Category Archives: Favorite arias

Women make the ‘Marriage’ in Philadelphia

Operatoonity.com review: The Marriage of Figaro presented by Opera Philadelphia, a co-production with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, San Diego Opera, and Palm Beach Opera
Live performance: Sunday, April 20, 2:30 p.m.
The Academy of Music
Music: W.A. Mozart
Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte
4.5 out of 5.0 stars

4.5strslg

 

 

 Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) and the Countess (soprano Layla Claire)

The stellar performances of Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) and the Countess (soprano Layla Claire) made for a happy ‘Marriage’ at Opera Phila. | All photographs by Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Art imitates life, it has been said. If women are the glue that holds many marriages together, surely the women performing in Opera Philadelphia’s spring production made for a happier Marriage of Figaro. Soprano Ying Fang, soprano Layla Claire, and mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall reminded us over and over in their arias (and they have many arias in this l-o-n-g show) why we love Mozart. And how much Mozart must have loved women to give them so many glorious opportunities to be the glittering stars in his operatic firmament.

(mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall)

Mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall was delightful in her trouser role as Cherubino, who is smitten with all women.

Perhaps because the show runs long, conductor Corrado Rovaris chose a presto (molto!) tempo for the most beloved overture in operatic music, a tempo to make Mozart-loving hearts race. The Kentucky Derby should only run as briskly. The music and the performance of it by the orchestra and by the principal singers, eclipsed every other aspect in this production–the silly story, the heavy and cumbersome stage units, the occasional nonsensical set decor (what was living room furniture doing in a garden scene?), the confusing costuming. So allow me to vent some minor annoyances with this production so I can turn my attention what made this show really work.

Lamentation #1: This production premiered on May 1 in 1786. The merry month of May is Mother Nature’s gift to the Western Hemisphere. May is typically a fusillade of pink and white apple and dogwood blossoms, tidy and trim tulips, fragrant lilacs, and lush peonies. It’s when the earth comes alive again and reminds us why life is beautiful. So why the dark, heavy, colorless, lumbering set pieces in this show? Even the garden set looked more like a sepulcher–like the gloomy cemetery scene from Don Giovanni–than a garden full of romance.

Lamentation #2: The costume choices, especially for Figaro, were also an annoyance. In order to get this show past the censor, the creators played up the comedy and played down the political satire. Why confuse the audience any further by dressing Figaro like every other servant or valet? It’s an overly silly story and production companies shouldn’t rely on the arrival of any of the many popular arias in this show to clarify just who is who?

Lamentation #3: Lastly why was this production so dark? I longed for lightness, brightness, and flowers. Finally, the bright green gardener shows up to blow Cherubino’s cover, but it is too little greenery too late.

 Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) pretends to sing her love for the Count, as Figaro listens on.

Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) pretends to sing her love for the Count, as Figaro listens on, a very humorous conceit. But the garden looks more like a mausoleum hit by a tornado than a setting for romantic intrigues.

But, enough about some of this reviewer’s minor disappointments. If the voices are expected to thrill in this production, then thrill they did.

As Susanna, Figaro’s intended, Chinese Soprano Ying Fang was a sheer delight in every scene, in every way. In voice, carriage, appearance, Fang, who New York critics called “a star in the making,” was the ideal soubrette. She has a sweet clear soprano voice like a silver bell, eager to make a favorable impression. The audience hung on every note of the renowned Sull’aria, perfectly sung with Canadian soprano Layla Claire. It was one of those treasured opera moments that would have been perfect to capture and then replay on a gloomy day to make your soul feel light and bright again.

 Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) overhears Marcellina loudly declaring Figaro will only marry her for money

In this scene, Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) overhears Marcellina loudly declaring Figaro will only marry her for money.

American soprano Cecelia Hall deftly delivered another jewel from Mozart’s ‘Marriage’ hit parade in her song of love “Voi che sapete.” Simply splendid in tone, pitch, and voicing! And expectations loomed high for this and all the beloved pieces from this well-known opera. In her trouser role, Hall turned in a charming overall performance and later in the show, she tossed in a few strains of “Finch’han dal vino,”  replete with boyish charm and hubris as a bit of stage business. Your cleverness was not lost on this Don G. fan, Ms. Hall.

