As ludicrous as it sounds, you have the faint hope that maybe, just maybe, Marina Prior might sing her voicemail message. Because if she did, you know it would be a belter. Hate to break the news Australia, she doesn’t. What she does do is call back five minutes after the scheduled interview time with apologies and an enquiry as to whether it’s still a convenient time to chat.
To say such conduct is rare with a local musical icon – you normally have to talk through their publicist’s publicist – is like saying Marina can carry a tune. Well obviously. And so much more.
Some 25 years after they first stormed a barricade in Les Miserables, Prior is teaming up with Silvie Paladino and the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra for a series of New Year’s Eve concerts at the Arts Centre Melbourne.
“We are still finalising the program,” says the singer who spent her student years busking on the streets of Melbourne – Kate Bush was a favourite. “What I can tell you is that it will definitely be festive and lavish mix of musical theatre, classic and some popular classics too.”
Marina performing with the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra
Asked if backing up for two concerts in a day will be challenge, Prior laughs, “I’ve spent 30 years doing eight a week, so two in a day should be fine.”
Gasping in mock horror at the number of years that have passed since she first worked with Paladino, Prior says, “We see each other a lot off stage and occasionally get to work together at events such as Carols By Candlelight, but being able to do two shows like this with a friend is great fun and I hope that is something that will transfer to the audience. We’ve been brainstorming our duet repertoire.”
Picture Prior and you immediately conjure a single spotlight, a glittering gown and vocals that border on the celestial. But beneath it all, is the undeniable grit and resilience required to carve a long-standing career in an industry where longevity is rarer than an uplifting reality TV series.
“I started out as an ingénue, the soprano romantic lead,” says Prior, “but I figured out pretty early you can only do that until you’re in your early thirties or so. That’s why I’ve always been interested in roles or projects that had an element of risk or took me out of my comfort zone.
Marina's beautiful voice heard at Carols by Candlelight in Melbourne, 2014
“Branching out into comedic and character roles was very much a part of my strategy into keeping my career viable and growing as an artist. This is one of the reasons I also do plays. This year, I’m doing Noel Coward’s Hay Fever at The Melbourne Theatre Company, which has absolutely no singing in it all. Part of my philosophy is to be continually learning. More than anything else, I’m proud of the fact that after 33 years I’m still going strong.”
Asked what advice she would give the young Marina, or indeed any green performer starting out in their career, the mother of three needs little thinking time. “Be brave and don’t let anyone pigeonhole you,” she says. “Don’t let anyone else define you or tell you what you can or can’t do. In the social media age, we have this huge wave of opinion – everybody’s a judge and jury – and it’s vital not to listen to the naysayers. It can destroy a young performer or just a young person in general. Define yourself.”
It’s advice that the hundreds of thousands of people who have seen Prior perform are undoubtedly glad she followed. Because all this time after capturing a certain Phantom Of The Opera’s heart, she is still clearly on song.
For more information on the Australian Philharmonic New Year’s Eve concert, go to artscentremelbourne.com.au.
What is your favourite Marina Prior role?