Approaching Lucia

18 Mar 2016

While preparing for La traviata in 2014, Jessica Pratt heard a voice filling Victorian Opera’s rehearsal hall – the rich sound of a captivating tenor – she instantly approached him.

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Carlos Bárcenas and Jessica Pratt star in Victorian Opera's 2014 production of La traviata. Credit: Jeff Busby

Singing Alfredo as the understudy in the production, the tenor was Carlos Bárcenas, Columbian-born former Marine Biologist and then a recent graduate of Victorian Opera’s Master of Music (Opera Performance) program at The University of Melbourne.

“When I heard him singing in La traviata about three years ago, I was really impressed. He was covering the role of Alfredo, and I asked if he could sing bel canto repertoire and he sang some really impressive high notes. I was wowed! We don’t really get people with natural voices like that anymore,” says Jessica.

The soprano leads a remarkably busy schedule performing in operas across Europe and increasingly the United States. On occasion, she may teach one or maximum two students and share the knowledge she gained from her many coaches including Renata Scotto. She spotted a potential in Carlos and invited him to be her student.

In 2015, the pair worked together again on Victorian Opera’s concert staging of I Puritani and now they’re rehearsing opposite each other in the company’s production of Donizetti’s masterpiece, Lucia di Lammermoor. A major debut for Carlos and his first significant leading role with Jessica, the world’s leading Lucia. She has appeared in 20 productions and is only the third Australian after Dame Nellie Melba and Dame Joan Sutherland to have sung the role at La Scala in Milan.

On his debut as her lover Edgardo, Pratt notes: “This is the perfect environment for someone debuting a role, especially when Carlos has such a good relationship with everyone here. He came to Italy to study with me, practice his Italian and work through the music.”

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Recently nominated for Best Male in a Supporting Role at the 2015 Green Room Awards for his performance in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman for Victorian Opera, Bárcenas has felt incredibly supported in taking this next step. “Jessica has been extremely generous in so many ways and has shared her knowledge and experience; she’s been a real good friend. She works on detail and I think I have made a lot of changes because of that. She has opened a whole new way of singing for me,” says Carlos.

Despite having defined her career performing this role, Jessica is still learning about the character and teaching Carlos has given her new insights as well. “The fantastic thing about working with another singer such as Carlos is that I’m re-learning the role myself. I am more aware of technique and language. It is very healthy I think; it provides a new energy, a new impetus.”

At 6.4, the tenor's height is something that Jessica isn't necessarily used to. “With Carlos, he’s really tall. I said to him on the very first day of rehearsals, I don’t know what to do! I’m used to performing the role kneeling down because most of the tenors are a bit shorter than me. It’s the first time I’ve actually sung with a tenor so tall!”

Pratt will finally be able to share her mesmerising performance in the country where she was raised. “It’s very exciting. I always wanted to sing Lucia in Australia; it’s the role I sing the most around the rest of the world. I’ve sung it at La Scala, I’ve sung it in Zurich in Amsterdam and all over Italy. It was very exciting to sing I Puritani in concert here last year but to be able to do Luciaon stage and with such a beautiful set as well. It’s really an incredible production and my Mum can now bring her friends!” 

Lucia di Lammermoor was performed at Her Majesty's Theatre as part of Victorian Opera's Season 2016.