Jessica Pratt : soprano with angel voice
Last season, she dazzled the public at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in the role of Amina in Bellini’s ‘La Sonnambula’. The people of Liège once again had the great privilege of listening to her in Offenbach’s «Les contes d’Hoffmann», where she sang four heroines that were so different, with total mastery and extreme sensitivity. Jessica Pratt, one of the top Bel Canto specialists in the world talks about her art and career.
Jessica Pratt is an Australian soprano, born in Bristol. Raised in a family of musicians, she shines on stages around the world, thanks to an incredible mastery of «Bel Canto». Her voice of crystalline beauty, her breathtaking technique make her one of the greatest belcantists of today. Her kindness and availability made her agree to answer some questions for us, demonstrating that she is a great artist and a great lady in opera scenes.
Miss Pratt, I had the great privilege to listen to you in “La Sonnambula”. Could you tell me in some words how you become such a recognized soprano ? I read you first studied the trumpet. How did you pass from the trumpet to singing ?
I began playing the trumpet at the age of 7 and continued until I was around 19. My father, who is a tenor, encouraged me to start with a wind instrument. This choice aimed to ensure that my breathing would naturally develop as I matured. Additionally, playing in the orchestra allowed me to enhance my musicianship. At the age of 19, I decided to shift my focus entirely to singing.
When I was 23, I received an invitation to be a young artist at the Rome Opera. This opportunity led me to move to Italy, where I completed my studies under the guidance of Renata Scotto and Lella Cuberli. Since then, I have chosen to make Italy my home.
If I say “bel canto” to you, what does it mean to you ?
“Bel canto” refers to a very specific singing technique crucial for interpreting Italian operas from the early 1800s. It involves adopting a high vocal position and maintaining strong breath control. The term translates to “beautiful singing,” and mastering it demands a strong technical understanding and allows for the creation of long, flowing phrases and intricate coloratura passages without compromising vocal composure. Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini are three of the greatest composers for this particular style of singing.
What do you like the most about your “job” ?
All these different roles give me the opportunity to immerse myself in the diverse emotional worlds of the characters I portray and I find this fascinating. The other wonderful thing about this art form is the sense of teamwork and community within the theatre and the feeling of being one with so many people as the music brings us together.
What is the most difficult in your job ?
The constant travelling, it is a wonderful thing to be able to see the world and I love it but at the same time it can be exhausting and emotionally isolating.
Your technics of Bel Canto is amazing, who are the professors who taught you the most in Bel Canto ?
I owe much of my belcanto technique to the invaluable guidance of two exceptional mentors: Lella Cuberli and Mariella Devia. Their teaching and example have played a very important role in shaping my approach to this particular singing technique.
You have a certain freedom in singing, how do feel you had to add ornament or not ? (I had the feeling you added the perfect ornaments in your role of Amina, you didn’t do too much or too little, and always in the right moment).
While preparing a role, before arriving at thee theatre, I like to write many different possibilities for the variations of a scene and to then discuss them with the maestro and the stage director when I arrive to a production. First they must be within the style of the composer and the general essence of the opera. They must also complement the on-stage action.
For instance, a variation that suits a more serene staging might differ from one that complements a more dynamic, agitated scene. So it depends alot on the staging and also how much my colleagues are variating so that we get an overall harmonious effect.
You are recognized worldwide for Lucia di Lammermoor. Which are your favourite roles in your repertoire ?
Lucia di Lammermoor holds a special place in my heart. It has been a constant companion throughout my career, and performing it feels like coming home each time. The other top favorites at the moment are Linda di Chamounix, Elvira in I Puritani, Amina in La Sonnambula and the four women of Hoffmann
Could you tell me some of your most beautiful memories as an opera singer ?
A few years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to perform a solo recital at Teatro alla Scala. Despite feeling a bit intimidated by the large audience initially, their warmth and enthusiasm made the evening extremely enjoyable. The atmosphere was so wonderful that what started as a formal recital turned into a fun, intimate experience. I ended up singing four encores, and although the concert lasted over two hours, it felt like only moments had passed.
Another situation where the audience had such a strong effect on the evening was just after the pandemic. It was a concert of La Sonnambula in Teatro San Carlo in Naples to a full house. The energy of a packed theater after two years of performing in half-empty or empty halls was incredibly uplifting. The audience’s response was so enthusiastic, with requests for encores all night and cheers reminiscent of a football stadium. It was a healing experience, wiping away the difficulties of the past two years and providing me with renewed energy for months to come.
In a completely unrelated episode from my student days, I found a stray cat with kittens behind a theater. Despite being a poor student, I took the cat to the veterinarian, only to find out it needed surgery that I couldn’t afford. When the veterinarian learned I was studying to be an opera singer, he made a unique proposal: if I sang him an aria, he would perform the surgery for free. So, there I was, in a veterinary clinic, singing “Donde Lieta” (Mimi’s aria from La Bohème), with a stray cat as my audience. Not only did he successfully operate on the cat, but he also found her a caring home with someone experienced in taking care of wild cats.
Which are your favourite opera houses and why ?
Teatro San Carlo in Naples. It’s one of the most beautiful opera houses in Europe, with a rich history. Donizetti and Rossini both served as artistic directors, and Lucia di Lammermoor was even written for this gorgeous theater. The deep connection to the history of Italian opera, combined with the incredible beauty of the venue, makes performing there a really special experience. Also, my husband is from Naples so that means I get spoiled by my in-laws whenever I perform there!
My other favorite opera house is Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the opera company in my hometown Florence. I am often travelling for seven months at a time between opera houses and working in Florence has the added bonus of spending a month at home. I also teach the students in the accademia there when I have time and I have many close friends who work in the theatre. The orchestra and chorus maintain a very high standard, making it a privilege to consider it my home theater.
Recently, I recorded a CD with the chorus, orchestra, and academy of Florence Opera, and there are many more exciting projects on the horizon. The personal and professional connections make performing at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino particularly rewarding.
Do you often perform “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” ? What is especially interesting in Les Contes d’Hoffmann ? Is it difficult to sing/perform 4 heroines ?
Performing “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” is becoming a more frequent occurrence in my calendar and I enjoy the opera a lot. Before Liege, I had the pleasure of singing in a new production in Sydney by Damiano Michieletto. This is my sixth production singing all four heroines. What I find especially interesting in “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” is the challenge of portraying the four very distinct characters. It requires a nuanced approach to differentiate them both vocally and physically. I enjoy exploring different movements and vocal colors for each one. It’s a demanding but gratifying challenge that I love taking on!
Do you like to sing in Belgium ? Do you like to sing in Liege ? What would you like to say to the public of Liege ?
I absolutely adore this theatre, its orchestra and chorus are exceptional and it has a wonderful public and a very good acoustic. I always enjoy my time here and find the level of my collegues onstage very high which is satisfying and inspirational. I am also thrilled every chance I get to work with Maestro Bisanti who is one of the rare conductors who really knows how to conduct belcanto, it feels like I am set free to fly when I work with him.
Discover on Culturius The Candlelight Concerts