Opera Australia’s La Traviata takes you to Paris

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Mezzo-soprano Celeste Haworth is currently playing Flora Bervoix in the Opera Australia’s La Traviata. The show is currently showing in Melbourne and will have a Sydney season later in the year. We had a chat to Celeste about the role, the show and her career.

Celeste Haworth Opera Australia's La Traviata

Celeste, you’ve reprised your role of Flora in La Traviata which is currently being performed in Melbourne. Please tell us a little about your role and the opera La Traviata.

Flora Bervoix is a courtesan in the glittering party world of Paris in the mid-1800s.


She would have been intelligent and skilled, having to converse with intellectuals, composers, artists and aristocracy of the day with charm and flair. Dumas and Liszt were a part of this social set in real life, as an example.


Opera Australia's La Traviata
Stacey Alleaume in the role of Violetta – Image: Jeff Busby


However, above all else, she is the friend and rival of Violetta, the widely viewed best courtesan in all of Paris, played stunningly by Stacey Alleaume.


How does this performance differ from the Sydney Harbour performance of La Traviata which you also performed for Opera Australia last year?

The difference in the two productions is enormous! Opera Australia’s Handa on the Harbour was a massive spectacle, and a true privilege to be a part of something on that scale. Outdoors, floating on Sydney Harbour with the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House glittering behind you as a backdrop, I had to pinch myself several times. The entire surroundings become part of the atmosphere of the opera, an extraordinary feeling for the audience and everyone on stage.


In our current Opera Australia production for Sydney and Melbourne, it is far more intimate and beautifully so: sumptuous and luxurious, a perfectly framed picture for the audience in every scene of late 19th century life, presented so artistically in this world of courtesans and Parisian glamour. It is actually one of the most gorgeous productions I have ever worked on.


Whilst Flora doesn’t have her dancers and whip in this production that she had on the harbour, the emotional intent is still the same: a party girl, with a friendly but real rivalry with the best courtesan in Paris, Violetta. It’s so much more interesting for me to bring out this rivalry colour in their relationship, as it creates dramatically more dimension.


What are the challenges in performing an opera outdoors such as last year’s Sydney Harbour performance?

The weather! The first two weeks we rehearsed it poured with rain, so much so that crew were using giant brooms to move water off the stage and into the harbour. Mercifully the performances were mostly all dry, but the experience brought us closer together, and made for some treasured memories.

La Traviata Celeste Haworth
Image: Prudence Upton

In addition, after COVID we were all so determined to bring the show to an audience, and they were just as keen to see the outdoor spectacular that a little rain bothered no one- even the dancers with their swooshing capes looked jaw dropping in the rain under the stage lights, it added such an extra dimension.


The Melbourne production will head to Sydney in July and you will reprise the role in October and November. What plans do you have between Melbourne and Sydney?

I will be busy singing, and happily so!


I am engaged to continue throughout the year with Opera Australia which is an absolute dream and joy.


Upcoming concerts include singing as the mezzo soloist in Mendelssohn’s Elijah for the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra, and arias at a gala evening for More Than Opera.


You’ve performed in Germany (with one year almost entirely at the Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden in 2016), and Singapore among others. What’s been your career highlight so far?

I have several! The biggest has to be being contracted as an artist  to Opera Australia.


The standard, creativity and artistry of performances is just mind blowing, we are at the highest international level, and to have such huge stars – singers, conductors – come to Opera Australia is a testament to that calibre. Add the fact that it’s my home country of Australia – it’s just a dream come true.


Another highlight was when the Staatstheater in Wiesbaden asked me to stay for longer than a year! I was told very firmly when I won the contract through the German Australia Opera Grant, that it would only last a year. I loved every second and did my best to represent myself, the grant and Australia well – and so I was thrilled to be asked to continue on.


Singapore as you mentioned was another highlight – singing with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra as a soloist for the Brückner Mass No.3. The only trouble was I had caught a bad cold on the plane ride over – but the show must go on, and it did!


