Cabaret and Opera: Embracing Both

Cabaret and Opera: Embracing Both

It's possible to do both successfully. 

Jacqueline Dark
Melbourne, Australia

Cabaret and Opera: Embracing Both

It's possible to do both successfully. 

Question:

Both opera and cabaret are heightened forms of storytelling, and you work in both - can you tell us your own thoughts about the personal and artistic connections and intersections between the two art forms, and how embracing that has worked in your personal experience and artistic practice?

Answer:

Excellent question! I think I could write a whole thesis on this one!

I always make sure that I find a personal and artistic connection to anything I’m performing, and embrace it wholeheartedly. I think that’s what makes this career so wonderful – bringing yourself heart and soul to whatever you do – and I think that’s what an audience responds to in a performer.

OK, down to the differences and similarities, departures and intersections, between opera and cabaret.

In opera, you are bringing your own interpretation to a role which already exists. The words and music have been written (usually in a sublime fashion) and the challenge is to make those words your own and bring something new to the role. Some of these operas are timeless classics for a reason – wrapping your cords and emotions around those roles is a privilege and a delight. It can also be comforting to know that the piece you’re about to perform is tried and tested and already well- loved. You are inspired, and constrained, in your choices by the director and conductor, as they will have the final say on whatever ultimately ends up on their stage. Creating a new role with a brilliant director can be hugely exciting and rewarding, and working a role vocally with an extraordinary conductor is beyond joyful, as you can learn so much. Of course, the opposite is also true, and if you hit a difficult conductor or director it can make things most unpleasant. Luckily I’ve had the good fortune to work mostly with truly wonderful artistic teams in my career.

Cabaret (well, the kind that I’ve done) is a completely different story – you’re walking tightrope out on a ledge on your own with no safety net. You write the whole show, including many songs, yourself. It’s utterly terrifying and exposing, as you have NO idea how the audience will respond to your work (mind you, this can happen in new treatments of operas too, although it’ll usually be the director who takes the brunt of it if an audience hates their version). There is nothing to hide behind, because if the audience hates it, it’s ALL you. It’s your creation, your voice, your words, so if you get a bad reception, it’s pretty devastating.

The positive side, of course, is that cabaret gives you a voice, You can address issues that you care deeply about, make a point, confront and challenge an audience on whatever issues you feel strongly about, and send people home pondering the points you’ve made and, if you’re good enough, questioning their preconceptions. Cabaret also gives you the artistic freedom to use your voice and physicality in any way you like, whereas in opera you are guided by whatever the conductor and director decide on. I have never felt so free or so terrified as when I stood backstage ready to go on for opening night of the cabaret I wrote with my friend Kanen Breen … but I was utterly exhilarated and thrilled by the response and by the way that people reacted and were touched and challenged by our work.

I love both of these genres very deeply, and hope I can continue doing both concurrently. You really do have to find your own truth and honesty in whatever you do, and bare your soul to the audience, whether it be in opera or cabaret. THAT is where the intersection, and the joy, of performing in either of these two art forms lies.