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, 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
KEY INFO FOR OPERA AUSTRALIA’S LA TRAVIATA
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 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 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?