Exactly a year ago, mezzo-soprano Margaret Plummer packed up her family, said ‘goodbye’ to friends and relocated to Vienna to follow her dream. A familiar face – and voice – on the Sydney opera stage, she had been awarded the Vienna State Opera Award from Opera Foundation Australia and opportunity beckoned.
A graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 2005 and previously a student of jazz singing at ANU’s School of Music, Margaret has been a talent waiting to be discovered. She made her Opera Australia debut in 2009 as the Spirit in Dido and Aeneas and the following year took the roles of the Noble Orphan in Der Rosenkavalier and Bridesmaid in Le Nozze di Figaro which was filmed for DVD release.
In the years before she left for Vienna, Margaret was a full-time member of the Opera Australia chorus whilst performing and understudying an impressive range of roles for them, as well as for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, Pinchgut Opera and the Lyric Opera of Melbourne.
Off the opera stage her credits include the Witch in ‘Hänsel und Gretel’ with the Sydney Symphony and the rarely performed Chansons Madecasse by Ravel in the Rivendell Recital Series.
From a picture perfect winter in Vienna, Margaret found time for a Q and A with SoundsLikeSydney on the first anniversary of her move.
SoundsLikeSydney: What have you been doing in Vienna after winning the Vienna State Opera Award?
Margaret Plummer: I moved with my family to Vienna just before New Year’s Eve 2014/15 to start my scholarship at the Staatsoper on the 5th of January 2015. Initially I was allocated 6 roles to learn during my time there, (Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, Charlotte in Werther, Flora in La traviata, Tebaldo in Don Carlo, Zweite Magd in Elektra and the Page of Herodias in Salome), but as the months progressed I had more roles added to my list. Since my time here began I have covered or performed 16 different roles! The scholarship from Opera Foundation Australia typically runs from January until April. At the end of April I moved onto a Stipendium contract for May and June and then a Full- time contract after the summer.
I am so grateful to Opera Foundation Australia for this experience. Without the award I would not have had all of these incredible opportunities
SLS: You recently performed a major role as Hänsel in Humperdinck’s ‘Hänsel und Gretel’ at the Vienna State Opera – how did this come about?
MP: During the two months when I was on a Stipendium contract I was offered the role of Waltraute in Die Walküre under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle, a thrill in and of itself! However, the morning after the first performance I was asked to come to the office to sign a new Rollenauftrag or list of roles and was told then that I would be performing the role of Hänsel in the coming season. I truly couldn’t believe it was real so I didn’t tell anyone for a long time for fear that it wasn’t actually going to happen!
SLS: Could you reflect on your experience of playing Hänsel, performing in the Vienna State Opera House conducted by Christian Thielemann?
MP: The circumstances surrounding my performances of Hänsel und Gretel were actually really lucky. Due to the unavailability of the first cast Hänsel (the wonderfully talented Daniela Sindram) I was able to rehearse the role for the first 3 weeks of production (essentially creating the role and ensuring that I had a very secure understanding of the production). Then the day before the open Generalprobe, Daniela called me and told me that she was unwell and that I would have to sing in the rehearsal the following morning. I must say I was very nervous to work with Herr Thielemann for the first time in front of 1800 people! He was however, very expressive and supportive for the whole performance and it thankfully went very well.
SLS: What was Christian Thielemann like to work with?
MP: Herr Thielemann arrived quite late in the production process, we had the wonderful Patrick Lange (who would later conduct my two scheduled performances) in rehearsals with us for the duration of the production period. As a result I had the privilege of watching Herr Thielemann work from the auditorium during the stage rehearsals, and it was a real pleasure. He inspired the orchestra to imbue the piece with so much colour and life, it is one of his favourite works and you could really sense his passion for the work.
SLS: You also performed the role of Tebaldo in ‘Don Carlo’ with a glittering cast including Ferruccio Furlanetto, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Eric Halfvarson conducted by Marco Emiliato. Can you describe that experience?
MP: Tebaldo in Don Carlo was my first time on the stage of the Staatsoper, and it was an absolute thrill. Initially I was just covering the role but a colleague became unwell and so I got a call the day before production started that I would be singing Tebaldo for at least the first performance (as this was a revival it was also a very short production period of one week). When I walked into the rehearsal room with those giants of the industry I did have to pinch myself! All of them were open and generous people and performers. During the curtain call on the opening night I was grinning so hard that Hvorostovsky began to laugh!
SLS: What plans do you have for 2016?
MP: In 2016 my roles are wide-ranging and varied. I will reprise the roles of Waltraute in Die Walküre and Giovanna in Rigoletto and debut the role of the Kitchen Boy in Rusalka; I will play Stefano in Romeo et Juliette and tour to Oman while covering the role of Charlotte in Werther; I will be one of the many Blumenmädchen in Parsifal and once again cover Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. I am also looking forward to coming back to Australia in July 2016 to visit family and friends before the 2016/17 opera season begins in September 2016
SLS: What are some of the roles you would love to play?
MP: At the moment I am beginning to learn the role of Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos and I feel like it will be a great fit for me, but I would also love to do some of the Mozart Mezzi! I loved singing Dorabella and would treasure the chance to do it again – and also Cherubino and Sesto. However, as a member of the Ensemble at the Staatsoper, I have the opportunity to learn so much repertoire so I am not really left wanting!