Somehow opera at the WACA seems more than a little incongruous.
Surely not! Arias on the hallowed turf where the likes of Dennis Lillee hurled down cricket balls to the waiting gloves of the late, great Rod Marsh?
But it is true, instead of shouts of ‘howzat?’ the WACA is set to become a more genteel stage for the WA Opera Company’s performance of Carmen.
Taking centre stage will be WA-born, internationally trained and recognised soprano Ashlyn Tymms, who freely admits she would barely recognise one end of a cricket bat from the other.
While Ashlyn isn’t a huge cricket fan, she is very much looking forward to hitting her audience for a six from the middle of the WACA in February.
The first time she visited the ground was for the filming of the advertisement promoting Carmen.
“It’s a beautiful ground, and I’m so excited to be performing at such an iconic West Australian venue,” she says.
Carmen will be set on a huge stage, with everything on a grand scale.
The outdoor venue does mean that the performers will have to contend with factors outside their control, including the weather.
“Perth is known to be hot, dry, and windy. Also, we are using microphones, so sound wise I won’t have the back of a hall to give me anything back. I just need to sing how I sing and trust it is all working out front with the fabulous sound technicians.”
This will not be Ashlyn’s first performance at an outdoor venue.
“I have done a lot of outdoor performances and I absolutely love the relaxed atmosphere.
“Recently I sang with Queensland Opera regionally in Longreach. We were in the middle of a paddock putting on a beautiful opera gala and when the sun set and the lights shone bright, we had huge bugs flying into our faces while trying to sing some pretty serious operatic songs. It was quite funny. I won’t forget that concert!”
This is Ashlyn’s first time in the title role of Carmen and she says it is a role she is particularly attracted to.
“Carmen has been the goal for me for roughly 10 years or more. As a mezzo soprano, it is our quintessential role. I love her character, her Spanish fire and her feminine beauty. The music is full of drama, honesty and lilting melodies. I love singing Carmen, the playfulness and seduction, the aggression and the pain.
“Success in the role is determined as much by the acting as it is by the voice, that’s what makes it such a demanding part to play.”
Ashlyn says for people who are not familiar with opera, Carmen is a good place to start.
“I would say it’s a perfect place to start. As I say to my friends who are not musicians, do a little bit of light reading, familiarise yourself with the characters, the storyline, and that will give you a foundation to come along to your first opera and then be swept up in the drama of it all.”
Ashlyn says she is excited about the number of talented artists and creatives coming together for the production.
“It will be an amazing two nights of entertainment, and you can trust that all of us on stage will be having the best time.”
Rehearsals start at the beginning of February and will continue almost every day leading up to the performances.
“It is my debut in this role so preparations for me started some years ago. I will be living, eating, dreaming this role every day until we are on the other side of these performances.”
A bit like opera and the WACA, Perth is not necessarily the place where you would expect an opera singer to grow up.
“I didn’t seek out opera, nor was I around classical musicians in the family, which is a common introduction to opera for most.
“I was naturally drawn to music like my family and singing. I asked for singing lessons around seven years of age. My Mum had a friend who was an opera singer and it all unfolded from there.
“I loved singing pop and rock, however my voice preferred singing classical and intellectually I adored the challenge. Opera to me as a child was something mysterious and otherworldly, so the fascination and obsession grew from there.”
Growing up Ashlyn went to plenty of festivals to see her favourite bands and for most of her childhood and teen years she played the drums.
“It was a toss-up whether to study voice or percussion in the final years of my schooling. I still listen to music like Pearl
Jam or Rage Against the Machine to get pumped up for the stage, so I guess not much changes.”
Ashlyn says the support of her family has been crucial to her success as a performer.
“Without my family, I simply wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. They are my backbone, along with my partner and friends, and my new dog, Otis.
“They are my life force, my sanity and a big reason why I do what I do is to make them proud, I’m sure.”
Ashlyn will be performing alongside Paul O’Neill and José Carbó in the production which marks the first time West Australian Opera has staged an opera at the WACA.
Bizet’s masterpiece about a bold, daring, working-class woman living life as a free spirit, will feature more than 150 singers and musicians.
The story about an epic love triangle has some of opera’s best-known arias such as the famous Habanera and the Toreador’s Song.
Carmen will be at the WACA on February 24 and 25. Tickets and more information are available at www.waopera.asn.au.