It was a concert where the atmosphere was very special, as it was the conductor Maestro Lim Yao’s retirement concert.

Image: Jeff Busby

Do you have a favourite place to perform? Do you have a dream place to perform?

My favourite has to be under the big white sails that is the Sydney Opera House. Such an iconic building that has been a part of my dreams for a long time. I made my debut there for Opera Australia in 2018, singing arias and duets for the Great Opera Hits concert series. I still remember it vividly – the lights, the first time stepping out onto those famous floorboards, it was wonderful.


My dream place would be in Paris of course! Opera Bastille and Palais Garnier.


What’s your favourite opera to watch/listen to?

I am exploring more dramatic repertoire, so I have been listening a lot to bigger operas, but anything lush and romantic are my favourites. French composers always wrote so beautifully for mezzo in both opera and art song.


What’s your favourite opera to perform?

I’m just loving Flora, but another favourite I would love to sing is Charlotte in Werther, by Massenet. Naturally the French opera, Carmen, by Bizet is a great deal of fun!

La Traviata de l'Opera Australia
Image: Jeff Busby

How long have you been singing? What made you choose it as a career?

You couldn’t stop me singing as a child – from classic old Hollywood musicals to Disney movies, I was always singing. Then a classically trained singing teacher came to my high school. I started taking lessons, and that’s as the direction my voice began to take. I then saw my first opera which was Baz Luhrmann’s adaption of  La Bohème at the Sydney Opera House, and a couple of years later desperately wanted to get into the Sydney Conservatorium. I did, and have never looked back!


Do you come from a musical family? Who are your musical muses?

My paternal Grandmother could sing, although she never chose a career, but she and I were very close and shared a love of music. My parents don’t possess any musical talents as such, but there was always music playing in the house. A vast vinyl record collection of jazz, classical, pop, blues – that was the soundtrack to my childhood.


My parents were so supportive and encouraging despite opera being relatively new to them – they are now aficionados! They are my biggest champions, and I could not have done this career without that unwavering support.


My musical muses are constantly evolving, but Christa Ludwig is a mezzo idol of mine: she sang so many roles of verging mezzo fachs, and all with beauty of tone, clarity and excellent technique.


Do you have a preferred language to sing in? What are the challenges singing in languages that you don’t speak? Do you speak any other languages?

Each language has it’s advantages when singing – it always makes so much sense musically to sing in the language the opera was intended to be sung in. The composer writes music to support and enhance the language and the meaning of the text.


I lived in Austria and Germany for several years, so German is my best, although I studied French for my HSC and continued on studying for my career, as I have a great love of French music and art song.


I used France as a base to audition when I first moved to Europe – it holds a very special place in my heart. I stayed sometimes in Paris, but mostly in a gorgeous French village just outside the capital, called L’étang La Ville, and I just loved it.


I spent a few glorious weeks in Florence studying Italian intensively one-on-one as part of a scholarship I won, and singing in all of these languages keeps that knowledge turning.

Opera Australia's La Traviata de l'Opera Australia
Image: Jeff Busby

It’s said that the film Moulin Rouge was inspired by La Traviata. Can you see similarities?

I can indeed – aside from the very similar storyline and setting, it’s theme of this true love romance found in the glittering underworld of Paris is something that captures one’s heart if it’s in Moulin Rouge, or La Traviata!


Who is the opera La Traviata for?

Absolutely everyone. It is one of those operas, that is a perfect introduction for someone who has never been to an opera, but has such pathos, charm and beauty to someone who may have seen it countless times!


Be it a perfect date night, a special outing or something to glamourise a Tuesday evening, you can’t help but be transported with such incredible music and passion.


Anything else you wish to add?

Vive la belle France!



WHAT: Opera Australia’s performance of Verdi’s La Traviata

WHERE: Arts Centre Melbourne

WHEN: Only two shows left in Melbourne: Thursday 26 May 7:30 PM and Saturday 28 May 12:30 PM

HOW: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2022/seasons/oa/la-traviata

HOW MUCH: From $75 to $289 for adult tickets. There are reduced prices for concession card holders and children.

