Rising stars of Australian classical music and opera will be showcased in a series of concerts presented by the Sydney Opera House, the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) and Pacific Opera.

From April to December 2017, up-and-coming young artists from ANAM and Pacific Opera will perform in the intimate surrounds of SOH’s Utzon Room alongside international musicians and mentors.

Pacific Opera launches the series on Sunday April 9 with an afternoon recital called 24 American Songs and Arias. It features music by Barber, Bernstein, Copland, Previn, Rorem, Sondheim and Weill as well as the Australian premiere of Race for the Sky, a cycle of three songs for voice, violin and piano written by Richard Pearson Thomas in 2002 in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Race for the Sky will be performed by young soprano Laura Scandizzo, with Lucy Warren on violin and Pacific Opera Artistic Director Simon Kenway on piano. Limelight spoke to Laura Scandizzo about the concert.

Laura Scandizzo. Photo: supplied

It must be exciting to perform the Australian premiere of Race for the Sky. Did you know the piece before you began preparing for this concert?

I am delighted to be performing this piece as I first came across it eight years ago and I’ve been longing to have the chance to perform it again. I was given a portion of it to perform by a former teacher of mine, Dale Morehouse, for the Orvieto Musica Art Song Festival in Orvieto, Italy.

Could you tell us a bit about the work?

The piece was commissioned by a soprano, Lisa Radakovich Holsberg, after she attended an exhibit in 2002 of poems and letters collected from the streets of New York in the days following the September 11 attacks. The exhibit was thanks to the New York Historical Society and it was called Missing: Streetscape of a City in Mourning.

The first song is entitled To the Towers Themselves and it was an anonymous poem written on a scrap of paper. The second song, entitled How My Life Has Changed, was written by Hilary North. She was delayed by polling in Brooklyn and apparently lost all her co-workers as their office was located in the South Tower. The title of the third song is don’t look for me anymore and the text is a poem written by a poet named Alicia Vasquez, who left her offering on the Grand Central Station’s Wailing Wall. These texts and the music by Richard Pearson Thomas have come together to create a work of extreme poignancy and I feel blessed to have the honour of performing a piece that has become very dear to me.

What are the main challenges/joys that it presents to a singer?

The entire piece is not an easy one and each song presents its own challenges. The second song is musically the most challenging while the final selection, though simpler, is by far the most difficult to get through emotionally.

How moving is it to sing the cycle?

I am always incredibly moved by it, I think that’s why I love it so much. The final song, don’t look for me anymore, is written from the perspective of someone who has been lost in the wreckage of the towers and is directed towards the rescuers and emergency responders who searched for so long to find survivors or remains. It’s almost a lullaby and its words of comfort and the request to look after the families left behind always bring me to the brink of tears because it’s exactly what I would wish if I had to leave my own husband and children.

Are you singing any of the other repertoire in the concert?

I am also singing an aria from [the opera] A Streetcar Named Desire by André Previn called I can Smell the Sea Air. Again, it’s a moving song that comes after Blanche has lost her mind and is about to be taken to an asylum. We are also performing a few ensemble pieces which are beautifully written.

Where were you born?

I’m originally from Arlington, Texas, a city that is a part of the metroplex formed by its close proximity to Dallas, TX to the east and Fort Worth, TX to the west. I came to Australia over 10 years ago to settle with my husband Richard, from Concord, NSW, and our two daughters, Chloe and Vivian.

When did you first become involved with Pacific Opera?

I accepted a position as an Adjunct Artist with Pacific Opera in 2016 and was pleased to take part in every workshop and concert they offered. I’m thrilled to have accepted a Young Artist position for 2017 and I look forward to all that they have planned for us this year.

What does the Pacific Opera Young Artist Programme offer, and how are you finding it?

The programme so far has already been full to bursting with workshops on fundamental skills like how to do stage make-up and hair, as well as business and marketing workshops. We have also been working on stagecraft and ensemble singing. As a singer in Sydney, it’s almost always easier to find opportunities to perform solo, so the chance to work on quintets or quartets for example, is invaluable. I find that so many times singers are caught up in being the best solo singer they can be and almost forget that the ensemble moments of an opera are often more important than the arias because they drive the plot forward. Pacific Opera is working for helping emerging artists become ready to handle the rigours of the reality of professional performing. Personally, I have found that being willing to take their advice and instruction has helped me to adjust to moving into work with the chorus at Opera Australia.

What was it like to sing with the OA chorus in King Roger recently?

Singing at the Sydney Opera House in King Roger was the fulfilment of a dream that I’ve had since I was a child. The opera was challenging, my first time singing in Polish, and the music was unique and notable for some exquisitely beautiful moments.

I believe you are currently singing in the chorus for Carmen – Opera on Sydney Harbour. How is that? 

Carmen has been an endurance event! The show is very physical and the challenges of performing outdoors on a stage on the Harbour are intense. It’s very hard work, and the schedule is extensive, plus it’s late by the time I get home, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Being an opera singer is not an easy job to aspire to, it’s rigorous and it demands a high level of preparation, dedication, and self-discipline. I adore it though and I am thankful for every night that I have spent singing in the rain and I hope that I will have many more nights of such thrilling work.

Can you tell us what else you have planned for the rest of this year?

I will be performing the Poulenc Gloria with the Willoughby Symphony in the final weekend of April and that will be followed by a Mother’s Day concert put on by Pacific Opera at the Independent Theatre. In June, I’ll be heading to Bulgaria to take part in the Varna International Opera Academy’s production of Don Giovanni in which I will be performing the role of Donna Anna. I also must mention that I have the most wonderful colleagues from the chorus and friends from Pacific Opera, as many of them contributed recently to helping me make a payment for the programme. I can’t begin to thank them enough and it just goes to show that there is a culture of giving and support.

Finally, how would you like to see the next few years develop for you? 

Not so long ago I wasn’t certain I’d even get as far as I have now so I have no specific goals for the next few years. I fully intend to enjoy each experience that comes my way and I look forward to seeing where they lead.

Pacific Opera performs 24 American Songs and Arias plays at the Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House