A story of forbidden love, Opera Australia’s production of La Juive is playing now.
Rachel is young, Jewish and beautiful. Léopold is rich, Christian and already married. But he disguises his identity to begin an affair with Rachel and they fall in love. When Rachel and her father Eléazar uncover his identity, they fear for her life. Their interfaith relationship is forbidden, and Rachel is forced to face an impossible choice – to deny her love, and save her lover, or deny her God, and save herself.
Playing Cardinal Brogni in this production is acclaimed bass David Parkin. In 2006, bass David Parkin won Operatunity Oz, which led to scholarship studies in Vienna as well as in Australia and his stage debut with the Vienna State Opera. As an Opera Australia principal, his roles have included Colline (La Bohème), Ramfis (Aida), Sparafucile (Rigoletto) and Don Basilio (The Barber of Seville). He has appeared with all the Australian state opera companies and Pinchgut Opera, and with the Melbourne, Queensland and West Australian symphony orchestras. In 2022, David is singing Timur in Turandot (until March 14) and Cardinal Brogni in La Juive at the Sydney Opera House over March 9-26, before playing Bonze in Madama Butterfly and Ferrando in Il Trovatore in July.
Can you tell me a bit about your journey to Opera?
David: I grew up in Moree in North-West NSW where my siblings and I all learnt piano and played brass instruments in the local band. My grandfather was a huge fan of opera and he and my mum would go regularly. A few times when Grandpa couldn’t attend mum would take one of us kids along, so at the age of 11 I saw my first opera at the Sydney Opera House – it was Don Giovanni and the performance made a big impression on me. My opera journey began in earnest when I won Operatunity Oz in 2006. The prize was to perform a principal role in Opera Australia’s Rigoletto for one night only, and it was terrifying, and amazing! It was after this that the real work began. For 5 years I had a weekly singing lessons and fortnightly coachings, and during this time I was fortunate enough to win two Opera Foundation awards which led to further study in NY and at the Vienna Statsoper. Then in 2011 OA offered me an ensemble principal artist position and so I gave up my IT career and became a full-time opera singer.
How is this role different to past bass roles you’ve played?
David: Like most basses I sing across a wide range of repertoire, from Mozart to modern(ish) opera. Most of my roles however have been in Italian repertoire, predominately Verdi and Puccini. Halévy’s La Juive is my first French opera with Opera Australia and my character Brogni is onstage a fair amount, so there has been plenty of French to memorise! It is thanks to the dedication of the incredibly talented music and language staff at OA that I have been able to work this role into shape.
Do you see any of yourself in the Cardinal?
David: Not exactly. The Cardinal is a man with a violent past, who has found salvation in the church and subsequently risen to high station. With everything that is going on in the world at the moment, I do find the way he sets aside past grievances and appeals to the unruly mob for tolerance and compassion particularly relevant.
What has been the most challenging part of working on La Juive?
David: In addition to the language requirements, the music in French opera is quite different to Italian or German opera. There is a lot of complexity within the work and it requires greater vocal flexibility than some of my previous roles. Halévy takes Brogni from the top of the bass range to the very bottom, and then back up again, all in the space of a few bars. Also, this is the first time I have ever needed to trill onstage, but blink and you’ll miss it!
And the most exciting?
David: I think the most exciting element is the character arc. So many bass roles are static characters, often supporting or bookending the drama. In this opera Brogni is pivotal to the action, he develops along the way, and is involved right up to the very end. Without wanting to give anything away, events may have turned out differently were it not for the animosity between Eleazar the Jew and Brogni the Christian.
In your own words, what is the main message of La Juive?
David: The message of La Juive is one of tolerance and compassion for others. The three main characters, Rachel, Eleazar and Brogni are complex and intense. Each have their reasons for their actions, but ultimately their past experiences and prejudices bind their choices. The overarching theme of La Juive is religious tolerance, but in a modern world the broader theme of tolerance applies just as readily to the actions of countries, politicians and even social media.
La Juive is playing now at the Sydney Opera House.
For tickets and more information, visit the Opera Australia website.
Header photo by Prudence Upton