WHERE: Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

WHEN: 5, 8, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 23, 27, 29 July AND 22, 26, 28, 31 October AND 2 and 4 November

(Celeste will reprise the role of Flora in the October-November performances.)

HOW: https://opera.org.au/productions/la-traviata-sydney/

HOW MUCH: From $48 for F Reserve to $335 to Premium Reserve. There are reduced prices for concession card holders and children.


Will you see Opera Australia’s La Traviata?



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Soprano Cathy-Di Zhang stars in State Opera South Australia production Bohème on the Beach this weekend

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Soprano Cathy-Di Zhang is starring in Bohème on the Beach, a State Opera South Australia production coming to Glenelg beach for one night only, this weekend. We told you about this production a few months ago (read our earlier article about it here). Cathy-Di Zhang chats to us about the State Opera South Australia production of Bohème on the Beach.

State Opera South Australia

Bohème on the Beach is a one-off beachside State Opera South Australia performance of La Bohème, an Italian language opera set in France. Tell us a little about what audiences can expect from Bohème on the Beach next weekend.

Audiences can expect the full opera experience, but at the beach! It is a perfect opera for opera lovers and newcomers alike. We just started rehearsals and this production by the wonderful Stuart Maunder is full of life, joy and of course, love. Be prepared to laugh and cry! Simon Bruckard, incredibly talented young conductor and composer, will lead the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.


You’re in the role of Mimi in State Opera South Australia’s Bohème on the Beach. Can you tell us a little about this role?

Mimi is a young seamstress who, one magical night on Christmas Eve, meets and falls in love with her neighbour, the poor but passionate poet, Rodolfo. However, their love is complicated and Mimi is tragically ill, but this is a love story till the very end. The score is gorgeously lush and lively but it will also break you heart at the end.


Also, you played the same role in La Bohème for Opera @Stone in Berlin. How does this production differ to the Berlin production you starred in?

That production was also not in a theatre, but in a brewery! It is always a pleasure to revisit a role and to discover new things, in a new production and with new people. I’ve also never sung an opera on a beach before!


How does performing an opera outdoors, such as State Opera South Australia’s Bohème on the Beach, differ to performing in a theatre? Do you have to perform differently?

Of course, there are more challenges to performing outdoors. We are at the mercy of the elements, rain, wind, temperature, noise and so on. I remember doing an outdoor concert in a beautiful part of regional Tuscany in Summer but you couldn’t hear a thing because of the thousands of deafening crickets! We will also be mic’d of course, which is probably the biggest difference. With a mic, it allows you to do more things in a way, as you know you will always be heard, so you can experiment with vocal colours and singing very softly, but at the same time, you don’t have an acoustic to work with. Indoors, every theatre will have its own unique acoustic, which gives a certain character to the sound.

Cathy Di-Zhang
A previous outdoor performance ©uwehauth

When did you first know that you wanted to be a singer, or more specifically a soprano? What drew you to opera?

I always loved to sing, since childhood, but I never really thought about it as a career until later. I sang for myself mostly then, and I sang pop, musicals or church music, not opera. In high school, I enrolled in singing lessons after school and it just so happened that the singing tutor was an opera singer. Though we sang many other genres, she taught classical technique and she was the one who told me my voice was more suited to classical and opera. I have to say I wasn’t sure at first, but she slowly and gradually convinced me over the years to give it a go. I was sold when she took me to see my first ever opera at the Sydney Opera House when I was 20. I was stunned. I was so moved by the storytelling, the sheer power of the voice and orchestra together and also so entertained by all that was going on onstage! She told me early on that I was a lyric soprano, and she was right!


Do you come from a musical family?

Not at all! My dad was in business and my mum is an accountant.


