I have the following problems with Cheryl Barker —
Strauss is eye-closing music, but I couldn't close my eyes to Cheryl's Arabella if I tried.
She keeps going blurry at just the moments I most wish to see her clearly. Curse you, tear glands!
She's messing with my senses. Peripheral vision — gone. It takes real effort to see what's around her. Sense of hot and cold — hard to tell, what with all the goosebumps, etc. Sense of hearing — is the famously consumptive audience actually coughing less? Or am I just oblivious? Oh, and rationality is shot too. On Saturday afternoon I will spend three hours looking mostly at a wall, perhaps the odd glimpse of stage; I appear to be happy and excited about this.
The operas she sings in end.
I came to her first Arabella already besotted. I expected the greatest of great things from her. I expected absolute gorgeousness. I expected a three dimensional and utterly believable Arabella for whom I could instantly fall head over heels. I expected that voice which is oh-so-Cheryl and oh-so-thrilling to be in full bloom and knock me over. It's difficult to imagine higher expectations than mine; so how, exactly, did she manage still to surpass them? Or perhaps I mean, to transcend them. She was all the above but more importantly, she was Cheryl and she was Arabella. If singing opera is just a job, she did her job to perfection; if it is an art then she is an artist of the first magnitude.
Little things mean a lot. She is supremely talented at pretending to look out a window. She colours the word "nein" during the lead-in to her duet with Mandryka in a way which manages, in one syllable, to express the entire character and emotional life of Arabella. When others are singing to her, she doesn't "react", she actually reacts, word by word, phrase by phrase. It is an actual conversation. She twirls gorgeously on the dance floor. Her voice blazes brighter the deeper in love she falls and when she reaches that final, crucial phrase — "Take me as I am" — it's a wonder the theatre doesn't just come crashing down. If we clapped hard enough, it might. We did try, I think. I did. (But they discourage long ovations at the Opera House. They bring the curtain down and the house lights up and give you no choice but to shut up and go home.)
And while I do not for a second doubt her acting abilities, it adds to the moving splendour of it all that she is actually in love with her Mandryka, and he with her. Husband and wife on stage together does not in and of itself guarantee electricity, but in this case, it's most definitely there. Never more so than in their Act Two duet. They pledge undying love to one another. Still in character, but with such palpable sincerity and affection that it seems almost intrusive to sit there and witness it. It's a moment of almost unbearable (and thus, completely and wonderfully bearable) beauty. Intense, but tranquil and assured; quite unforgettable.
The me of this moment would like to reach back in time and smack the me of October 2006 around the head, for hearing her Jenufa and not immediately feeling her exquisite power. I'm making up for it now, and then some. I cannot believe my luck — our luck — to have such a luminous and fascinating artist practically at our doorstep and fulfilling dream after dream. Just for now, forget I'm a foreigner and let me be Australian, so that I can say with pride: Cheryl is ours, and we adore her.