Dimity Shepherd: Opera's triple threat stars in Carmen

Dimity Shepherd is one of Australia’s most sought after vocalists, and Melbourne audiences will have their chance to see this wonderful performer onstage from tonight, Saturday 22 October as Carmen, the seductive gypsy from Bizet’s famous opera of the same name.  

Dimity Shepherd Dimity Shepherd is one of Australia’s most sought after vocalists, and Melbourne audiences will have their chance to see this wonderful performer onstage from tonight, Saturday 22 October as Carmen, the seductive gypsy from Bizet’s famous opera of the same name.  Opening at the Athenaeum Theatre, this Melbourne Opera production will mark the third time Shepherd has performed the coveted role of Carmen, and she insists that the excitement of this role never wears off: “Certainly playing a role like Carmen is something I dreamed of doing as a young artist and now this will be my third time”, she said. 
“I found going back to play her a second time that experiencing more of life in between informed a different way of playing her. So I’m quite interested to approach it again. When you revisit a role as seminal as this one, you are going to find different things in it at different times of your life. You can come back and look at the piece from a totally different angle. It helps you to enrich yourself as an artist”, she said,  And an artist she most certainly is. Fresh from her starring role in The Threepenny Opera (Lucy) Shepherd’s opera career has certainly been diverse and continuous since her graduation from WAAPA in 1994. “It was a slightly unusual route in to opera as I studied music theatre at WAAPA, graduating in 1994”, she said. 
“I went to the con (conservatorium) straight from high school, but I was quite envious of all the music theatre kids doing dancing and acting while I was doing harmony and orchestration, and it all looked a lot more fun. So I swapped over!” Dimity’s training in ‘music theatre’ has held her in good stead when it comes to stepping outside the ‘opera box’, but the star admits despite her triple threat training, she admits she always knew that opera was her niche.  “My career to this point has been very interesting. I’ve done a lot of contemporary opera. And if there is ever a call for someone to step outside the box (operatically) I often get the job. The whole time I was at WAAPA I still thought of myself as having a career in opera.””, she said. 
Studying all facets of the arts in the Music Theatre course at WAAPA has helped Dimity become the leading lady that she is, with her training in acting and movement adding to her on-stage finesse. 
“I do really throw myself into the acting side of things”, she explained. “I’ve always had that desire and that was always natural for me, to approach things from an acting perspective.”  Shepherd admits its hard to know which of the artistic disciplines is more important to her. It’s seems to be a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, and despite her self-confessed “obsession with sound”, she does believe that once in the moment, the truth of the scene is the most important, not simply hitting the right notes and producing a beautiful sound.  “I think it’s true that in the music theatre world, a lot of people put the acting first, and in the opera world a lot of people put the singing first. I think I stick right in the middle. I find it really difficult to know which is more important for me.”  Shepherd says that her most beloved moment in Bizet’s opera is the “big duet between Don Jose and Carmen in Act Two” as it reveals the most about her character.  “You have to approach each production asking ‘what is the truth of this role for me’, and personally, that duet in Act Two explains a lot about her”, she said.  CarmenAudiences of this production will certainly learn a lot about the characters, partly due to the production being performed in English. Originally written in Bizet’s native French (ahh, cette belle langue), Melbourne Opera’s production has been translated into English to make the experience more accessible to the audience, and to an extent, the actors.   “There is an immediacy when you are singing in English for the audience, but also for those onstage too. You are not having to bend you brain so much and remember what the other character’s lyrics mean. You can react truthfully and immediately to those performing with you”, she said. 
This is not to say that Shepherd prefers the English version over the French (having performed the show in both languages):

“Undeniably singing it in French is what was originally intended, and it is absolutely beautiful. You lose some things and you gain others when singing a translation – in French, you sacrifice meaning for beauty… but personally, I think it’s great to have done it in both”, she said.  With opening night just hours away, you won’t find Dimity Shepherd acting the diva and warbling her warmup at the Athenaeum theatre this evening. Her routines pre show are simple: no warmups once she has left the house, space to focus and quiet.  “I warm up at home. Once I leave the house, I know that everything is working and I have to trust it”, she laughs.  This triple threat of the Opera world does admit that by our very nature, we performers do have an slight obsessive compulsive streak, and thus tries to avoid any other pre-show rituals.   “I have a tendency to go down that road in a strong way so I make an effort NOT to create rules with myself”, she said, laughing off the lucky underwear idea or turning the dressing room doorknob three times before stepping onstage (believe me, I’ve seen it). Opera’s triple threat (with singing chops, acting skills and musicality) is one hell of a woman, and will make one hell of a Carmen. This witty, intelligent performer is sure to take your breath away in this production, and I encourage everyone to see this show, if only for her alone. (I hear the music is pretty swell, too!) Carmen is playing at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne from 22 October – Saturday November 12.    Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins Street, Melbourne  Opening – Sat October 22 – 7.30 pm Thursday October 27 – 6.30 pmSunday November 6 – 2.30 matinéeFriday November 11 – 7.30 pmSaturday November 12 – 7.30 pm Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au   Ph:  1300 795 012< br />Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University Saturday November 26 – 8.00 pm Bookings: www.monash.edu/mapa (03) 9905 1111   

Erin James

Erin James is AussieTheatre.com's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *