The Hobart

A Triumphant Return

by Stephanie Williams
A Triumphant Return

When Tasmanian soprano Jacqueline Ward was injured, a return to the stage was not assured.

You and your family were in a signifi­cant car accident three years ago. Tell us a little about that. In 2020, I was in the car with my baby and my mum when someone sped through a stop sign and hit us. It felt incredibly violent. I sustained major injuries to my thoracic spine, chest, and right leg, with eight fractures. Hospital staff wouldn’t allow my baby in to breastfeed because of their covid policies and that was really traumatic for all of us. It was a long road to recovery and we lost our second baby, just days after we left Sydney during lockdowns. It was a very intense time with grief to unpack later. Several Sydney orchestras had booked me for their performance season or for significant premieres, which I thought meant I was gaining momentum. All of that was cancelled and we had to just focus on my recovery.

As a soprano, returning to the stage after that, did it feel different? Returning to the stage sounds so instant when I say the words, like I just decided one day! Of course, the reality was much more lengthy. After the basics were taken care of, like walking unassisted, I started vocal training again as part of my rehabilitation and return to work. I’m sure my teacher thought something miracu­lous had happened because I’d actually had a tongue-tie released just prior to the accident. So, when she heard me again in my first lesson back, she exclaimed, “This is the best I’ve ever heard you sing! How can this be—after all you’ve been through?” I admit I enjoyed her shock! Even though my body was weak—and classical singing is extremely physical— my voice was so free. I was absolutely elated. I designed a poster for my comeback concert, even though I knew I probably needed at least 12 months of training before performing professionally.

When the next lockdowns started and continued indefinitely, and I saw what was happening in society and in Sydney, I wondered if I would ever perform again. My family and I decided to seek a healthier place for us and moved toward Tasmania, eventually making it to the North-West. I really thought I was walking away from my career and I felt strong disappointment. One day, Handel’s Messiah came on while I was driving and I burst into tears. I was so grieved I couldn’t even listen to classical music for a time. I had been half-way through my masters in vocal performance at Sydney Conservatorium and with many deferrals during my convalescence, eventually I withdrew.

When we had settled in and the time was right, I got in touch with Jane Edwards (a voice teacher formerly from the Sydney Con) and my husband Robb Dennis (a tenor) and I commenced our regular trips to Hobart for voice coaching. It’s a long trip with a three-year-old! Because of the past Covid stuff and the highs and lows of stopping and starting, I didn’t let myself hope for much. But I did enjoy singing again.  We attended a Van Diemen’s Band (VDB) concert and were totally impressed with their world-class performance. We spoke with the director afterward. A few months down the track, VDB invited me to perform a solo recital and, while they weren’t aware of it, this was to be my first time back, my official “second debut”. To say I was excited seems like an understatement! Jane (also a pianist) and I performed the recital in May this year, to acclaim, and they asked for a repeat in Hobart, which we did in September in the beautiful Town Hall.

This Christmas you are teaming up with Hobart classical guitarist David Malone to present “A Renaissance Christmas”. What can people expect from those concerts? Renaissance means rebirth. Not only is that meaningful for me; I think it’s really applicable at Christmas. Musically, the songs have transformed from what we often hear. We’ve taken well-known carols and reimagined them in an early music style; more like their original context. Not only will the guitar and singing have a certain approach, but we’ll be sharing the stories behind some of these songs; some amusing, some deeply moving. There will be a few lan­guages in addition to English as well, but the melodies will be familiar. It will be festive in a unique and charming way!

What is on your table for Christmas? And on the cards for 2024? Well, literally on my table will be all manner of yummy plant-based Christmassy foods. My hubby is American and I enjoy the northern hemisphere style meal. But then there are mangoes and cherries and all those amazing Aussie summer associa­tions too. But I’m getting carried away! Our family Christmas is small these days but we try to connect with lots of people if they’re available. Togetherness is where it’s at for me. Robb is conducting the Cradle Coast Orchestra now and so we’re both planning a very musical 2024. I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but I do know David [Malone] and I are planning a concert of guitar and voice repertoire from arrangements of Schubert Lieder through to a Britten song cycle. I’m also preparing some gorgeous piano-voice programs and may be working on a sneaky new composition project, hope­fully coming soon to a person near you!

You can buy tickets to A Renaissance Christmas at www.events.humanitix.com/host/jacqueline-ward-and-david-malone.

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July 2024

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