Accomplished opera singer Elena Perroni has returned home to reprise her role as Mimì in the new production of the West Australian Opera’s La Bohème, a classic opera depicting the poignant tale of love and sacrifice in the bohemian world of 1800s Paris. Graduating from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in 2018, she made her professional debut in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird with Opera Philadelphia, performing at the iconic Apollo Theatre in New York City and later with the English National Opera. Between final rehearsals for La Bohème, Magazine 6000 spoke to Elena about her journey from Perth to international stages and how it feels to be back where it all began.
You’ve made it back to Perth! How long have you been away?
I’ve been away for 10 years! I’ve been in the States, mainly between New York and Philly for the last 10 years, and a few months ago, I relocated to Rome in Italy.
What’s it like performing in the US, Europe, and Australia? What are the differences?
There are quite a few differences. In Europe, there are opera houses in almost every city. The classical music scene is deeply integrated into the culture, and there’s a strong appreciation for the arts. There’s almost something to see every night, whether it’s a symphony concert or an opera. It’s quite normal to have had classical music in your life from a young age.
In America, one of the standout features is the size of the opera houses. The opera houses are enormous, and there’s a strong emphasis on developing the voice to fill these houses without amplification. In Australia, there’s a really lovely attitude in the room. You know, that Australian lightheartedness. It’s feels like we’re all friends.
What was it like growing up here and developing an interest in opera? Because, as you say, in Europe, you’re exposed to classical music from a young age, but that’s not always the case here. How did it find its way into your world?
I always had an interest in singing and communicating through music. I first developed a love for jazz, and over the years, it seemed like my voice leaned towards classical technique. Something that was really special about my time at WAAPA is that they had this open-door policy where we could attend classes of different disciplines. So, I could watch some musical theatre, jazz, and classical music, which helped me understand what was essential to me about music, and that was communication. My time at WAAPA was unique because there was this shared quality across all disciplines.
Was it a bit of a culture shock moving out of Australia?
Definitely. I went straight from Perth to New York, and there was a sense of being one in a million. There was significant competition as well. It really taught me how to find my footing in a large institution. I attended the Manhattan School of Music and then the Curtis Institute of Music, which is a highly competitive school. During that period of my life, I had a wonderful opportunity to hone my craft.
Elena Perroni returns to Perth to reprise the role of MiMì in La Bohème. Photography by Alessandro Marzullo.
Now you’ve returned to Perth for La Bohème with the West Australian Opera, playing Mimì. You’ve played her twice before; tell me about those experiences.
I sang it for the first time at Opera in the Park here in Perth. Then I did a concert version in Chicago. I haven’t had the opportunity to perform in a full-stage production until now. So, not only is this a full-stage production, but it’s also a new production. It has given us the opportunity to start from scratch and develop the character anew. With a work like this, you’re constantly learning about the piece. It’s one of those masterpieces that continues to inspire you. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I know it well enough.
Do you feel that you’ve made any new discoveries this time around?
I’ve discovered the importance of simplifying because Mimì is a character whose choices seem quite obvious in a way. There’s no significant shift in her character; she remains constant and true to herself from beginning to end. There’s no massive turning point or coming-of-age moment where she discovers a new part of herself. So, there’s a challenge in simplicity, but also a great strength, I think. It’s also a metaphor for life itself – to continue simplifying. There’s complexity in Mimì’s simplicity, and that is challenging.
What are the relationships like with the other performers and the people you’re working with on this? Have they helped shape your take on Mimì this time around?
Most certainly. In the rehearsal room, we’re always feeding off each other’s energy. We have a significant influence on one another because we’re dealing intimately with themes of love, friendship, and death. Our reactions, our generosity, and what we offer in the rehearsal space and on stage all affect how we interact. They’re all wonderful artists, and they’ve inspired me a lot during this time.
As you say, there’s a lot of change, but is there anything that will always stay the same when playing Mimì and being in La Bohème?
That’s a good answer!
I don’t think so because I change as well, and therefore, the interpretation changes. There are moments that stand out more than others, which perhaps I didn’t pay enough attention to in the past or now have a different meaning to me at this point in my life. So, I think the answer is no.
La Bohème presented by the West Australian Opera.
You’re currently living in Rome. Do you see that as a home base for a while?
Life has thrown me many surprises, and I didn’t expect to be in Rome. But for now, I’m calling it home, and I’m open to seeing what the future holds.
How are you enjoying being back in Perth? Is your family here?
I do have my immediate family here – my parents, siblings, and now my nieces and nephews. It’s wonderful to come home. I love coming home not just for my family, but also for my country, and I particularly love my state.
Even the simple things about being home are great, like being around your family and having them see you perform.
The comfort of family means a lot to me. Just a small gesture of someone making a cup of tea is significant. I come from a big Italian family, so after years of living without family around me, I love coming home to the noise.
Now, there are many children running around, and it’s vibrant. There’s always some sort of controlled chaos going on in the best way possible. I really appreciate the fact that I can feel the vastness of Western Australia. You can feel it in the wind, and I don’t feel that anywhere else in the world. I’m sure everyone says that about their home, but I feel particularly fortunate when I can enjoy the ocean and the changing seasons in the last two weeks!
You can see Elena Perroni in La Bohème at His Majesty’s Theatre from October 19 to 28.