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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Star soprano brings Echoed Voices to Albert Hall

Soprano Siobhan Stagg and pianist Nico de Villiers. Photo: Ben Reason

National Opera has fallen on its feet in securing the right to host Mildura-born star soprano Siobhan Stagg, who will perform with pianist Nico de Villiers at Albert Hall later this month. 

The unusual recital, Echoed Voices, will feature works by Richard Hageman, Richard Strauss and Henri Duparc and is a welcome departure from the “great hits of opera” format so often rolled out. 

When I catch up with Stagg, 37, by phone to Germany, she’s performed seven concerts in two weeks, but is heading back to her home to Berlin.

Stagg’s rise to the top has been meteoric. With a swag of important prizes behind her both in Australia and Europe, she has sung for the then Prince Charles and for Queen Mary, of Denmark. 

“It’s a long way from Mildura,” she tells me. 

“First and foremost I’m Australian… you never forget where you come from, as Melba said… And now I’m on the board of directors with the Melba Opera Trust.”

After joining the Deutsche Oper Berlin as a young artist, she spent six years there as a principal soloist, singing Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier, Micaëla in Carmen, Gilda in Rigoletto, Marguerite in Les Huguenots, Musetta in La Boheme and Zerlina in Don Giovanni, to name just a few of her lead roles.

Even as a young artist, she stepped into serious roles elsewhere at short notice, notably Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute at London’s Royal Opera House, a high point, because it was broadcast in cinemas – her family in Australia could watch it on the big screen. 

Her US debut was as Cinderella in Massenet’s Cendrillon at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and, back at home, she sang Mélisande in Pelléas et Mélisande for Victorian Opera, winning her a 2019 Green Room Award.

Born and raised in Mildura, her family was not particularly musical and the local school offered Italian and Indonesian but not German, which she has now mastered.

But watching TV she was fascinated by Carols by Candlelight and the opening ceremony of the Olympics, then got involved in musical theatre and played Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance.

“I moved to Melbourne at age 18. That’s where I saw my first professional symphony performance and opera… I was hooked.”

South African pianist, coach and author Nico de Villiers is her associate artist.

He has long been infatuated with the Dutch-American composer, Richard Hageman, stupendously famous in his time after becoming an American citizen in 1925, conducting for the Metropolitan Opera and coaching at the Curtis Institute.

Hageman is known in Hollywood, where he shared an Academy Award for his score to John Ford’s western, Stagecoach, and acted as conductor Carlo Santi in The Great Caruso. 

A late starter as a serious composer, Hageman nonetheless left behind an extensive songbook, setting words by Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, GK Chesterton, John Masefield and William Butler Yeats.

“It’s been Nic’s passion project for a decade, he’s spent years giving Hageman’s music a spot in the limelight – he founded the Richard Hagerman Society and he’s been recording the music,” Stagg says. 

“His music speaks to me,” she says. “He hit the honey spot for the soprano voice,”

Together they have released an album with Aliud Records, Voices: Songs by Richard Hageman. The concert will pretty well follow the CD, with De Villiers, the expert, speaking a little to explain. 

“There are a couple of famous songs on the album, like Do Not Go My Love, which we will perform in Canberra.” 

After opening in Canberra, they travel on to Hobart, the Ukaria cultural Centre in SA, the Mildura Arts Centre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre and four performances of different works at Southbank in Melbourne.

Echoed Voices, Siobhan Stagg and Nico de Villiers in recital, Albert Hall, July 19.

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Helen Musa

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