Even though you have a long list of singing credits, you also hold a Bachelor of Commerce from UNSW. Have you ever practiced commerce, finance or accounting? Or is it a fall-back degree?

Well, I didn’t come from a musical family, and although I enjoyed singing and thought about pursuing studies in music, my parents were hesitant and encouraged me to complete a “proper” degree first. During uni, I worked as an intern at Deloitte as an auditor for the financial services sector, where I was then offered a graduate position, and I was also singing as a young artist for Pacific Opera at the same time. I realised singing was my true passion and therefore started my official training in postgraduate studies in London.


As my website is about all things French and francophone in Australia, I noted with particular interest that you undertook the Mozart Residency at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Could you please tell us a bit about this residency and your time in Aix. Also, did you need to speak French to undertake studies there?

The Mozart Residency was one of the best experiences for me as a student singer. It was in 2013, and I had auditioned in London and then in Paris. They chose 12 singers from all over the world for a 2 week intensive at the Festival studying alongside the best, watching the best and working on all Mozart repertoire! Being one of the best Opera Festivals in the world, it is truly an international scene so it was all in English (but of course most people there could speak many languages). It was wonderful to be immersed in the French culture. Aix is one of my favourite places in the world. I returned in 2019, singing in their new production of Weill’s Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny and spent the best month there! It has to be my favourite Summer Festival.


Cathy Di-Zhang
Cathy-Di Zhang at Solti Accademia at the Verbier Festival, Switzerland

Similarly, you’ve trained at the Verbier Academy in French-speaking Switzerland. Could you tell us a little about that training?

Yes, that was the year after in Summer 2014. I first completed the Solti Accademia in Italy and then we all went on to the Verbier Academy for more masterclasses and a concert. Again, all the best young talent were there studying, and the biggest names were there performing. I saw the most incredible performance of Berlioz: Le Damnation de Faust there. Verbier was completely different to Aix, but beautiful nonetheless, I was mesmerised by the snowcapped mountains. I hadn’t seen anything like that before then!


Last year you sang in two French language operas in Opera Australia’s Carmen and Pinchgut Opera’s Platée. Do you have a preferred language to sing in?

Yes, I did an entire national tour of Carmen for 4.5 months! It is definitely one of my most favourite operas, just so much fun to perform! I first sang in the chorus of Carmen at Glyndebourne as a student in London so I know it quite well! Platée, on the other hand, had never previously been performed here in Australia so it was such an incredible experience bringing that to life. It was a crazy French comedy and one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever done! I definitely prefer singing in French and Italian. The first concert I did coming out of COVID was a French chanson and Piaf concert for the Castlemaine Festival in Victoria, as that was what I was mostly singing for myself at home during lockdown! I love the sensuality of the French language.

Pinchgut Opera’s Platée
Photo: Brett Boardman


You’ll also be returning to Sydney’s City Recital Hall for Pinchgut Opera’s performances of French librettist Charpentier’s Médée. Tell us a little about this role?

Again, this will be an Australian first and I’m really looking forward to it. The mythological tale of the sorceress Medea is so perfect for a grand operatic tragedy and Charpentier’s five-act work is a true masterpiece. It is full of fierce characters, and is incredibly demanding musically and dramatically. I will be singing Princess Créuse, the role of the “other” woman. When Médée discovers her lover’s betrayal, she murders Créuse, and her own two children. It is going to be epic.


Other francophone places you’ve performed in include Nice (Nella for Les Azuriales Opera) and as a soloist in concerts with Ayrton Desimpelaere and the Orchestra of the Opéra de Liége – Wallonie, with Arie van Beek and the Orchestre de Chambre de Genève and with Marius Stieghorst and the Orchestre Symphonique dOrléans. Tell us a little about these experiences.

