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Amelia Farrugia – Driving Talent

By Randolph Magri-Overend

I meet Amelia Farrugia in a café within spitting distance of Sydney’s Opera Centre. There’s nothing conspiratorial here. Elizabeth Street, in the centre of Sydney, on a hot and humid afternoon with all doors and windows open is as exposed as you can get. Not like Celia Johnson’s brief encounters with Trevor Howard drinking Lyon’s Corner Shop chicory. I’ve been face to face with Amelia before when interviewing her for the Opera Australia programme on community radio station 2MBS. She hasn’t changed. Still down to earth, almost brash and full of confidence with high energy levels. If she were inanimate she’d be described as a bouncing ball. But she’s flesh and blood, devouring a ricotta-filled pastry ensemble with a frothy cappuccino on the side. We have half an hour before she rehearses with Richard Bonynge.

She is about to launch her debut album Joie de Vivre! [tbr] a collection of arias and songs that show off her young but exciting coloratura voice. It’s a big gamble on her part. She’s financed it with her own money, her husband’s, her father’s and a sponsorship from Australia’s Commonwealth Bank. Decca’s come to the party too and are distributing and marketing it. In fact they arranged for Amelia to sing for none other than Luciano Pavarotti the night before. That too was a brief encounter and he advised her on ‘how to pace the sound and how to improve the phrasing’. She radiates excitement as she recalls the experience.

She is determination and drive personified, one thing that impressed me at our previous meeting. Is that the case, I ask. She doesn’t disagree. She freely admits to wanting to be on stage ever since she can remember. At primary school she was nicknamed Poser because she was forever standing up in class and singing. But ballet took priority until at 13 she decided to pursue singing because ‘I started blossoming into a womanly figure and my toes were starting to bleed’. At 16 she enrolled at the Sydney Conservatorium, graduating 4 years later with a Bachelor of Music Education degree. She was advised not to pursue a singing career. But she did, singing in The Buddy Holly Story and covering Christine in Phantom of the Opera. In 1994 she made her OA debut as Casilda in The Gondoliers. This year she sang The Queen of the Night, Zwanntie in Richard Mills’ Batavia and Adina in L’elisir d’amore for Opera Australia

Ten years ago she married Paul Chesher who promotes open-air concerts and they have a 4½ year old son, Ben. A few months before the nuptials she was involved in a real-life drama of her own when she found herself in The Blue Arrow Café at Port Arthur, Tasmania. Port Arthur is a derelict convict settlement developed into a tourist attraction. On that day, 28 April 1996, a deluded Martin Bryant armed with a high-powered rifle scoured the landscape looking for victims. Farrugia and a group of friends took refuge in a derelict building until the all-clear was sounded. There were 35 fatalities that day, most of them in the café. Bryant was captured alive and now lives in the psychiatric ward of a maximum-security prison.

She has a fascination for the role of Massenet’s Manon. I refer to Manon’s character as scally-waggish. She doesn’t disagree again. She relates to her. Why? She’s not sure but ‘she has quite an impetuous nature, makes quick decisions, goes to what attracts her without first thinking, doesn’t let anything stand in her way yet deep down she is a very good person and in the end she’s remorseful and asks for forgiveness.’ I mention the similarities between Manon and Lady Hamilton. Amazingly Amelia’s never heard of Emma Hamilton. I compare the similarities.

It’s taken ten years to bring the CD to fruition. The last three years have been a constant grind arranging orchestras (BBC Symphony, no less), recording hall (Maida Vale), and conductor Alexander Briger (a true-blooded Aussie) not to mention insurance, sponsorships, recording staff, publicity and the special dresses for the CD blurb (haute Oz couture - Alex Perry and Collette Dinnigan). The prospect of recording another CD is something to look forward to. As is performing Gilda in Rigoletto and Violetta in La Traviata for the first time.

We exit the café and run into Yvonne Kenny. They embrace and I’m introduced. It’s not often you find yourself flanked by two icons of the operatic world. You won’t find me complaining too loudly!

Randolph Magri-Overend

* Note:

Peter Sculthorpe composed a very moving elegy on the subject of the Blue Arrow Café atrocity.



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