Sydney Opera House

Cheryl Barker answers your questions

Cheryl Barker answers your questions about her career and Capriccio

We sourced questions from our friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter in order to form a video interview with the fantastic Cheryl Barker about her career and her new role in Capriccio (2 July - 27 July at the Sydney Opera House). For more information about the production and to book tickets, click here.




Capriccio is basically about a woman, Madeleine (also known as The Countess, which is my character), who is having a rehearsal at her house on an afternoon. Her brother is putting on a big celebration for her birthday, and a director, a very famous actress, a composer, and a playwright are all there. They are rehearsing for the play. Madeleine’s brother, the Count, is also acting in the play that’s part of her big festive celebrations. The rehearsal is there.

Meanwhile the playwright and the composer are vying for the affections of Madeleine, my character. The composer represents music and the playwright represents the words. We get into a discussion about which is more important: the words or the music. It also means who is more important in Madeleine’s life: the poet or the composer. She and they all come to the conclusion that really you can’t have one without the other, certainly in opera. So Madeleine is given an ultimatum by Flamand [the composer] to decide: “Is it me or is it Olivier, the playwright?” Of course she’s in a terrible dilemma because she feels that they need each other and she loves them equally the same. I won’t tell you how it ends up, in the end, but that’s kind of it in a nutshell.

Singing Strauss is completely different to singing Puccini. There are wonderful soaring phrases that you get in Puccini, in the Strauss, but certainly in this opera it’s much more conversational so you take the voice off the chords a little bit. There is more chit-chat, you’re not always singing in that lyrical line. It’s more difficult of course as well to learn, it’s quite angular, a lot of the intervals are quite difficult. Rhythmically it’s very tricky as well. I think Puccini, although he has a lot of rubato, it’s more straightforward. Although in the final scene of Capriccio there are some wonderful, wonderful Puccini-esque phrases, but generally the rest of the opera is a completely different genre.

Singing in German is completely different to singing in Italian for me anyway, although I have done German repertoire, and also Czech, in my recent roles. So I’m in that way of singing. I guess a lot of people would say you have to sing them the same, of course you do. But I find there are certain sounds that you can’t resonate through, like with that “ich” sound and some of those German consonants. So it’s different, you have to use different muscles in your body I think, and different ways of using your mouth to get around the language.

The theme of Capriccio and actually the libretto, Strauss collaborated with Clemens Krauss who was a conductor on the libretto, and I think he’s used all of the old adages that he’s heard people say in the past: The orchestra’s too loud, why do they do this, and what about recitatives... it’s very very funny, the text. There’s a lot of in jokes, especially for a composer. I think that he felt it was his greatest achievement, this opera, and I think musically he puts everything, all his best ideas, into it and also into the text. I think he’s making various statements that he knew all about what everybody was saying, what the singers were complaining about, what the audiences were grizzling about, I mean he puts it all into that and also his ideas and what he felt on things. So in that way it’s his final gift to the world of music.

When I started the rehearsals I asked John Cox what was the difference between the Marschallin and the Countess: “How can I make these characters different?” He said that the Countess is an intellect and the Marschallin is... not, basically. She acts on her passions and her feelings where the Countess analyses everything, and I think you can really see this in her dilemma in the final scene.

Everything’s in the text, you don’t have to do too much as long as you are elegant. It’s all there and you hear it in the music and you can get your clues from the music.

I always wear a different perfume, it’s really only an excuse to get a new perfume. For this role, I happen to have it here, and it’s called Antonia’s Flowers and it’s by a woman in the Hamptons and I think you can actually get it here.  It’s rather gorgeous, very sweet, it’s kind of sweet and feminine. It just evokes that era, that whole light capricious era in the 20s.