“You’re surrounded by the most delicious smells of food, it’s torturous in a way!” laughs soprano Taryn Fiebig as she describes what it’s like to take part in Melbourne’s Opera in the Market concert. A cherished annual event, it sees the Queen Victoria Market’s K Shed transformed into a cosy concert venue, with plenty of food and wine on hand to satisfy the pickiest gourmand.
Taryn Fiebig. Photo supplied
By Fiebig’s reckoning, ten years have elapsed since her last appearance in the market. She’s thrilled to be returning for its 21st year, and astonished that a decade has seemingly passed her by. “So much has happened between then and now, but it’s that weird thing where it feels like it was both yesterday and such a long time ago. In that time I moved from Western Australia to the east, started my career, and now I’ve had so many wonderful roles and opportunities. It’ll good to meet up with fantastic colleagues that I’ve grown to love and know.”
Fiebig’s co-stars for the evening are mezzo-soprano Milijana Nikolic, tenor Rosario La Spina and bass-baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes, coming together to perform arias and duets by Saint-Saëns, Puccini, Donizetti, Mozart, Rossini and Bizet. They’ll be joined by young singers from the Opera Scholars Australia professional development program, which receives part of the proceeds from the event, a 70-strong chorus and Symphony Australis, with conductor Guy noble at the podium.
Fiebig is particularly passionate about sharing the stage with the Opera Scholars, emphasising the necessity of performance experience in a young singer’s development. “For me, I learnt everything on stage. Everything. What I can do, what I can’t do, what needs more work, what happens when you’re under pressure, and that can only be found out during performance. You really do just need more time on the boards.”
Her insistence on stagecraft seems inherent to who she is as a singer, and indeed she’s offered to do masterclasses with the Opera Scholars to hone their performance skills. In fact, Fiebig says she places equal importance on acting and singing when it comes to opera. “There are many people who would disagree with me, they would probably say maybe 75 percent of what we do is all about the singing, but for me it’s really 50/50 because I have to believe it. You could sing like Callas and I still wouldn’t buy it if there was no stagecraft!”
She’s looking forward to seeing how the young singers perform on the night, particularly around her established colleagues. “In my experience when you’re around someone who is a better singer than you are, your bar goes up and you rise to the occasion. You can see that in kids. Once they’re on stage they’re filled with that excitement of being close to the lights and the orchestra and the conductor, and it’s great that this concert is helping them become seasoned performers.”
Fiebig herself will be revisiting some favourites onstage, reprising her winning Zerlina opposite the Don Giovanni of Teddy Tahu Rhodes in Là ci darem la mano. She’ll also join Rosario La Spina for O Soave Fanciulla and offer up Rusalka’s Song to the Moon.
For Fiebig, perhaps the most rewarding aspect of these kinds of unique concerts is being able to touch the audience, many of whom are only glancingly familiar with opera. She laughs and says, “we’re presenting the best of the best. They don’t have to sit through three hours to get their favourite British Airways duet!”
More seriously, she says that getting a first taste of opera through live performance is unbeatable. “I don’t care what anybody says. It is always better than listening to a recording because I think it’s more effective and I think if you can grow their love of opera by giving them the best experience, then they might go and fully immerse themselves in a whole production at the Opera House.”
“And also they’re really enthused and affected by music, I’ve found. I had one woman come up to me who had been given a free ticket, and she said ‘I would never have come to this!’ and she was streaming with tears she was so moved by the experience. And I thought, how gorgeous is that, that someone has been so moved by something they didn’t even really know was there.”
“And I totally understand their reaction. I’m so moved by music and by people’s performances, so I love that now they’ve got the bug too. The only difference is that I do it for a living!”
Opera in the Market is at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market on March 4