Deborah Humble talks with tenor Sam Sakker about his expectations from the Covent Garden Young Artist Programme.
Australia’s geographical isolation has always meant that young singers have had to travel far from home seeking to broaden their musical and cultural horizons. In September this year three more Australians will join the Jette Parker Young Artists’ Programme at Covent Garden in a two year course designed to help them hone their onstage craft under the guidance of some of the world’s best coaches, conductors and directors. Tenor Sam Sakker, baritone Samuel Johnson and soprano Lauren Fagan join fellow Australians mezzo-soprano Kiandra Howarth and stage director Greg Eldridge who will be completing their second year. Selected after a rigorous audition process which saw more than 390 applicants from 58 countries apply for 5 positions in front of Music Director Antonio Pappano and Director of the Royal Opera Kasper Holten, it is a formidable achievement which surely says something about the quality of musical education Australians are receiving at home.
28 year old Sam is excited about the move to London after being encouraged to audition by close friend and “amazing” vocal coach Raymond Lawrence. “Realistically,” he says, “I didn’t expect to be accepted, but I certainly wanted to get up and sing as beautifully as I could.” He presented four arias: “Di tu se fedele” from Un Ballo in Maschera, “De’ miei bollenti spiriti” from La Traviata, “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from The Land of Smiles and “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca. Now he can’t wait to learn from some of the best talent in the operatic world. “I know I have a long path ahead of me before I’m adept, let alone a master of all the skills I need to become a great singer. This is going to be an amazing opportunity to develop those I know I am lacking, refine the ones I already have, and discover the ones I haven’t yet identified.” Sam says that singing full-time with the Opera Australia chorus has been useful for learning about stagecraft and about the industry in general. But he is now looking forward to working completely on his solo vocal production.
Sam acknowledges the professional and personal support of his mentors and biggest supporters including singers Jose Carbo, Emma Matthews and Yvonne Minton, conductor Giovanni Reggioli, and the Australian companies that have given him opportunities on stage. “Mentorship is so important because people who have trodden the same, or similar path know the pitfalls of the profession and can show you the ropes.” Nonetheless he feels that overseas experience is essential for young Australian performers to launch careers. “There is so much diversity out there in the rest of the world,” he comments, “and such understanding of voices and repertoire that is not standard in Australia. Overseas experience not only broadens your sphere of knowledge but hopefully also leads you down paths you never imagined.”
He is realistic about the challenges ahead and knows first hand what living abroad is like after a move to Berlin just over 12 months ago. “In retrospect, I don’t think that when I left Australia the first time I was really ready to go. Singing wise I realized there was a lot more work to be done. Nonetheless I had a great time living in a completely different place with completely new experiences. I got to see operas very seldom performed in Australia, made some amazing contacts and friends both inside and outside of the opera community and sang in the finals of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden Studio auditions.”
On returning to Australia Sam says he was intent on “upskilling” and “diversifying” and he enrolled in a Master of Commerce degree at Royal Melbourne Institute of technology. “In between starting afresh, getting my head around finance jargon and visits to Centrelink I still made time for regular singing. As soon as I was focused on something else, lots of singing things started falling into place. I sang in the finals of the Herald Sun Aria Competition and performed my first Alfredo in La Traviata with Melbourne Opera, a role I was asked to sing again for New Zealand opera this year.”
Right now Sam is focusing on preparations for the end of the year and is seeking financial support to help with the costs of travel, coaching and language preparation.
“This time I am going abroad with a definitive plan as opposed to thrashing out a path in the unknown. I know I am going to be very busy at the Royal Opera and I can’t wait!”