When rising Opera Australia baritone, Alexander Sefton took his bows on the stage of the Sydney Opera House, the moment was much more emotional than he’d anticipated. Alexander Sefton made his role debut as Schaunard in Puccini’s La Bohème.
It wasn’t the first time Sefton had performed at the iconic venue, but it hadn’t really prepared him for the emotions of stepping out in his debut role.
“It was so surreal. It was my first big role at the house. I’d done those couple of little roles before, but it didn’t prepare me … it was pretty emotional and amazing,” said Sefton.
Alexander Sefton always loved music, singing and acting from a young age, but had never been exposed to opera.
“I grew up in Newcastle, and if we’d ever visit Sydney you’d go across the bridge and you’d see the opera house and it was just this mythic building,” he recalls.
Now, every time he walks towards that iconic building to perform, he pinches himself.
“You just never know where things are going to go. Anything is possible. It sounds trite, but you just never know,” said Sefton.
I asked him what his younger self would say if he knew that he’d end up performing in an opera at the Sydney Opera House.
Sefton laughed, “‘What is opera?’ would be the first thing probably!”
As a child, Alexander Sefton listened to pop music and then more rock and alternative music through high school. He’d been involved in the Australian Youth Choir, but when his voice broke he moved away from singing for quite some time. However, he still had a love for performance and continued acting in community theatre. Through his acting, he was invited to do a lead role in a musical.
“I hadn’t sung for years and years, so I got some lessons,” explained Sefton.
His teacher happened to be an ex-opera singer and introduced him to an opera repertoire. She had noted that Sefton was into darker, grungy alternative music and so she introduced him to some German operatic music.
“She thought I might relate to some of the poetry, because there’s a lot of similarity to the level of angst in the darker German romantic music.”
It just clicked for Sefton and started him on a journey into the world of opera that would result in performing in a leading role at the Sydney Opera House.
“I never would have thought, doing my little community theatre stuff, that I’d be standing on that stage. You just can’t comprehend it!” he exclaimed.
Alexander Sefton explained his journey from Newcastle to the Sydney Opera House has been a gradual process – being introduced to a few operatic pieces, having a few people hear some potential and choose to support him, smaller roles, then bigger roles in smaller places, until finally making his role debut with Opera Australia.
“When these things work, they happen slowly by degrees … one thing leads to another.”
Having made his role debut in La Bohème at the Sydney Opera House, in a place Sefton had been dreaming of for so many years, was an emotional experience, but it also felt right.
La Bohème centers around four friends, Bohemians, who are poor young artists. Alexander Sefton played one of those four friends – Schaunard, a musician. This production of La Bohème is set among the fishnets and fairy lights of 1930s Berlin.
Sefton describes La Bohème as the ideal gateway into opera.
“It’s so human, it’s so real, but then so impactful. It’s not shallow or contrived in the plot or the characters,” he explained,
“It’s so naturalistic, in a way. It just flows so naturally. It’s conversations between friends and between lovers – and it has some of the funniest moments in opera. The banter between the boys is really what you’d expect from a bunch of young artistic boys just living together in an apartment. It’s so vibrant and funny, and like in classic Shakespearean style, that high comedy really amplifies the trauma and the drama of the tragedy at the ending.”
La Bohème is a highly energetic production, with incredible costumes, and Sefton considers it ideal for all ages.
“Anyone who loves opera will always love going to a new Bohème, and hearing these particular singers interpret it, but Bohème, for me, is the perfect first opera for younger adults. It’s short and snappy, but it is such an amazing and vibrant production.”
And of course, it’s at the stunning Sydney Opera House.
La Bohème is now playing at the Sydney Opera House until March 11.
For more details: httphttps://opera.org.au/productions/la-boheme-sydney/