Cabaret diva Barbara Cook was last in Sydney for the Olympic Arts Festival in 2000, and is back this week in Mostly Sondheim. Since 2000 there have been a number of changes in her life, both personal and global. First up is her recent confession that she has begun vocal warm-ups before performing, for the first time in her career.

It’s a little embarrassing, she laughs. We’re at Cook’s hotel room with a view to the Opera House and she’s wearing a studded Mickey Mouse brooch. Like Mickey, Cook is boundlessly cheerful and almost as ageless.

I warm up all the time, now that I’ve found it’s such a good thing to do -¦ Part of it comes from having a teacher who felt that vocal chords were very strong, and that you didn’t have to protect them so much all the time -¦ He used to say things like, -˜You should be able to be hit by a bus and stand up and sing,’ Cook smiles. At 74, she recently sang at Carnegie Hall, with critics marvelling at how little her soprano voice had weakened with age. So how old does she feel?

It depends on whether you’re talking about knees or voice! says Cook. Like everybody else, it astonishes me that I’m 74 when I think of it. Certainly my left knee is 74 years old, there’s no question about that.

The events of 11 September were particularly affecting to Cook, a native New Yorker for the last 50 years. Trapped in London and unable to return home, Cook found herself bonding in the hotel with the only fellow Americans present -“ a team of Mary Kay Cosmetics ladies.

I wanted to be with Americans, it was this odd kind of thing -¦ What happened with 9-11 is I think people admitted, in some way, their pride about New York. Because it is one of the great cities of the world, there’s no question about it, says Cook.

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