Bluebeard’s Castle to be performed in Sydney for the first time

February 25, 2021 by Henry Benjamin
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Sydney bass-baritone Daniel Sumegi will play the title role in Hungarian composer Béla Bartók’s only opera Bluebeard’s Castle making its debut Sydney performance next week.

Daniel Sumegi

Opera Australia is presenting a new, contemporary staging by Australian Director Andy Morton and Associate Director Priscilla Jackman, of the rarely performed psychological thriller.

This haunting new production is described as an evocative exploration of the dark recesses of the mind, in a modern interpretation that strips away the layers to focus on the disturbing psychology behind the story.

Performed in Hungarian, this opera demands two commanding singers to tackle the difficult score.

Opera Australia says Daniel Sumegi and mezzo-soprano Carmen Topciu are equal to the task.

Booming bass-baritone Daniel Sumegi will assume the role of the treacherous Bluebeard. Known for his powerful performances, his recent engagements with Opera Australia include Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and the 2016 Ring Cycle. Sumegi will bring his dramatic timing and resonating tones to the role, drawing on his wealth of experience to give another unforgettable performance.

Following her acclaimed performance as Jane Seymour in Anna Bolena in 2019, Carmen Topciu returns to Sydney to tackle the role of Judith. Known for her impassioned performances, Topciu is set to bring her dynamic acting and rich vocals to this complex role.

J-Wire’s Henry Benjamin spoke to Daniel Sumegi.

JW: When did you decide to train as an opera singer?

DS: I began my training as an opera singer when I was 16. This was the time I also decided that I wanted to be an opera singer. I was very confident.

JW:  For what reason?

DS: Having performed in some school musicals, concurrent with elective music studies, I pursued this further with local amateur Musical Societies. Wishing to be cast in main roles, I asked the rehearsal pianist if she knew a singing teacher. Declaring herself as one, I worked with her for a year, during which time she was clear she thought I could be an opera singer. She entered me into the Sydney Eisteddfod that same year, in junior classical sections. I did very well in those, giving me further encouragement. By the end of that first year, she thought I needed to move on to a male teacher, as she had done all she could for me.

JW:  What, when and where was your first leading role?

DS: After my experiences on amateur stages, my first professional leading role was as Joe in a concert performance of “Showboat” for the Lyric Opera of Queensland, as part of Brisbane’s World Expo ‘88. This contract came to me by way of a prize within the Australian Singing Competition.

JW:  You have had a notable international career. Amongst the stages on which you have appeared, does anyone have a special meaning for you?

DS: All opera houses have different meanings, for different reasons, but making it to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York was definitely a dream-come-true. This first happened in 1994, when I was one of 10 winners of their annual Vocal Contest. Over the years they have continued to offer me engagements, many of which I was sadly unable to accept for one reason, or another.

JW: Your father is Hungarian and your mother Australian. Did you speak Hungarian as a child growing up in Sydney?

DS:  I am told that I spoke and understood Hungarian very well as a young boy. I have scattered clear memories of the time spend at my grandparents’ home in Bondi. I know it wasn’t spoken in our own home, as mum only speaks English. Therefore, when I went to primary school I think that is when I lost the ability to speak Hungarian, merely from lack of exposure and practice.

I was gratified learning this piece (Bluebeard’s Castle), and when I was able to have a Zoom coaching with the Hungarian coach Opera Australia hired for this project, she said it was almost perfect, unusual for English speakers, and clearly in my soul.

JW:  Did you study at the Sydney Conservatorium?

DS:  After that year with my first teacher, I attended the Conservatorium for one year, but that wasn’t the right environment for me. I pursued private studies from then, on.

JW:  What advice do you have for those studying the art, especially those with bass/baritone voices?

DS: That is very hard to answer, because outside of basic study skills, there is no formula to a career. What I would tell any young singer attempting a professional career is – make sure it is a real passion and vocation. There are many hardships and obstacles along the way, and unless you REALLY want to do it, then pursue something else. Having said that, the challenges of perfecting the voice can be very rewarding, and there are many different ways to express your art at varying levels. You do not need to pursue it as a profession to find joy in it or bring pleasure to others.

JW: Tosca is being performed this season. Do you find yourself focusing on the performances of those playing Scarpia whenever you watch Tosca?

DS:  I suppose I’d be lying if I said “no”, and I used to be very bad with that, nit-picking and criticising. Now, I really just try to appreciate the performance on its own merits, as a regular audience member.

JW: Is there any role that you are yet to perform but want to?

DS:  There are several: Sweeney Todd and Boris Godunov are two that come to mind, and I will finally get to do a third this year: Wotan and Wanderer in the Ring Cycle. There are others, of course, but those are stand-outs.

JW: Bluebeard’s Castle is a very short opera and the only one Bartok wrote. Is there a reason why he stopped at one?

DS: I am unclear on the reason for this. He wrote it when he was 30, and already well-known. it was entered into a contest and was unsuccessful. Some research said he didn’t write much of anything for several years after that disillusionment.

JW: Bluebeard killed six wives. Is Judith wife number seven?

DS:  That may have been the original tale Bartok took inspiration from. In the opera, there are three wives, and Judith is number four, and they are not killed. Judith discovers them all, alive.

JW:  Do you have a favourite opera?

DS: My absolute favourite to perform is Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier, by Richard Strauss.

JW: After Bluebeard, what’s next for Daniel Sumegi? Or has COVID put paid to overseas travel?

DS: At the moment, the next definite project is the Ring Cycle for Opera Australia. There are other projects in the works before that, but they are very much up in the air, all due to potential Covid restrictions – stay tuned!

Bluebeard’s Castle will round out Opera Australia’s 2021 opening season when it premieres at the Sydney Opera House next month.

Performance information Evenings at 7.30pm March 1, 5, 8, 10


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