Shakespeare’s Othello challenges the ideas of good and evil, questioning what really drives human motivation. The story is known to many, and has seen countless adaptations since its writing, a notable one being Verdi’s 1887 opera.
Verdi has taken what he believes to be the key driving forces of the play to create his new work, focusing on the flawed hero of Othello, the authoritative villain of Iago, and the innocent Desdemona who gets caught in between. Of course, there are many other roles in the show supporting the trio of leads, including Emilia, the wife of Iago and maid to Desdemona. In Opera Australia’s current production of Otello, acclaimed mezzo-soprano Sian Sharpe takes on Emilia, a role she is thrilled to be playing for the first time.
Sian Sharp joined Opera Australia as a member of the Moffatt Oxenbould Young Artists’ Development Program following her time as a Developing Artist with Opera Queensland. She has since sung many of the major mezzo-soprano roles for the company including the title role in Carmen and Mercedes (Carmen), Amneris (Aida), Marchese Melibea (Il Viaggio a Reims), La Belle Dulcinée (Don Quichotte), Waltraute and Siegrune (Ring Cycle), Maddalena (Rigoletto), Olga (Eugene Onegin), Suzuki (Madama Butterfly), Dorabella (Così fan tutte), Rosina (The Barber of Seville), Arsace, (Partenope), and Federica (Luisa Miller). She has also appeared with Opera Australia in concert as Bersi (Andrea Chernier) and Albine (Thais), as well as in The Domain and New Year’s Eve Gala Concerts and their Great Opera Hits concerts.
Is this your first time performing Otello?
Sian: Yeah, it is. And it’s surprisingly one of the roles in this sort of voice type that I haven’t done before. I’ve done so many of them, so this is actually a new one. It’s really nice role. I mean, it has a gorgeous line that she sings on for the finale that’s very dramatic, when everything comes to a head.
How would you say that Emelia is different to other mezzo roles you have played in the past?
Sian: Well, she’s not a prostitute [laughs]. She’s like a confidante. And I would probably say it’s a little bit more similar to something like Suzuki and Butterfly [of Madama Butterfly], that kind of relationship. In these kinds of roles, where you’re playing the ‘support act’ for the soprano… they’re not secondary roles in the sense that they’re not important only because they’re there to support the soprano. To be able to listen, to react, to sing with her and support her in the way she wants to sing a duet. I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing this kind of role because you just feel like you’ve really done something useful.
Have you sung Verdi before?
Sian: I’ve done some, not a lot, because my voice is more of a lyric mezzo and Verdi really tends to write for dramatic mezzos. I did do a couple performances as Amneris [in Aida] up in Coolangatta. I did do one of the early Verdi operas, Luisa Miller, and was sort of the malevolent other woman character – that was one role that I hadn’t done before, and it’s not often, but it was nice to get my teeth into a bit of dirty. But this role of Emelia is a little bit different. It does get quite high, I would say it’s almost like a second soprano role, so for me, it sits in a really good place.
Otello takes its plot from the Shakespeare play of the same name – is the opera different to its source material?
Sian: It really hones in on the three central characters and those relationships. But I’ll also say that there are other great characters in this opera. And, you know, you can’t create much of an atmosphere if you don’t have a sounding extraordinary chorus. So I would say that we’re very lucky here at the Opera Australia to have that. They have such wonderful music that supports the principles and those big moments.
Oftentimes in Opera performers revisit roles that they have performed before – is it refreshing to have the chance to play a new role like Emilia?
Sian: Oh, of course. It keeps things interesting. Sometimes you just keep rehashing the old ones. But, you know, Otello always pops up, and I thought, “Oh yeah, it’s one more to add to the list.”
Otello is playing at the Sydney Opera House until March 19th.
For tickets and more information, visit the Opera Australia website.
Header photo by Prudence Upton