Sarah Castle's voice soars to new heights

In 'The Journey to Rheims,' the opera stars fly first class. Castle: good for 'pants' roles.

sarah castle (photo credit:)
sarah castle
(photo credit: )
Earlier this year, two-year-old Xander Bradley, his Mummy and his Daddy were taking the ferry across Sydney Bay. As the ferry rounded the bridge to reveal the lovely Sydney Opera House, Xander exclaimed: "That's Mummy's opera house!" And so it was...sort of. Xander's Mummy is mezzo soprano Sarah Castle, and at the time she was singing Ruggiero in Handel's Alcina. "Actually, any opera house where I work is Mummy's opera," says Castle, demolishing a sandwich with gusto on her lunch break at the Israel Opera (IO) cafeteria. Castle is currently appearing in Israel as the Marquesa Melibea in Rossini's comic opera, The Journey to Rheims, which opens the 2007-'08 IO season next Thursday at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. Melibea is a character dangling two admirers. One is the Russian Count Liebenskoff, an old flame; the other is Spanish grandee Don Alvaro, her current squeeze. She ends up going back to her old flame, but the thin plot is of little consequence. The Journey to Rheims is mainly a series of gorgeous party pieces for stellar singers. So rather than put the characters in Rossini's inn to cool their heels, director Mariame Clément has put them all on an airplane. Naturally, all the stars are in first class and the chorus is packed into economy. "It's Rossini," says Castle, her face alight, "so the music is fantastic, and it's a hilarious production. In rehearsals I've been laughing so hard that tears are running down my face. Mariame has a completely brilliant vision of what this opera can be." This is Castle's third engagement with the IO. She first appeared in 2004 as Nero in Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea and returned last season to do another "pants" role as Sesto in Julius Caesar. Indeed, her first professional engagement in 1994 was as a man with the Mid-Wales Opera where she sang Niklausse in Tales of Hoffman. She has sung the mezzo female roles in Carmen (a favorite), the role of Olga in Eugene Onegin and lots of Wagner, but she's also played Cherubino in Marriage of Figaro, Andronico in Tamerlane, and even sings the parts of little boys like Hansel in Hansel and Gretel. Castle is tall, slim and long-legged. Light hair swings about her strong face. As she says, "physically I'm good for pants roles, and if they keep me working, why not. I'm enjoying them too because I'm experienced enough to carry them off." Mezzos, she says, are supposed "to be flexible and able to sing everything from soprano to bass. It's fun." She came here from the Royal Opera in Covent Garden where she sang Flosshilde, another Rhine Maiden role "which is nearly alto." She has been a professional singer for 13 years, but her big break came in 2000 when she sang a Rhine Maiden in Gotterdammerung and Oberto, a little boy, in Alcina at the Stuttgart Opera. That same production went to the San Francisco Opera where she got noticed. Castle was born and grew up in Wellington, New Zealand and was bitten by the stage bug early. She remembers "always singing. I soloed in the school choir. Others picked me to do stuff, so I was confident. I had my first professional voice lesson at 18. When you learn how to produce more sound, there's a particular feeling that goes through you. Being able to do that gripped me. After that, opera became inevitable. She studied in Manchester, England, feeling she had to move to Europe "because it had a larger environment to be heard in, and Manchester was the place I picked. I wasn't a star at music college. What's done it for me is just keeping at it, and an attitude of always needing and wanting to improve, and of course luck. Mid-Wales came to the college looking for someone, and it was so exciting to have a job to go to." She still lives in Manchester and in '99 married Jan Bradley, a composer, percussionist "and full-time Dad to Xander [short for Alexander]," who travels everywhere that Mummy works, and has done so ever since he was seven weeks old. Xander thrives on his unconventional regime, and now that the family is in Israel, he says "Shalom" like an old hand. He and his parents love being near the beach too. For Castle, the positives of this lifestyle outweighs the negative. "Opera feels like it's me. It's a vocation. Oh, not that there aren't bad days. There are, but singing chose me, I think."