the year – I feel like a kid in a candy shop with all of my favourite things in the world colliding!
Why should audiences come and see Farnace?
It's a damn fine story, with riveting, real, human characters. Every character is flawed. It’s not a pretty, sweet tale, but a bloody and vengeful one. It’s full of old grudges, horrifying family dynamics and heartbreakingly real rationales. But also forgiveness and redemption. It’s kind of Game Of Thrones goes baroque!
I seriously cannot wait to start creating this complex, wonderful world with my extraordinary castmates.

Picture credit: Jacqueline Dark in Candide for New Zealand Opera

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