Women In Focus
When Antoinette Halloran sings, the world stops to listen. She is one of Australia’s most loved and accomplished Operatic singers, her performances commanding standing ovations around the world”
From Madame Butterfly to La bohème, A Street Car Named Desire, Così fan Tutte and to her latest performance as Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Antoinette Halloran has moved audiences all over the world with her remarkable performances. But success and accolades don’t come easily in the operatic world, where rejection, unsuccessful auditions and cancelled seasons (or a whole year from Covid), truly test courage and resilience.
So what happens when Covid cancels an entire year of performances? Well, for someone like Antoinette Halloran, she starts to write her own Libretto (Opera) and pens her own feminist revisionist poetry, which she has kindly given readers a sneak peak.
Read on as Antoinette talks about how her passion and perseverance for the Art she truly loves, kept her going through all of its challenges, and how some of the women she has played, ended up teaching her the greatest lessons in life.
What has been the game changing moment in your work/life?
I was a young graduate and I was auditioning for the Opera Australia chorus master, Richard Gill. I sang an aria for him and when I finished he said to me, “You aren’t going to get this job. You are not ready. But keep going – pursue this, as you have a beautiful voice and you will get there.” I got back to the car where my mother was waiting for me and I burst into tears of joy. I looked at her and trying to compose myself I happily cried, “I didn’t get it!!!” She was quite confused. But to have the honest and positive feedback from someone I admired so much, was music to my ears. About 5 years later, after much more work on my vocal technique, this same man gave me my first operatic role, Mimi in La Boheme. And I was ready!
What were your obstacles, setbacks, triumphs or joys in your road to defining your work?
I always had a rather large and unruly voice. It had big breaks (cracks) in the registers, and it took me a while to understand my instrument and manage it with virtuosity. So I was frustrated as my colleagues started making great head way in the industry and I was still waitressing. Often I had to serve my friends after they had performed as I worked at the Arts Centre Restaurant. It was humbling, yet I am proud that I stuck at my art. A voice within me told me not to give in. Even though that meant I had to end my marriage. My husband could not comprehend the passion I had for opera, and the commitment I was making to pursue an art form that I was having very little success in. I must have looked mad to those around me. But I knew it was all that I wanted to do with my life. A true calling.
I think my last performance of Butterfly at the Opera House really was a time when I allowed myself true joy. I knew I had sung well. The audience were clearly moved and were on their feet. It is hard to let myself appreciate my successes – almost as if, if I do, I will quiet that voice within me, that keeps motivating me to move forward, and just be better.
As creatives, it is so challenging not to compare ourselves to others. At what point did you stop doing this (if you have) and start looking to others for inspiration, rather than comparison?
Wow. Have I?? What a question. I think to a large extent I trust what I have to bring to a role is unique, and therefore I shouldn’t compare myself to others. But I do, as I am in such a competitive industry and rely on other people to cast me. So I do often find myself wondering why I have been overlooked for another artist who I honestly feel wont bring to the piece what I would have. It is the thing about this industry that has kept me so anchored to it – the belief in your own ability has to be so strong, yet not so strong that we don’t have to eat humble pie occasionally and always strive to improve. There is also an incredible amount of subjectivity in casting an opera. At a professional level, it often comes down to a matter of taste – and we are at the whim of the Artistic Directors taste – which can often be incredibly FUNKY!
What advice would you give to women who are looking for beauty, wonder and joy in the world but can’t seem to find it?
Be kind to yourself. Do yoga. Dance. Eat. Smile.
It is so difficult to be a woman in a man’s world – as I truly believe equality has been bravely fought for by many ,but not yet found. So if we can find something we love about ourselves, we should cherish that – and surround ourselves with those who we love, and who love us back.
What keeps you curious? What are you curious about right now?
I am curious about how to grow children in a world of Trump and climate change and pandemics, and have them be excited about the world and their future’s. I am curious about how we got into this mess, and how best to extradite ourselves and those we love from all this mess. I want a better world for my children. And one thing I know is, that the world does have a place for Art in it.
Which women/roles have you played who’s life/character has taught you the biggest lessons and values in life?
So many of my roles end in death – whether it be suicide, consumption, or at the hands of a lover! Terrible role models in the operatic repertoire. I always wondered why I woke up the morning after and opera feeling like death – and then I realised it is because I did actually enact a death on the stage! It wasn’t until I performed The Merry Widow, and I woke up the next morning feeling light as a feather – she doesn’t die!! And the heroine in this gorgeous piece is full of compassion, forgiveness and love. I think she rocks – I would like to be more like her!
Tell us about your latest project of writing an Opera. Where has the inspiration come from?
During Covid, I have had pretty much a years work cancelled. To not have the outlet of performance and the joy of bringing music it an audience has been challenging for me. So I decided to start writing a libretto. I am intrinsically a performer though, so my inspiration for the writing was to write words that I, as and artist, would salivate to perform. The opera is going well, but what I am most excited about is my feminist revisionist poetry. I will include one here. I have written a song cycle from the perspective of the women, reclaiming the power of some of operas most notoriously hard done by heroines.
I’m pissed off – who wouldn’t be?
Why is it always she, she, she
Taking the blame for the shit show that progressed
When Dunsinane crept towards old Inverness
So I was to blame, (my ambition and fight)
For terrible murders in tempests at night
Ambition and fight are just fine if the guy
Has the appropriate chromosomes – the x and a y
But if the bitch carries just an x and an x
It’s just not fair, for the just fairer sex
Witch!, they now call me, when clearly you see
Shakespeare already had those, fucks sake – there were three!
They had warts and cauldrons and Hurley burleys and spells
Then why call me “witch” when it blatantly tells
I was wife – just with pluck AND desire!
O hang draw and quarter me, tie me to the pyre!
Okay, so I’ve no baby, or needlepoint skills
No sweet lullaby as alliby
For My husband’s kills.
And my laundry finesse
Is shamefully repressed as I fail to un blot
That fucking goddamn spot
I was never underhanded, let’s be candid
And without losing face, we’ll cut to the chase.
My husband was a pundit
in the battlefield field of redundant.
He was unscrupulous in his hopelessness,
and it drove me to destruction.
Thus I used my obvious attraction
to deliver to my postcode,
An abode with more….distraction.
As power made the blood within my veins pulse with more vigour
I beguiled him with my figure,
to invigorate my lifestyle.
So yes, sue me- I was mercantile.
But fair is foul and foul is fair
And boredom sucks, and a girl needs to CARE
So unsex me here, if it means I will get there
To a place where yet again, another little death,
Renders me more woke, than just Lady Macbeth
If you want to be part of the conversation and follow Antoinette’s performances in Australia and around the world, follow her on Instagram @antoinettehalloran
Images Susan Papazian