Australian tenor and Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University graduate Samuel Sakker has made his role debut as Alfredo Germont at Covent Garden – with very short notice.
The 30-year-old was given only four hours to prepare for the role of Alfredo Germont in Richard Eyre’s classic production of Verdi’s La traviata, after a last minute illness saw the original lead, Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu forced to withdraw.
While it came as a surprise, Samuel says he was absolutely thrilled with the opportunity.
“When the revival director told me I was going on as Alfredo for opening night all I could do was ask him about the blocking for act 3. Dropping a dying Violetta wouldn’t have been a good look given such an amazing opportunity. It wasn’t until we finished talking through the mechanics of the scene that it sank in,” he explains.
He says he was incredibly nervous in the lead up, especially when singing with conductor Yves Abel.
“I’d already sung a rehearsal of our upcoming show L’Etoile that morning, sang through Alfredo once that afternoon to double check myself, was whisked to wardrobe where they altered the costumes for me, then sang the whole role again with Yves Abel and shortly after recapped the duets with Venera Gimadieva, who sang the role of Violetta, just before make up,” he says.
“However, once I reached the stage I calmed down a lot as there was an inevitability that I would just have to trust myself, my training and my colleagues to get through.”
Having performed the second tenor role and covering 16 performances last season ensured he was already very familiar with the chorus, actors and set – along with the times he performed Alfredo at both Melbourne Opera and New Zealand Opera.
He says that once he stepped on stage, he just focused on the character and music.
“In the first scene, Alfredo is a country boy out of his depth in the demimonde of the Parisian aristocracy, so it was ok to feel nervous or a bit overwhelmed at first – good character – but once the famous Brindisi starts, Alfredo has to start showing the crowd what he can do and that’s just what I did. It all just snowballed from there.”
“I had incredible support from all my colleagues on stage, the music staff and directing staff. It was definitely a team effort in which I was just the front man.
“It was an absolute blast getting to perform one of my favourite roles in such a beautiful opera house.”
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Samuel has been at Covent Garden for the last year and a half after being selected from more than 390 applicants from 58 countries to train with the world’s best as part of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme.
He says being accepted was better than a dream come true.
“Having the resources of one of the world’s greatest opera houses at my disposal to continue my professional development is incredible. Their collective knowledge, guidance and mentorship are providing me with a clear career pathway to maximise my artistic potential. To be in the environment of such esteemed professionals is vital for my career and future as an artist,” he says.
Samuel says his professional highlights include jumping in for an indisposed Rolando Villazon to sing the tenor solo in the Mozart Requiem with Antonio Pappano and Joyce DiDonato on The Royal Opera’s Japan Tour, performing as tenor soloist for The Song of the Earth for The Royal Ballet and his Royal Opera debut as Barbarigo alongside Plácido Domingo in Verdi’s I due Foscari.
His next role will be Patacha in Chabrier’s witty operetta L’Étoile followed by Gastone de Letorières in La traviata (including the live cinema broadcast), Heinrich der Schreiber in Tannhäuser and Abdallo in Nabucco.
He will also be performing in the live cinema relay of La traviata in the role of Gastone, on 4 February which will be screened in cinemas in Australia from 18-23 March.