Paul Capsis is happy.
Not that Capsis being in an upbeat mood is that much of a shock departure from his usual convivial state, but it seems the talented performer has plenty to be happy about.
After recently winning over audiences in Vienna and Shanghai, he is now home and seems more prepared than ever to face whatever challenges his career has in store for him.
If there is one thing he is hungry for, it is new avenues of performing to explore, and rather than dip his toe in to test the waters, Capsis seems ready to dive in head first.
In the old days, it was other performers who made me inspired to do this, he says.
What inspires me now is the type of work I do. It is doing new material -“ whatever it may be. I am less scared to be Paul Capsis on stage than ever before, and that is such a nice place to be.
In the coming weeks, he is taking one of the biggest plunges of his career when he takes to the stages of the Sydney Opera House and the Angel Place City Recital Hall to perform with maestro Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra in new show Luminous.
Appearing with the orchestra in front of the photographic works of Bill Henson, Capsis will perform a repertoire of works by the likes of Britten, Piazzolla, Yared, Britten and even REM and Sinead O’Connor.
The Opera House Concert Hall and the ACO are worlds away from his days spent, well over a decade ago, treading the pocket-sized stage of the front bar of the old Albury Hotel.
If you told me then that one day I would be singing at the Opera House with the ACO, I would have laughed. No one would have believed it then, least of all me.
I am also a Sydney boy, so to play the Opera House is such a thrill. I always think that once you play the Opera House, where do you go from there? It is such an amazing place. It is like being in New York and playing Carnegie Hall. Angel Place is the same. There is an atmosphere there.
Not that Capsis is a total stranger to Tognetti and the ACO.
He was introduced to the classical music scene’s pin-up boy a decade ago when legendary performer Penny Arcade took Tognetti to see Capsis in cabaret and then introduced the pair backstage.
Tognettti said then he wanted to work with Capsis one day.
True to his word, later that year the pair did work together in Vienna on an abstract performance art piece with Arcade called Sissi Sings The Blues.
Three years later, Capsis was invited to perform with the ACO at the Huntington Music Festival in Mudgee.
Richard is such a hard worker and so brilliantly talented, and he pushes you so hard. But you just love being part of what he wants. It can be a little overwhelming for me, as the ACO is so huge.
This is all very different for me and I am different now. I am singing as Paul Capsis -“ there’s no make-up, no characters, hats or props. This is it! he laughed.
Five years ago, performing like this was so frightening. It’s not now -“ it is all about the songs and what they are about. And in this show it is also about Bill Henson’s photography, which is featured throughout. It is all very ambiguous and androgynous, which I like.
In the early days of his career, Capsis worked his own androgynous and ambiguous sexuality for all it was worth, forging a reputation as one of the country’s greatest all-singing drag divas, channelling the likes of Janis Joplin, Diana Ross and Judy Garland.
But he now says those days are way behind him, and he feels his old act has passed its use-by date.
I am not trying to provoke as I once did. In the early days, I embraced my feminine side and made it work for me. Then after some time, I was no longer comfortable and I got bored. The bigger challenge was in being me.
In 2005, we have moved on and in some ways what I was doing has become pass?When the boys on The Footy Show are putting on drag every week, well, it can’t be more mainstream than that, and that says something about where we all are.
Which leaves Capsis on the lookout for new challenges.
The ACO is now firmly in his grasp and he’s something of a regular around the halls of Bennelong Point.
Last year he made his recording debut with his hit album Paul Capsis Live.
Now he has new cultural icons in his sights -“ a duet with Kylie Minogue, and an appearance on TV soapie stalwart Neighbours.
And yes, he is serious.
When I was in Europe, Kylie was everywhere -“ her Showgirl tour poster looked like she had sprouted wings, and I had dreams about her, he laughs.
So I thought of her as a fellow Aussie giant butterfly, protecting me everywhere I went.
I met her a few years ago at a party and I’d like to do a song with her.
I love Confide In Me and wonder if we could rework that a little and do it together on my planned second album?
It is a great song and she did a great job with it. The other song I’d like to try with her is Natural Woman, which I think could be really interesting. Getting down with Kylie!
As for Neighbours, it is a serious ambition for Capsis, who once dubbed himself too ethnic for Australian TV.
After his appearance on the cult SBS comedy Pizza exposed his talents to a new legion of fans, he would now like to conquer TV’s ultimate Aussie icon and land a role in Ramsay Street.
I am at a point where I want to try new experiences, so I would dearly love to do that show, he says.
I would love to see what kind of character they would put me in as. Maybe I could be a talent scout for Australian Idol who lands at Ramsay Street looking for the next Delta.
That could be fun, particularly if one of the kids ends up chasing me down the street because I say something nasty about their weight! he quips.
This once seemed out of the question for me, but I don’t think it is now -“ and that’s why I want to go for it. I just feel less afraid than ever before about trying new things.
Luminous can be seen at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney, on 12, 13 and 16 April; and Sydney Opera House on 17 April.