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Singing her way across three continents

Rachael Duncan as Gilda in Rigoletto at the outdoor Castle Festival for the Mecklenburg State Theatre, Schwerin, Germany. Photo: Mecklenburg State Theatre Rachael Duncan as Gilda in Rigoletto at the outdoor Castle Festival for the Mecklenburg State Theatre, Schwerin, Germany. Photo: Mecklenburg State Theatre

A special ability to sing stratospherically high notes was the key to a career in two German opera houses for one Australian soprano.
“I’m a coloratura soprano, which means I sing both very high and very fast,” says Canberra-based singer Rachael Duncan.
“Having special coloratura roles like Gilda in Rigoletto and the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute ready to go was the clincher for getting a job in Germany’s cut-throat opera scene.”
Soprano Rachael Duncan took her first singing lessons in Washington, went to university in Canberra and Brisbane, and then spent 10 years singing opera in the UK and Germany, before returning to Canberra to marry and start a family.
“My father was in the International Trade Division of the World Bank in Washington, so I started off singing musicals as a teenager at the international school there. Musicals were really my first love, but the singing teacher I had there told me I definitely had an operatic voice, and of this rather special type.”
Rachael returned to Australia to complete an arts degree, at the same time continuing her singing studies.
“I sang in more musicals and operettas in Canberra, but it was attending a summer school at the Mozarteum in Salzburg that opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in opera.”
Rachael pursued that dream with further studies in Brisbane and then headed off to Europe to try to enter the opera world there.
“My first overseas role was Adele in Die Fledermaus with Kentish Opera – I’ll be singing an aria from that operetta when we come to Dubbo to do Stopera’s Enchanting Operetta concert.”
Next was being cast as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, where Rachael’s freakish ability to sing very high notes with ease went on show, travelling up to high F, three notes above high C.
Five years in Germany at two prestigious opera houses was the high point of her career abroad.
“It was a wonderful opportunity and I loved being surrounded by music everyday – learning a new role and working to make your character come alive in a big production.”
Marriage and the desire to start a family drew Rachael back to Australia. She sang her first concert with ACT opera company Stopera while pregnant with her first child, performing to an audience of several thousand at the outdoor event, Opera by the Lake.
Now Rachael combines bringing up two children with singing, mainly in concerts like the one in which she will perform in Dubbo in May at Macquarie Conservatorium.
“While I do miss being right at the centre of opera culture as I was when I worked in Germany, I don’t miss the grey European weather. I love the lifestyle in Australia – until you have lived somewhere else you just don’t realise how fantastic it is, the weather, the people, the friendliness. I think I’m very lucky – singing has certainly taken me places, but just like Dorothy says, there really is no place like home.”