 Cherubino (mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall) serenades Countess Almaviva (soprano Layla Claire) with a song.

Cherubino (mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall) serenades Countess Almaviva (soprano Layla Claire) with a song.

Cast as the lovelorn wife whose husband has a roving eye, Layla Claire sang and acted the role with sensitivity and believability–not always easy to do in an opera with an over-the-top storyline. She was brought to Philadelphia for her “virtuosic singing,” and her Broad Street debut didn’t disappoint. While the Countess doesn’t have the pluck Susanna does, she isn’t without contrivances, having agreed to exchange outfits with Susanna for the gloomy garden scene in order to trick her philandering husband. And of course she forgives him (but, without getting too political), isn’t it entertaining when women don’t let their men off the hook for the indiscretions? Politicians’ wives, take a note.

The men’s cavatinas and arias were sturdily sung by Pennsylvania’s own bass-baritone Brandon Cedel as Figaro and German baritone John Chest as Count Almaviva. Cedel’s comic timing was at its best during the scene when he learns that Marcellina is his mother and Bartolo his father.

The propensity for infidelity is hardly the most attractive quality in any man, but truth be told Chest made himself hard to resist in this scene because of his leading man qualities in voice and stature. (But resist she does because she loves Figaro.)

 The Count (baritone John Chest) thinks he has seduced Susanna (soprano Ying Fang); all the while, Susanna plans to reveal his infidelity.

The Count (baritone John Chest) thinks he has seduced Susanna (soprano Ying Fang); all the while, Susanna plans to reveal his infidelity.

All the buffo or stock characters–mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer as Marcellina, bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi as Bartolo, and tenor Jason Ferrante as Don Curzio–delivered scene-stealing comic turns.

Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) comes to grips with the news that Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer) is, in fact, his mother and Bartolo is his father.

Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) comes to grips with the news that Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer) is, in fact, his mother and Bartolo is his father.

However, all the men were stellar when singing in company with the women in every Mozartian ensemble piece (and there are so many powerful ones in this show): the glorious 20-minute finale of (the traditional) Act II, the sextet in Act III , and the music and singing featured in the opera’s explosive conclusion, perfectly timed for a standing ovation.

Bartolo (bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi), Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer), Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) and Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) rejoice over their newfound happiness.

Bartolo (bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi), Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer), Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) and Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) rejoice over their newfound happiness.

The applause for the ladies of the ensemble was the most generous at curtain call, and deservedly so. However all the performances were strong in this show, with many virtuosic moments. I just wish that the design elements worked in tandem with the essential springtime spirit of the show to lift the soul as much as Mozart’s well performed music.

***

Opera Philadelphia opens their 2017-18 season with a blockbuster festival, Festival O17. More details available here.

 

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Favorite arias, Mozart, music and humor, North American Opera, Opera and humor, opera and romance, opera overtures, Reviews

‘Butterfly’ soars at Glimmerglass

Operatoonity.com review: Madame Butterflypresented by Glimmerglass Festival
Live performance: Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, NY
5.0 stars

five stars

The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Exceedingly beautiful, tender, and elegiac, well executed in every aspect. The new production of Madame Butterfly at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown is an elegant, extraordinary show that delivers on all the weighty expectations placed on a beloved Puccini work.

It featured an evocative and versatile set and special effects including a shower of pale pink rose petals …

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

. . . and, later,  a billowing curtain of blood.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San and Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San and Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

It was a consummate theatrical production under the directorial aegis of the Festival’s Artistic and General Director Francesca Zambello, offering a sweeping saga of the powerful tensions between traditional Eastern and imperialistic Western values and culture as distilled through the single act of abandonment of a sympathetic heroine by a blundering American naval officer that drove many audience members to tears as early as the first act and storming to their feet a standing ovation by curtain call.

