Thrust into the spotlight, Stacey Alleaume is happy to die over and over on stage

When Stacey Alleaume first sang Violetta, one of Verdi’s most beautiful and tragic roles, she went on stage with four hours’ notice. It was 2017, and the young soprano was a member of Opera Australia’s young artists program.

I was supposed to go to a rehearsal of Carmen on the harbour and I got a call, ‘Stacey, we need you to come and do the matinee,’ Alleaume recalls. She had only had two cover rehearsals, the last a month earlier, and instantly had to become the leading lady, because she has to carry the show from start to end.

She rushed to the theatre. Time passed in a blur of checking her movements in the busy first act, meeting the tenor for the first time in the conductor’s room, singing the cadenzas, a wardrobe fitting, then suddenly, with a rush of adrenaline, she was on stage.

Alleaume opens a glittering OA Melbourne season at the State Theatre this week in the same opera, La Traviata. She has come a long way from the little girl growing up in Narre Warren in Melbourne’s outer east, practising crying in the mirror and begging her parents to join the choir.

It’s taken me 11 years to get here, working my way up from OA’s schools company, doing little things in the Arts Centre, some extra chorus things, The Merry Widow and Gilda (in Verdi’s Rigoletto), Alleaume says.

This is my favourite opera so it’s wonderful. It’s an amazing role. Violetta goes on a massive journey in such a short time (from frantic Parisian nightlife, to true love in the country, to sacrificing her love and dying of tuberculosis). People have said this role is written for three sopranos because it requires so many layers and techniques for the voice.

Then you’re dealing with the normal stuff of your job: heavy costumes, hoping that people don’t step on your train, hoping that you don’t trip over a carpet. Something so little can throw off your performance but you can’t let it, because you have to stay in character.

Opera Australia artistic director Lyndon Terracini has tremendous admiration for Alleaume. She’s worked incredibly hard, she’s very talented, she’s tremendously disciplined. Not only does she sing Violetta wonderfully and incredibly beautifully, but she inhabits the whole role – every second she is on stage you believe that she is Violetta. She is so exciting and thrilling and beautiful and tragic.

The tenor in the much-loved Elijah Moshinsky production is Ho-Yoon Chung, noted, Terracini says, for his beautiful Italianate voice and his passion on stage.

The season’s second opera is a new production of Wagner’s Lohengrin with German tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the title role in his first Australian full production. I can’t think of one major world star – and Jonas is the major world opera star right now – who’s ever sung in a production in Melbourne, apart from Joan Sutherland, Terracini says.

And this is his signature role. He has everything you need for Lohengrin – beautiful voice, no problems physically singing it, and he brings enormous poetry, musicality and inhabits the character.

The opera is magnificent, he says. Musically it’s absolutely wonderful – it’s so easy to be totally seduced.

A really fine cast includes American soprano Emily Magee as Elsa, Elena Gabouri as Ortrud, Melburnian Simon Meadows as Telramund, Warwick Fyfe as the herald and Daniel Sumegi as the Landgrave. It is conducted by Tahu Matheson and directed by Olivier Py.

OA’s third opera is two concert performances of Mefistofele – a take on the famous Faust story in which the hero sells his soul to the devil in exchange for earthly bliss – by Arrigo Boito, better known as Verdi’s librettist for Otello, Falstaff and Simone Boccanegra. Terracini believes it is the first performance in Australia.

Here the particular drawcard is Ferruccio Furlanetto, one of the greatest basses of his generation, as Mefistofele, but the rest of the cast is also formidable with Leah Crocetto as Margherita, Diego Torre as Faust and Natalie Aroyan as Elena.

Mefistofele is a huge production, with marvellous music and big choruses, and it is slightly surprising that it has taken nearly 150 years to reach Australia.

Furlanetto is also singing a recital at the Melbourne Recital Centre, featuring songs by Brahms, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff plus arias from The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Boris Godunov and Don Carlos.

Terracini believes audiences will remember all three operas for a long time. I’m really genuinely excited about this Melbourne season. We are able to do what Opera Australia does best, which is to present these masterpieces on a grand scale with the best people that arguably you could find in the world.

La Traviata runs from May 4 to 28, Lohengrin from May 14 to 24, and Mefistofele on May 25 and 27 at the State Theatre. Furlanetto performs at the Melbourne Recital Centre on June 1.

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