Bunbury childhood sweethearts and West Australian Opera singers Chelsea Burns and Lachlann Lawton are lucky in love and art.
The WAAPA graduates got engaged during the pandemic, and in a strange coincidence this year each stepped into a star role at short notice after a leading man was injured.
For Lachlann it was as Elijah, in the WAO joint production with UWA this month, while Chelsea took a gender-bending role in The Cloak at Fringe World in January, morphing from soprano to tenor.
“It was quite stressful but really quite fun,” Chelsea says. “It was obviously not my voice type but the opera is something I’ll sing some day, so it was nice to feel the stretch into that role. It’s lucky I’ve got a whacky memory, I’ve always been able to memorise things easily.”
Lachlann, also in the cast, was more nervous watching Chelsea, but she pulled through.
“It’s quite invigorating because live theatre should be exciting,” she says. “Having something thrown in at the last minute makes you listen more and engage more. You’re more fully in the moment.”
In Elijah, both were in the chorus and Lachlann took the lead on the morning of the first show.
“I’ve always been taught to follow the (conductor’s) stick and that will get you through, and it did,” he says. “I had listened to it a lot, I’ve sung the first and last aria out of context, so I had to join the dots.”
Co-stars helped with prompts on the first night, and the reception was huge.
“Mostly it’s been appreciation for how quickly I turned it around,” Lachlann says. “I wasn’t told at the time that it wouldn’t have gone ahead if I hadn’t stepped in, so there’s been a lot of positive feedback.”
It all leaves Chelsea with a quandary: “I now have people tell me they don’t want me to sing anything other than tenor roles,” she says.
“Either you rise to the challenge or fall down. Luckily it’s in our nature to rise.”
The couple are on schools tour this week and in July sing in the chorus for Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, two short operas presented together.
They’ll also understudy lead roles: “Just in case someone pulls out,” they both laugh.