Jessica O’Donoghue likes to call herself a reformed opera singer. Trained as a soprano, she came to love many things about opera: the soaring sounds, the scale of performances, the intensity of emotions. But something wasn’t quite right. She had developed a formidable technique over the years – she was invited, for instance to Covent Garden as a guest young artist – but the world of opera made her feel restricted and restless. So she went looking for something new.
Emerge, her debut album, is the result of that search.
“I like to capture my audience and take them on a journey,” she says. “Traditional opera is too focused on the past, and there’s not enough room for interpretation. I knew I had to leave opera to feed my creativity.”
More than a decade has passed since Jessica turned her back on an opera career to pursue eclectic musical experiences bound only by imagination. Her projects ranged from pop music, particularly with the Sydney band CODA, to jazz, cabaret, musical theatre, Renaissance music and (yes) contemporary opera. Her many collaborators include Nick Wales, Jane Tyrell, Jared Underwood, Bree Van Reyk and Alyx Dennison. She has performed in festivals and venues around the world including VIVID Festival, Sydney Festival (Opera House), Adelaide Festival (Adelaide Festival Centre), Melbourne International Arts Festival (Malthouse), Movimentos Festival (Wolfsburg), Georgetown Festival (Penang), and multiple festivals around Europe (Luxembourg, Stockholm, Ludwigsburg and Ludwigshafen) while continuing to pursue fresh ways to tell stories through music.
For Jessica, Emerge has been a chance to reconcile some of her many influences, from opera to contemporary pop to Sephardic Mediaeval music. There are synths, loops and strings, as well as acoustic piano and guitars. Putting aside the fine details, though, this is how Jessica describes her inspiration:
“I am fascinated with our inner journey through life. The highs, the lows, and how we navigate our way between the two states. Life is what it is for each of us, and we all have to gather our tools for coping as we go along. Writing music is one of my tools and I enjoy the experience of analysing my inner-world as I process it through the act of creating music. These songs are a small window into my inner life as a woman, an artist, a mother, and a human being. I try to write in a way that is very exposed and honest and that seems to help people connect more intimately with the songs.”