Singing in Geneva was definitely a highlight. We did an all Mozart programme at the beautiful Victoria Hall. I just stood on that stage, looked around taking in its beauty and almost forgot to open my mouth to sing! In my early days as a young singer studying in London, one of my sponsors and supporters was (the late) Jacques Dessange and his wife Sally. They loved music and I would often go to Paris or their country home with other young musicians and we would play chamber music and soirées for them, their friends and family and guests. They organised the concert I did with Marius for the Rencontres Musicales de Chaon Festival. Singing Nella in Gianni Schicchi was also memorable as we performed in the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Nice, an idyllic location. It was my second Schicchi, and in a different role, the first being Lauretta. With the Orchestra of the Opéra de Liége – Wallonie, I did two concerts in Belgium, in Namur and Brussels, as part of winning a competition there. I sang arias from bohème and Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette!


You’ve also won prizes in France and in French-speaking Belgium: 2019 Grand Prix in the Concours International dArt Lyrique de Namur”; and the 2016 Audience Prize in the Les Azuriales International Singing Competition. How did your entry in these competitions come about?

Competitions and auditions are often a very important part of every young singer’s journey. They can be terrifying and seemingly torturous experiences but they really help you build nerve, teach you about dealing with and performing under pressure, and it’s a good opportunity to sing for industry figures. So I did many competitions in my student days anywhere and everywhere! I had a great experience in Namur, Belgium. I stayed with a host family there, and I still keep in touch with them till this day. They spoke very little English, so I learnt some French whilst I was there and of course, winning was a great outcome! As I progressed through the different rounds I think my host family were more nervous than I was about it all! The Les Azuriales Competition was in Nice, and the beautiful location actually took the stress out of the competition! Maybe that’s why I won the audience vote, as I was just so happy and relaxed to be there!


What’s been your career highlight so far?

Probably my last production, Platée. It was the most challenging role I’ve performed to date and it was in a completely new style for me (French baroque). But I completely fell in love with the music and we had a luxurious 6 weeks to work with the brilliant Neil Armfield and create the madness that was the show!

Cathy Di-Zhang
Image: Diana Domonkos

What sort of training do you do in the lead-up to a performance? Do you have a pre-performance ritual?

Obviously, the preparation starts a long way in advance! All the practise and vocal and musical preparation is all done before the first day of rehearsals. On a show day, I don’t have any particular rituals as I want to reduce stress as much as possible. I try to have a good long sleep the night before, and have a quiet day to conserve voice and energy. I like to revise the score and the production in my head so I feel as prepared as possible and maybe I’ll do some gentle stretching/yoga so I’m feeling physically relaxed and ready for the night ahead. A little meditation or breathing exercises to calm the nerves. I normally don’t have a heavy meal beforehand, just something light but filling, but I always go through a fair amount of sugary treats!


Who is the State Opera South Australia production Bohème on the beach best suited to?

Everyone really! La Bohème is a favourite for seasoned opera fans as well as a perfect introduction to first-time opera goers. It is such a great tragic love story that everyone can relate to and Puccini’s music alone will break your heart!


Why should people come to see State Opera South Australia’s production of Bohème on the beach?

Glenelg is such a stunning location, and with the water and the sunset, it will be an evocative backdrop for getting lost in 1930s Parisian bohemian life. There will also be giant screens capturing all the action so everyone will have a great view. Fireworks, a fantastic cast, full chorus and children’s chorus, all accompanied by the brilliant Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Definitely a unique night out to remember!


Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for having me!

We thank Cathy-Di Zhang for this interview.


WHAT: Bohème on the Beach by State Opera South Australia

WHERE: Glenelg Beach

WHEN: 26 March 2022

HOW MUCH: Ticket prices start at $30 for general admission tickets and go up to $160 for Premium tickets. Children under 16 years of age enter free.

Premium; $160;

A Reserve; $130;

B Reserve: $100;

C Reserve: $60,

Under 30s: $30, and

Children under 16: FREE

Corporate and Platinum packages are available via State Opera Suth Australia

HOW: Buy tickets via this link:


DURATION: 2h 30m (including 15 min interval)

Have you ever attended an outdoors opera performance before? Have you seen previous productions by State Opera South Australia?


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