An opera dream comes true

February 11, 2016 by Henry Benjamin
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Sydneysider Sam Sakker has realised a dream…singing the role of Alfredo in Verdi’s “La Traviata”  at London’s Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Sam Sakker tells his story

Sam Sakker with his Violetta Photo: Neil Gillespie

Sam Sakker with his Violetta Photo: Neil Gillespie

“On Saturday 16th  January  I slept through my alarm, woke up late and realised I needed to rush to rehearsal for Chabrier’s L’Etoile at the Royal Opera House. On my way in to work I got a phone call from the opera company to ask if I would be on standby (just in case) as Alfredo for that night’s opening because Saimir Pirgu, wasn’t feeling well but felt he would be fine to do the performance. Of course I agreed  without thinking there would be any chance I would get on and trudged off to the morning’s rehearsal. In the break I sang through bits of the role, after rehearsal I ducked back home to shave and make myself a little less dishevelled, then returned to the Opera House for a 3pm run through with the assistant conductor and revival director. 

Just after 4pm I got a call that Saimir had to withdraw and I was to go on for the 7pm show. After that it was a blur of talking through the mechanics of the show, a trip to wardrobe to have a costume fitted, a sing through with the conductor, a sing through with the soprano Venera Gimadieva, make-up, costume and suddenly I was listening to the overture and the show had already started. 

I felt pretty calm and collected (though I might not have seemed that way) and I just lost myself in this great opportunity to sing music that I love in one of the greatest opera houses in the world. At the end everyone was very pleased with my performance, I’d held my own with some of the world’s top opera singers, done this best audition of my life for the management of the ROH and now have a nugget of gold on my CV when auditioning for opera houses around the world.”

Sakker’s performance was met with lots of curtain calls and bravos…

30-yr-old Sakker comes from a family of music lovers although none was a musician. He told J-Wire: My mum had a lovely voice, my grandpa had been a radio announcer and his father had been a fine amateur singer.”

Sakker attended Masada Primary School and went to North Shore Temple Emanuel where he “had a lot of fun singing in the shul’s choir under Judy Campbell and Mark Ginsberg”

He first set foot on stage at Masada  as The Narrator in “Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat” and attributes his singing career to his Sydney Grammar singing teacher Tim Collins”who really set me on my path”. Sakker also had words of praise for Sydney Grammar’s music department.

He told J-Wire: “I’m not the only opera singer from NSTE because Abraham Singer – a bass-baritone now living and working in Germany – was also an alumnus of the NSTE Children’s Choir and also a Grammar boy.”

He told J-Wire about his formative years as an opera singer. “I earned my Bachelor of Music at Queensland Conservatorium and whilst I was studying I was quite active in the Australasian Union of Jewish Students helping build a chapter in Queensland and representing regional chapters on the national executive. I made lots of terrific friends from all walks of life who I’m still in touch with now but once I got my first professional gig working for Opera Queensland I just got too busy to work, study and continue with AUJS. 

After finishing my degree I moved back to Sydney to become the youngest member of Opera Australia’s full time chorus. That lasted a couple of years until I made the decision to give up a stable job singing in the chorus to pursue singing principal roles.

Being a principal means seasonal, contract work and for a young person starting out it is very difficult to convince people to give you appropriate work, let alone enough to be full-time.

After a couple of hard slog years performing small roles for Opera Queensland, West Australian Opera, Oz Opera and Opera Australia, I ended up going back to university and studying a Master of Commerce with the intent of getting a ‘real’ job. However, even after breaking away from singing I was quickly sucked back in. Within the year of ‘giving it up’ I had sung Alfredo Germont in La Traviata for Melbourne Opera, came second in the Herald Sun Aria singing competition and had earned myself a place in the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House in London. 

I’ve always stood out as being a talented singer but my voice has been kind of polarising in people’s opinions, it’s strong and loud but mostly beautiful and definitely individual. It made me stick out, for good or bad, and I was often the bad chorister because I didn’t easily blend in the ‘homogenised’ chorus sound but it’s been a great benefit because as a soloist in a big opera house like the Royal Opera House it means I can cut through a large orchestra and chorus. This was particularly handy when I performed Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with The Royal Ballet in their production of Song of the Earth. It’s a huge orchestration with a big brass section – particularly the first big, brash and ballsy ‘Drinking Song’.

In Australia I’ve had a lot of support from singers and conductors who are now dear friends. My best friend also happens to be a phenomenal voice coach and he really built my voice as it was when I arrived at the ROH for ‘the Programme’.

The JPYAP is an operatic apprenticeship of sorts aimed at developing promising, young, professional opera singers, directors and music staff. Of 390 applicants from 48 different countries, I was selected as one of the five singers to be taken into the program. I’ve performed and covered roles for The Royal Opera in I due FoscariUn ballo in mascheraDie ZauberflöteLa TraviataDon GiovanniMacbeth,Eugene Onegin, and L’Etoile, as well as performing in the Young Artists opera The Lighthouse and Song of the Earth with The Royal Ballet, and jumping in at the interval of The Royal Opera’s Mozart concert in Japan to sing the tenor solo in the Mozart Requiem.

Back in Sydney, Sakker’s father Sam said: “We all of course are very proud and happy for him. The stuff of every artist’s dream!”

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