Arts / Everything lost is known again

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Soprano Sarahlouise Owens… "The audiences are still there, but these days, big concert halls want big names."
Soprano Sarahlouise Owens… “The audiences are still there, but these days, big concert halls want big names.”
LYRIC soprano Sarahlouise Owens is a Canberran through and through.

Small matter that she originally came from Melbourne – so did many in those days – but she quickly spotted the advantages and, along with fellow soprano Louise Page, enrolled in voice at the Canberra School of Music under opera singer Ron McConachie, graduating in 1976.

Owens then plunged into the theatrical life of the ACT, performing in shows such as “Hello Dolly”, “Dimboola” and “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” for REP and the fledgling Tempo Theatre.

“That’s where I got my stripes,” she tells “CityNews”.

Those acting skills stood her in good stead when she headed to the UK and then to a career in, mostly, Germany and Belgium, where she performed Wagner, Mozart and Puccini – “everything that was on offer”.

Away for around 25 years, she’s back home teaching voice and raising her 12-year-old son.

Europe was “a bigger table from which many crumbs fall”, but she also saw that the tradition of art song was fading.

“The audiences are still there, but these days, big concert halls want big names,” she says.

We’ll see Owens very soon in a concert called “Yes, but do you know…?” featuring lesser-known works by familiar composers that includes the long-repressed “Childhood Songs” by Benjamin Britten, “Mort d’Ophelie” by Berlioz, Korngold’s Lieder Opus 22, Schubert’s “Mignon” songs and some “quite cheerful” works by the Czech composer Martin?.

The provocative title derives from an enjoyable session where she and pianist Colleen Rae-Gerrard tossed the names of all their favourite obscure songs around a backroom at Wesley Music Centre.

Owens performs the vocal parts, while pianist Rae-Gerrard, a collector of pianos, will get to perform some of the earlier works on her favourite forte piano.

It is, in short, likely to be caviar to an audience steeped in fine vocal music.

“There are a lot of people who sing in choirs here and there are a lot of choirs,” she says. She’s been conducting a couple, including the over-55s choir Allegro Community Choir at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, whose members have “a rich musical background” and a city-based choir full of “pinko opinions”.

Owens laments that many potential male singers have been damaged by childhood suggestions that it’s not a male pursuit and as to tone deafness, she sees it as “a lazy ear” that requires persistence.

She and Rae-Gerrard have loved finding songs that nobody has heard before, but she admits that they don’t want to lose their audiences, so the concert will be exceedingly varied.

“Yes, but do you know…?” at Wesley Music Centre, 3pm, Sunday, March 22, tickets at the door only.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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