By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Tickets are on sale for Cirque du Soleil’s “Alegría,” which will be staged under the big top at Sutter Health Park from July 28 to Aug. 28.
“Alegría” is a classic that has been reimagined for a new generation of Cirque du Soleil fans. An uplifting immersive experience, “Alegría” whisks audiences away to a mystical world sprinkled with visual poetry and acrobatic extravagance. Among those bringing the show to life is Black Brazilian singer Cassia Raquel. With the production touring, The OBSERVER recently interviewed through a translator the Portuguese-speaking Raquel remotely.
Q. How and when did you join Cirque du Soleil?
A. I have joined Cirque du Soleil recently. I started rehearsals in September 2021 for the relaunch of “Alegría” following its pandemic hiatus. After weeks of rehearsals, we premiered in November in Houston, Texas. I was selected through a virtual audition. My first attempt to join “Alegría” was in 2018 when Cirque du Soleil was casting for the remount of the show. At the beginning of 2021, I was called up again for the role of the Singer in Black and got it. I had applied for other Cirque du Soleil shows before, but “Alegría” fit perfectly with my style and identity. I couldn’t have started my career with the company in a better way than with this show.
Q. What character/role do you play in “Alegría”?
A: I’m the Singer in Black and I share the stage with the Singer in White. They are contrasting characters, but they complement each other in their desire to bring back hope to the kingdom of Alegría. The Singer in Black is the voice of the youth of Alegría, a movement yearning for change as it enters a power struggle with the old order desiring to keep the status quo. The Singer in Black represents strength and emphasis on low notes to give power to the youth and illustrate through vocals the physicality of the acrobatics performed on stage.
Q. What do you want audiences to walk away from the show with?
A. I want people to renew hope in life, faith in humanity and joy to enjoy with their family.
Q. What was the first Cirque du Soleil show you saw? Did you think at that time that you’d
ever be a part of a show?
A. My only opportunity to watch Cirque du Soleil was the big top production “Corteo” in São Paulo in 2013. I was on tour with a show at that time and I glimpsed at the possibility that I could too sing in one of their shows. But I didn’t believe it would be possible. Friends encouraged me to sign up and in the end it worked.
Q. When did you begin singing?
A. I started singing in the church where my father was pastor, as a child. I developed technique at the age of 16, studying lyrical singing, and graduated from the University of Rio de Janeiro years later. I have been working in professional musical theater in Brazil for over a decade and have had the opportunity to play iconic characters such as Fantine from “Les Misérables” and Antônia from “Man of La Mancha,” among other roles in shows honoring Brazilian artists.
Q. What is it like trying to “make it” in the entertainment business as a Black Brazilian? Are there a lot of roles open to you?
A. I entered this universe at a time when auditions were live and we were selected for talent. I was lucky to start with the greatest Brazilian directors who taught me a lot and included me in their work. I gained visibility and today I am respected. But I still come across productions that see me only to play the same types of roles, where it needs to be described as a Black woman. I managed to break this barrier in many shows, but producers always highlighted the fact that I was the “first Black woman in that character” or the “only Black woman in the cast.”
Until recently, many producers were asking me for recommendations of other Black singers or actresses for work that I couldn’t do due to schedule conflicts. The Black community in Brazil is huge, but unfortunately our emerging talent is still unknown and not represented enough locally. I think it comes down to who is casting or producing. For example, I was never considered to audition for Christine from “The Phantom of the Opera,” but was always approached for roles in “Dreamgirls” or “The Lion King.” I love these plays, but I don’t think as a Black woman I should be limited to playing these roles. I guess little by little, the industry is changing if performers like myself keep breaking barriers.
Q. How long will you be performing with “Alegría”?
A. I wish to remain on the show for as long as it is running. We will be on tour at least for the next two years, but shows at Cirque du Soleil usually have a 10-year lifespan. Let’s see where this will take me.
Q. What’s next for you? Any side projects/albums, etc?
A. “Alegría” demands exclusivity and dedication to keep the voice, mind and body healthy. I want to enjoy the trips and leave space for the opportunities that come along the way, whether it’s a new song or a collaboration with other artists. Meanwhile, when I’m off stage, I upload singing classes on my social networks, help other Brazilians with travel itineraries indicating the places I’ve been and enjoyed, in addition to showing my daily life by commenting on skincare or doing humor sketches.
My plan is also to have a family at some point, and to get a master’s degree in music therapy or speech therapy that will certainly be useful for when I return to Brazil after my touring career to reopen my music school.
Cirque Du Soleil’s last production to play in Sacramento was “Amaluna” in 2020. Sutter Health Park is located at 400 Ballpark Drive, West Sacramento. Tickets are available at cirquedusoleil.com/Alegria.