Jacqui Dark is back from ‘The Void.’
The irrepressible star of opera, music theatre and cabaret is performing a comeback show called Songs My Friends Taught Me at Sydney’s Camelot Lounge in March dedicated to and inspired by the friends who supported her through an extraordinarily difficult time over the last year, a time which she has termed ‘The Void.’
Speaking to SoundsLikeSydney, Dark described her life over the recent past. “I was lying on the couch for the best part of the year. I really didn’t get out because I had no energy and because my immunity was so low I wasn’t allowed to” she explains. “I came back and sang one song at my gorgeous friend Taryn Fiebig’s memorial and that was the first thing I had done in all that time. I wasn’t sure if my voice would work and whether I could physically do it but that was such a joyful experience.”
In 2022, Dark was diagnosed with a rare tumour. Surgery that was scheduled to last 3 hours blew out to 6 hours and she faced another three weeks in hospital followed by a punishing regime of chemotherapy. “I had this wonderful year of shows with companies I love – The Australian Ballet and Pinchgut Opera. One of the shows was with Orchestra Victoria who picked up on the Jacques Brel show I had written. It was going to be my own show with an orchestra, but I had to cancel that which was devastating, but it went from the devastation of losing all my work to potentially losing a lot more than that.” Ironically, Dark’s surgeon and oncologist were the same individuals who looked after soprano Taryn Fiebig who lost a long-fought battle with ovarian cancer nearly two years ago and whose life, the stars of opera and music theatre celebrated in a fund-raising memorial in November 2022.
“Following this” says Dark, “Claire’s Kitchen asked me to put together a show. So, I spoke to my music director Daryl Wallis and Creative Director Sam Russell and they said ‘Let’s do it!’” Cautioned by her team to take a gentler approach to her comeback, Dark says “But of course I put all my emotion and energy into it anyway because I can’t help myself. We had a couple of shows that we worked on but last year, it was my friends who got me through the hardship and I want to write a show about them and all the different kinds of friendships – anecdotes, songs that remind me of them or songs that we have sung together.”
The exceptionally versatile and prodigiously gifted Jacqueline Dark started her working life as a teacher of physics and maths. Her musical life began in music theatre, with the Ballarat Light Opera Company. A friend of her mother’s heard her and suggested she sing opera. An audition at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) singing Softly awakes my heart from Samson and Delilah, was successful and for three years on three nights a week from 6 to 10 pm, she would train at the opera studios in Melbourne whilst teaching physics in Ballarat during the day. Now, notable roles include Herodias in Salome for Opera Australia, Fricka for their production of The Ring Cycle in 2013, Marcellina, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Annina in Der Rosenkavalier and Venus in The Loves of Apollo and Dafne for Pinchgut Opera. Add to that her hit cabaret shows like Strange Bedfellows, the songs of Jacques Brel and a hugely successful 12-month national tour as the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music, and it is not hard to understand why she has gathered both Helpmann and Green Room Awards for her work.
Songs My Friends Taught Me is all about friendships and how much they have meant to her recently. “We are hoping that the show will connect with people. At our preview it seems that everyone has experienced this situation in some way with a friend. There were universal themes that people could connect with without personally knowing the people I was talking about. That’s why I did it. My best friend sobbed through the show. She held everything together for so long and was tough for me. She was finally letting it out and it has been quite the ride.”
Dark’s show will run for a little over an hour without interval. She promises a mixture of songs that she has written, covers of songs by others, and “what we’re most famous for – the mash-up of unlikely medleys and mixes of songs that really don’t go together but which when combined is crazy and hilarious.”
Dark will be performing with her “gorgeous friend” and music director Darryl Wallis at the piano. She adds “Sam Russell is my creative director but it’s hard to put a name to what she does. Camelot Lounge is very much a cabaret atmosphere. It’s very laid back. A lot of my friends will be there even some of the people who are mentioned in the show – university friends, high school friends, others who have just changed my life and all the types of Mums in school! So if anyone has kids in school they will enjoy that little number.”
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
Songs My Friends Taught Me is the Camelot Lounge, on Thursday March 16 at 7 pm (doors open) 8 pm show.
Read our revoew of Jacqueline Dark’s last cabaret show, Jacqui Dark is Alive and Well and Living in Newtown