The first time it was my pleasure to see and hear the lovely soprano Jessica Pratt sing in the flesh, so to speak, was at the Australian Opera Foundation finals for the Metropolitan Award in 2005.
She truly wowed the audience with her superb and very thrilling rendition of the aria from the famous ‘mad scene’ from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor.
Jessica, despite having won the Australian Singing Award’s Marianne Mathy Scholarship in 2003, still wasn’t quite ready to fly. She didn’t win the award, despite also having tried twice before.
However the promise and extraordinary talent she exuded from every pore and passionate fibre of her being, was obvious to everyone present. She was blessed with great talent in abundance.
Not winning would have been most difficult for her at that time. And we all felt deeply for her disappointment.
British born Jessica came to Australia with her family in 1991 and she worked hard, making it into the final 40 out of 2000 selected for a place in the 2000 finals of Placido Domingo’s competition Operalia at Paris. No mean feat. The story attached is worthy of a script!
She won scholarships to study internationally and has attended masterclasses with many of the great teachers, including attending a course at the Bel Canto (beautiful singing) School at Florence.
However, it is all about ‘making haste slowly’, especially if you don’t want to overwork a young amazing voice and risk damaging it permanently.
It can also mean losing when you want to win so badly and, it can indeed be a bitter pill hard to swallow.
Opera singers who want to perform on the world stage do need to have a lot of stamina and courage as well as patience when they are young, which often is an impossible ask.
Jessica Pratt’s brilliance on that day in 2005 was undeniable.
I know my esteemed opera-loving colleague and connoisseur Mr V sitting next to me, who was barracking for her to win most ardently, was more than disappointed she didn’t.
At the time the winner soprano Jocelyn Hickey, was for the judges the whole package, well rounded out in mind, body, presentation and determination plus, a beautiful voice.
Gone are the days when an opera singer only had to have ‘a voice’.
Today they also need to prove they are fit, that they honour their mind, music and body by keeping it and themselves in good health, ready to take on every challenge life throws at them.
Coming second is sometimes not a bad thing, it means the spotlight is off, people’s expectations are less and when they are later taken by surprise, their support more enduring.,
Sometimes it is those very knock backs that toughen up the best of the best of candidates, especially if they want to succeed on the world stage far away from supportive family and friends.
If they are switched on it will help them to confirm their own commitment to their discipline; their desire to succeed and will allow them patience and the time to ‘listen’. Then they can best plan how to establish an ongoing, rewarding and enriching long term career in the discipline of music they so love.
They will also testify despite all the glittering costumes, sets and co-stars it’s never a glamour ride, but one of hard work, personal sacrifices and very long hours.
Some make it; some don’t and as our world grows more and more competitive the platform we are all operating on becomes larger and larger and the opportunities smaller and smaller.
When they do appear we have to recognise them, be brave, step forward, take risks and go for it.
Travelling to Europe in 2007 Jessica Pratt made her impressive debut in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor to great acclaim.
She has been working on the northern hemisphere opera circuit scene ever since.
The New York Times described her as a soprano of “…gleaming sound, free and easy high notes, agile coloratura runs and lyrical grace,”… and today she has become one of today’s foremost interpreters of some of bel canto’s most challenging repertoire
European audiences are well versed in the music and traditions of serious and comedic opera. It is the very real place Australian singers must be if they are to hope for a good career, to make a name for themselves and to be a success.
European audiences love opera, because in the main, the truly great works composed from the late 17th to the early 20th centuries are all about their stories of love, life, social and cultural development.
We have slowly learned to appreciate them in Australia because so many of our people are descendants of European immigrants.
The chords still resonate long and loud, while the songs remain a treasured aspect of a collective cultural heritage.
Jessica Pratt gave her acclaimed debuts internationally in 2007. She appeared in the Verdi Festival at Parma as Gilda alongside Leo Nucci’s Rigoletto.
She then sang at the Deutsche Opera Berlin as Lucia, and at the Vienna Opera in their New Year’s Concert.
It has been pleasing to watch, wait and witness how the lovely Jessica Pratt has gone from strength to strength. She has certainly had incredibly busy seasons since 2011.
In 2014 Jessica Pratt will perform in all new productions of Lucia di Lammermoor at La Scala in Milan, as well as Amsterdam and as Violetta in La Traviata at Melbourne she should enjoy great success.
What a triumph it promises to be and such wonderful news for all Jessica Pratt fans; Mr. V, do hope you are able to catch up with your successful ‘Lucia’.
I am sure you will be sitting in the front row cheering and I do hope I am nearby!
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2013 – 2014
Publisher’s Note 2014:
On Saturday 17th May, 2014 internationally acclaimed Australian born soprano Jessica Pratt made her Australian debut singing the title role of Violetta in Italian Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) La Traviata for Victorian Opera, no doubt enjoying her own Pretty Woman moment from a very different perspective, the stage.
She has had rave reviews and Australia has now re-discovered a star who has fulfilled her promise.
17 May – 29 May
Her Majesty’s Theatre
Performed in Italian with Surtitles
Conductor Richard Mills
Director & Lighting Designer
Set Designer Josef Svoboda
Costume Designer Giancarlo Colis
Set Designer for New Adaptation Benito Leonori
Assistant Director/Choreographer Valentina Escobar
Violetta Vale Jessica Pratt
Alfredo Germont Alessandro Scotto di Luzio Giorgi Germont Jose Carbo
Flora Bervoix Dimity Shepherd
Gastone de Letorieres Carlos E. Barcenas Baron Douphol Nathan Lay
Marchese d’Obigny Jeremy Kleeman Doctor Grenvil Jerzy Kozlowski