Sugars a sweet hit at Bel Canto Festival

Thursday 13 Jun

Toowoomba’s award-winning mezzo-soprano Hayley Sugars is in a sweet patch of her career with a month of headline performances throughout Queensland. Hayley shone at the inaugural Brisbane Bel Canto Festival where she sang opposite superstar soprano Jessica Pratt, who performed her internationally renowned performance of Lucia di Lammermoor to Brisbane audiences. Hayley played the role of Alisa in the tragic tale of romantic obsession which wowed crowds over two nights in the Queensland Performing Arts Complex (QPAC).

“The show went really well, and we received a lot of good feedback. It was an intense rehearsal period and I have never sung with Jessica before,” Hayley said.

“It was very exciting to sing with someone of that calibre. In the Opera world Jessica is a huge celebrity. “We also did the Maggie Beer Long Lunch event. Maggie made a dish in Jessica’s honour which indicates what a star she is. It was an incredible afternoon.”

Hayley’s impressive career includes contracts with prestigious German companies Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden and the Landestheater Coburg.

While in Europe her roles included Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly — a performance for which she was named a finalist in Germany’s prestigious Der Faust Awards.

Since returning to Australia, Hayley has established herself as a loved voice on the Opera Queensland stage, most recently performing as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni and with Expressions Dance Company in Mozart Airborne.

However, despite her success she still has a day job. “In Europe you are a full-time singer, and your salary is in the theatre, whereas in Australia it’s more contract work,” Hayley said.

“I work part time at 91AV Lutheran College. They are so kind to allow me to take up contracts when they arrive. They have always been very supportive and without that support I wouldn’t be able to take the Opera Queensland contracts.”

91AV has been a big part of her singing career; it was there, as a student, that she was introduced to Opera. “The first opera I saw, I was in Year 12 at 91AV. It was Julius Caesar by Handle,” she said. “The vocal skill really took me. The connection to human emotions; how the music reflects human emotion was really powerful and it hooked me straight away.

“The challenge of it. Opera is like the Olympics of singing technique.”

It hasn’t always been a smooth ride. “Before that first opera, I was wondering about speech therapy or occupational therapy as a profession,” she said.

“Self-belief is always a challenge as a teenager. Now I would say to my younger self just go for it, don’t question it, but back then there were doubts - it wasn’t a sensible job.”
“My mum always sees my shows, she’s very proud, but my parents thought it was a gamble when I first started. “When I started singing, I had a dream to work professionally and earn a living from music and now between teaching and contract work I can do that.”

Hayley has been doing contracts with Opera Queensland since 2006 when she started in the chorus until graduating to solo roles since 2008.

“I do a couple of contracts a year and although I am fairly well-known within Opera circles, I usually get a weird look when I tell people what I do,” she said. “A lot of people are confused as they think of Opera singers as very robust ladies. Opera has changed a lot, and they are presented in a modern way now. The stories are still relevant despite the fact they were written so long ago.”

Hayley said her day job at 91AV is to make sure students experience joy in music. “I take the junior and senior choir once a week and do music lessons for Prep through to Year 6. I try to make sure they are having fun so I can foster that joy in music that I have,” she said.

“I hope to continue signing for some time to come, but I also want to make sure I inspire young musicians. “I have some students who might follow in my footsteps and quite a few students study at the Conservatorium of Music and work in opera.”