SOPRANO PIA HARRIS REDISCOVERS LA DOLCE VITA FOR HANSEL AND GRETEL
Growing up in an Italo-Australian family, Soprano Pia Harris has fond memories of being surrounded by music and food – two essential components of the beloved Hansel and Gretel story.
So it is only fitting that the Perth-based singer has been reminiscing about her childhood as she prepares for her West Australian Opera lead role debut as the sweet-toothed Gretel in this Saturday’s City of Perth Opera in the Park Hansel and Gretel.
‘Our family was always very close, very involved and there was always lots of cooking and lots of music’, Harris says of her Italian family. The singer whose maternal grandparents immigrated from Sicily to Perth, says that she has a sweet tooth just like her character Gretel thanks to the many Italian delicacies she enjoyed as a child.
‘Corica (Pastries) cakes were a part of every single family celebration that we had; birthdays, christenings and confirmations; so that cake is imprinted on my taste memory. My Nonna used to make spinci (a traditional Sicilian doughnut) and they are just delicious. I’ve gone to restaurants where they’ve had it on the menu and I think it’s going to be the same thing, and they taste good but it’s just not the same’.
While Pia’s love of food stems from her Nonna, she reveals her passion for singing comes from her Nonno. While Harris recalls her late Nonno constantly singing, it wasn’t until she had decided to pursue a career in the arts that she learnt her Nonno had considered doing the same. As an avid lover of the artform, Harris’ Nonno would travel to Palermo to watch opera and at one point was heard by some scouts from Milan who had approached him to pursue an operatic career but his family disapproved.
‘I didn’t know that until I was already starting to think about pursuing a career in opera. I do think about him a lot now when I sing and before I sing, I offer (the performance) up to him and I know that he’s watching and that means a lot to me. I’m just really glad that I can realise his dream’.
Throughout her opera career Harris has lived out many of her own dreams having performed around the world in various venues from Carnegie Hall, Symphony Space on Broadway and the Sydney Opera House; but this week’s performance of Hansel and Gretel will be her first major role in her home city of Perth.
‘I’ve performed all around the world, but this is so important to me to be able to sing in my hometown with all my friends and family around me and my community that have been supporting me from the very beginning’.
Harris will be starring alongside her close friend Ashlyn Tymms in the free concert which will include state of the arts visual effects from acclaimed West Australian media artist Ariel Hayes, who will transform Perth’s picturesque Supreme Court Gardens into an enchanted forest to create a truly immersive experience.
‘Sohan has shown us the visuals and that’s been really helpful to understand the concept. It will be a bit challenging, just in terms of the orchestra and having the conductor behind us…but it’s going really going to be such an amazing show’.
‘We are all having a lot of fun which is really nice and I think you need that in this show because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about two kids trying to find any kind of fun and a sense of play in their lives, so it’s perfect really. Our chemistry and the atmosphere we are creating is absolutely what Humperdinck had in mind’.
While Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel follows two siblings who are in search of the sweeter things in life, Harris is confident she’s already found her dolce vita. ‘One of the main reasons I came back to Perth is because family is so important to me and I think I am definitely living la dolce vita now because I get to go to London and do a contract, and go to New York and do a contract, and I get to work in my home town with all my family around me and my friends. I mean what could be sweeter than that?’