Amidst hours of artistry, stunning music, and many spectacular voices, it takes some kind of  special performer portraying Butterfly to soar higher than all others and all the other elements, elevating a production to a transformative operatic experience. As Cio-Cio-San, Korean soprano Yunah Lee sang a Butterfly for the ages, worthy of elegy. Lee conveyed power, beauty, and grace in every note, in every gesture, in every facial expression–a living, breathing symbol of that lovely butterfly whose wings are pinned down by Westerners seeking to preserve and enjoy them by killing them.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San with members of the ensemble in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San with members of the ensemble in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Everything Lee sang was perfection, from the famous Act I love duet with Pinkerton played impressively by American tenor Dinyar Vanya beginning with Bimba, Bimba, non piangere…

Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton and Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton and Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

…to the opera’s most famous aria Un bel dì, delivered flawlessly. Though the audience knows through Suzuki’s reactions that Pinkerton is not coming back to live with her, somehow Lee has made us believe through her powerful rendition that there’s a glimmer of chance of a happy reunion–even if we’ve seen the show before, numerous times.

Kristen Choi as Suzuki and Yunah Lee as Cio-CIo-San in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Kristen Choi as Suzuki and Yunah Lee as Cio-CIo-San in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

As Suzuki, American mezzo and Young Artists Kristen Choi was first-rate, turning in a nuanced and polished performance beyond her years, totally believable as Butterfly’s loyal maid, who is, if not older, considerably more worldly wise.

And the list of impressive performances continues. As Sharpless, Ukrainian tenor Aleksey Bogdanov sang the role with uncommon depth and sensitivity.  In addition to substantial artistry, Bogdanov has enormous stage presence and intelligence. Each of his warnings to Pinkerton, “Didn’t I tell you to be careful?” rings more urgent than the last because this Sharpless understands the consequences of Pinkerton’s actions even though Pinkerton himself remains clueless until the final scene of the show.

Kristen Choi as Suzuki and Aleksey Bogdanov as Sharpless in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Kristen Choi as Suzuki and Aleksey Bogdanov as Sharpless in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Tenor Dinyar Vanya was ideally cast as Pinkerton. He has a clear, spinto quality to his voice that one expects of a leading man in a Puccini opera. His infatuation with Butterfly was so believable rendered and his love duet with her to end the first act so beautifully sung, it brought this reviewer to tears.

Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Dinyar Vania as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Though not a singing role, special mention must go to little Louis McKinny, as Sorrow, Butterfly and Pinkerton’s three-year-old son. Somehow, this adorable child understood how critical his role is to the success of the production. He executed his stage directions perfectly, comforting his stricken mother, even remembering to innocently play with the toy boat as he marched offstage, just as he was instructed to do.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San and Louis McKinny as Sorrow in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Yunah Lee as Cio-Cio-San and Louis McKinny as Sorrow in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

The show was conducted by the Festival’s new music director Joseph Calaneri. During the smaller more intimate moments of the show, he conducted his capable musicians as if they were gloved on his hand. But in the initial numbers of the first act, it seemed like both Vania and Bogdanov had to compete with the orchestra to be heard and both have huge voices.

Those who have seen ‘Butterfly’ before might be surprised by the directorial choices in this production. Scenes that have been traditionally set in Cio-Cio San’s village are set in the American Consulate instead. Personally, I found this to be an effective choice in driving home the themes central to the piece, including the intrusion of American military power and influence abroad without an adequate respect for and understanding of foreign peoples and cultures.

Set design was by Michael Yergen and lighting by Robert Wierzel.

Set design was by Michael Yergen and lighting by Robert Wierzel.

So yes, this production offers a different artistic approach, but a winning one, and the work of all involved from the sometimes ethereal-as-butterfly-wings scrims and fly pieces designed by Michael Yeargan to the period costumes by Anna Yavich to the lighting by Robert Wierzel all combined synergistically to splendid effect.

It is an original version and yet one that lifts up the music and conventions of Madame Butterfly painstakingly inserted by the composer and the original librettists that begs to be seen.  There are six more performances of Madame Butterfly at Glimmerglass Festival through August 23. Don’t miss it.

* * *

Every mainstage performance is preceded by a Show Talk beginning one hour before curtain. The Show Talk for Butterfly was given by Director Francesca Zambella and is a wonderful add-on that will enrich your Glimmerglass Festival experience.

 

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most popular posts on Operatoonity…

What posts have people come to Operatoonity.com to read most? Since Operatoonity.com just passed its four-year anniversary, I thought it was time to trot out some sexy stats for y’all.

