Ahead of rehearsals, Samuel Sakker, who sings the role of Federico in L’arlesiana, talked to Philippa Peall about the character of Federico and his impressions of Opera Holland Park.
In opera, Samuel Sakker says, he found the perfect calling for his ‘barrel chest and large head’. Originally from Sydney (he describes himself as ‘terminally Australian’), he grew up in a family of music lovers. The Sydney Opera House was ‘firmly imprinted on my consciousness from a young age’.
It was in 2016 that Sakker first saw a production at OHP: Mascagni’s Iris. He remembers being ‘particularly impressed that OHP made such a commitment to keeping now obscure Sonzogno classics alive and accessible’. It seems only right that he should make his company debut in another Sonzogno opera.
The opera in question is L’arlesiana, and Sakker’s role is Federico, a young man heartbroken over a woman he ‘probably shouldn’t be’ in love with, surrounded by a loving but sometimes overbearing family. ‘L’arlesiana’s plot is not that of exotic, grand opera – it’s a story about real people facing everyday problems, and the cascading effects they have on family life… It is a story that will resonate with anyone who’s ever had a bad break up, or an overprotective or overbearing mother.’
L’arlesiana is one of the obscure works that Sakker enjoys performing. ‘They can be approached without a preconceived notion of what something “should be”, rather than what it “can be”.’ He relishes the opportunity to explore new vocal colours and soundscapes, and to ‘know all the while that it is your own interpretation; not mimicking someone else’.
Possibly the most famous part of the opera belongs to Sakker in this production – the tenor aria, Federico’s Lament – but he was more excited to delve into other parts of the music during rehearsals. ‘Cilea’s music brings to life the small French community in which the opera is set. The soundscape is familiar “traditional” verismo opera, but with Cilea’s unique flavour that really drives the drama.’
He is also excited about the unique drama that comes from performing at an outdoor, open-sided venue. ‘Of course there are different technical challenges with different venues, but that’s half the fun! I can’t wait to see what wonderful natural lighting effects we’ll have while the sun sets during Act II, as it also does in the opera.’
In the last few years, Sakker has developed a burgeoning career. He graduated from the Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artist Programme in 2016. Since then he has won the Wagner Society Singing Competition and received an award from the International Opera Awards Foundation.
However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. ‘Becoming a steady-working freelance opera singer is a rocky path, and it’s hard sometimes to see the way forward… I take a lot of pride in seeing my own incremental development, mastering new repertoire and remastering old… You’re only ever as good as your last and next performances.’
Recently, despite being a self-described ‘parochial Aussie bloke’, Sakker has had engagements around the world, in Europe, Scandinavia, South Africa and Japan to name a few. ‘I find it funny how this medium born of Western ideals has evolved to engage people of so many different cultures and backgrounds,’ he says. ‘We’re telling old stories in new ways to new audiences, new stories in traditional ways to stalwart audiences, and there are people with an increasing appetite for this strange craft-come- art where we sing everything into each others’ faces, always unamplified.’