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Sydney Opera House

Vivacious Daria charms Sydneysiders

Vivacious Daria charms Sydneysiders

Soprano Daria Masiero’s poignant performances as Liù, the doomed slave girl in Opera Australia’s revival of Puccini’s Turandot, has been keeping Sydney audiences glued to their seats. When Allerta! meets the singer for a chat at a café outside the Sydney Opera House, it is not difficult to grasp why audiences warm to her to such an extent. As she explains the challenges and rewards of the role, in English that is fluent after only three years of studying the language, her dark eyes sparkle with liveliness and she frequently breaks into song to illustrate a point.

 “For, me,” says Masiero, “the most difficult part of the role is its first five bars, because they have to be pianissimo.”  She stops talking to sing the phrase, conducting herself with a graceful hand movement as she does so. Breaking off to take a sip of water, she reverts to speech: “Every voice has its own qualities, and fortunately, mine doesn’t find pianissimo difficult. I find singing staccato much harder. Ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta!” Her nose crinkles with laughter. “See?”

The role offers another, more serious challenge: keeping focused in the long second act, in which Liù does not appear on stage. “By the time the third act arrives, I am exhausted with waiting,” Masiero says. This despite the fact that she spends Act II relaxing in her dressing room. “I have to wake my body up by moving around, and warm up my voice again.”

The highlight of the night is singing Liù’s big “Signore ascolta” aria, “where she explains that she loves Calaf just because he looked at her and smiled”. The aria suits Masiero’s voice perfectly: “It shows off my top notes, my low register and all the dynamics of which my voice is capable.” 

Dying on stage is emotionally exhausting. “But I’ve had to learn to keep a distance between myself and the emotion of my character. If I let that emotion overwhelm me, it would be impossible to control my singing. I love my job; it’s my dream and I’m so lucky to be living it…but when all is said and done, it’s work, and I don’t want to be a slave to my work. When I enter the stage, I switch on my stage mind and switch off real life. When I leave the stage, I switch real life back on. I don’t mix my life and my job.”

Masiero’s Opera Australia and Sydney Opera House debut is only the second time she’s sung in Australia. The first time was in 2006, as part of Opera in the Vineyards in Victoria. A finalist in the 2005 Cardiff International Singer of the Year competition, Opera in the Vineyards organisers heard her and invited her to come to Australia. Once in Melbourne, she auditioned for OA artistic director Lyndon Terraccini, who offered her the role of Liù. 

Working in Australia is very different from working in Italy, where she built her career. “In Australia, like in England and Ireland, an opera company is like a big family. In Italy they tend to be more formal; going to rehearsals can be a little like sitting an exam. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of competition.”

She has been pleasantly surprised by Australian audiences. “After opening night, I could not believe the warmth and generosity of the audience response. It was amazing. In Italy, if they love you, they adore you, but if they don’t…” She laughs.

Although most of the Turandot revival was rehearsed by Associate Director Kim Walker, Masiero relished the few final rehearsals with director Graeme Murphy. “We gelled very well; what a pity we had so little time to work together. Graeme gave me many little ideas, and they made a huge difference. He also told me that he loves me!” She laughs. “I’d love to see his Aida production, but even more than that, I’d love to work with him on a new production where we could create a role together. That would be wonderful.”

Besides the vocal and dramatic rewards that come from performing her role, Masiero has personal reasons for enjoying being in Turandot: a long-standing professional relationship and friendship with Rosario La Spina, who performs the role of Calaf, and his wife Milijana. “The three of us studied and sang together at the Accademia Teatro Alla Scala in Milan; Rosario and I performed in Oberto together at La Scala, and more recently we sang La bohème in concert together in Korea. We are very good friends; I met Rosario’s family in Brisbane over Christmas and it was just lovely.”

It does not come as a surprise to learn that Masiero, who does not come from a musical family, decided to become an opera singer at the age of six. “My sister and I went to a classical concert, and afterwards I said to her: ‘I want to sing like those singers’.” She started taking singing lessons at the age of 13, and later at the Conservatorio Antonio Vivaldi in Alessandria, studied singing and cello. Afterwards, for ten years she made a living from singing pop music in piano bars. “Opera was my dream but I had to wait patiently for it to come true,” she says. Luckily, singing Italian pop music, Whitney Houston and Barbra Streisand was no hardship for the versatile Masiero.

Today she still draws on the skills that she learned as cellist in the Conservatorio Orchestra, and from singing in piano bars. “Pop music gave me elasticity. I can change fast. If the conductor tells me he wants a piece faster or slower, no problem, I just do it.”

She still loves light music and would enjoy performing crossover, although she says that doing so is very difficult for opera singers. “Your voice has developed in a different direction; singing with a microphone, without vibrato, is very difficult for opera singers. I admire artists who are able to perform in both genres.”

Most of her career has been in Italy, and Masiero says that the economic crisis has hit the arts hard in her homeland. “Opportunities for opera singers are not what they used to be. There used to be two or three casts for each production, now it’s only one. Rehearsal periods have been cut back to two weeks. And sometimes you don’t get paid until a year after a performance.”

Not all Italians are passionate about opera, she says. “The younger generation like other types of music, as is the case all over the world I think. In Parma, where my husband and I live, opera is still very popular. But even there, things are changing. Opera appreciation is no longer taught in schools, like it was in my mother’s time, so young people have very little idea of what it is. Opera companies used to have outreach programs, but in this economic climate the funding for it has dried up.”

For now, she’s enjoying singing at the beautiful Sydney Opera House. “I’d love to come back to Australia. And I’d love to sing in America. I have a good feeling about it all.”