In the last four years, I’ve created 388 posts and logged more than 3.4 million visitors on this site! Not too shabby, eh?

Since I use WordPress, I can also corroborate the most popular posts using my analytics plugin and a nifty report that WordPress sends me each year.

One of the world's best tenors

Roberto Alagna, one of the world’s best tenors

#1 best opera singers in the world today – male persuasion 42 COMMENTS
#2 best opera singers in the world today – female persuasion 45 COMMENTS
#3 today’s top tenors 48 COMMENTS
#4 100 greatest operas . . . really? 7 COMMENTS
#5 Puccini’s best opera? 21 COMMENTS

(Funny thing about the “Best Opera Singers” lists. I created them because I couldn’t find any up-to-date lists online to blog about.)

A goal for 2015 is to update some of my “Best Singers” lists, taking into account all the suggestions in readers’ comments. A lot can change in five years, even in the opera world though I can say, categorically, Roberto Alagna belonged on my original list.

Not convinced? Then you need to watch this aria:

YouTube Preview Image

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Filed under artists, Baritones, Best of Operatoonity, blog stats, Favorite arias, lists, opera star power, Performers, sopranos, tenors

soprano Rochelle Hart: following her heart back to the opera stage

Soprano Rochelle Hart

Meet Rochelle Hart, a self-described “slightly grumpy, bel canto singing Soprano. Yank ex-pat &  failed Roman archaeologist who loves wine, food, shoes, dogs, sleeping late, and drinking too much coffee.”

Apart from the fact that I’m not an ex-patriated American nor do I have a doctoral degree in archeology, she and I have tons in common. Okay, I’m not a bel canto singer either, but as far as loving wine, food, shoes, dogs, and drinking too much coffee, I’m there. Rochelle and I could be, well, sisters — separated by a pond.

She would be the talented, overachieving younger sister (while I’m the plain, dull, older sister with far fewer talents.)

One of the wonderful things about Rochelle is that she doesn’t hold my dearth of talents against me personally. In fact, she reached out to me on Twitter because she loves to talk about opera, and I guess I can be pretty noisy at times Tweeting, ReTweeting, etc.

Within a short time, Rochelle became a loyal  Tweep though I didn’t know her really well, just well enough to know she was an exceptional person–intelligent, selfless, talented. Have I mentioned we have the same favorite aria? Which aria is that, you ask? Read on . . .

She has a fascinating life story about following her heart back to the world of opera that captured her imagination as a child that she’s sharing with Operatoonity readers. I’m telling you right now, you’ll want to catch every word of this interview that proves you can “go home” again with hard work and focus.

So nice to have you on Operatoonity, Rochelle. Can you tell me a little about your childhood? How did you grow up and how did it affect your decision to sing opera?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon. It was (I’m sure it still is!!) a very creative town with lots of opportunities to get involved in theatre and music of all genres. The Portland Opera is great. My mum used to get matinee and dress rehearsal tickets and take me as a kid. I remember my first opera, Aida. They brought in a live elephant from the Portland zoo for the triumphal scene. The idea of being able to work around a live elephant had me all a flutter. I went home singing the arias from Aida. I was, like, 9!

Personally, I started doing musical theatre quite young. My first role was a singing tree in Snow White when I was 5. I moved on to be an orphan in Annie after that exciting trip to Aida, and it kind if spiraled from there. I did some child opera stuff with the Portland opera groups and sang in loads of choirs. I also took up playing instruments quite young, and by the time I left high school I could play pretty much everything apart from the drums and the piano. I still wish I’d put down the wind instruments and focused a bit of attention on the piano! Alas. During my last two years of high school I sang with some professional chamber choirs and did some symphony work, but I can’t honestly think back to a time when I ‘decided’ to sing opera. My voice coach (thankfully) wouldn’t even let me touch an operatic aria when I was a teenager! It just kind of happened as I progressed through University. Although I spent those years dabbling in Musical Theatre and Jazz as well, opera was where I landed on my feet. It just felt “right.”

You wound up in Manchester, England? Do you like the ex-pat life? What keeps you there?
I love England. I miss various things about the states (Widmer Hefeweizen!!!), but England had always had this draw on me. My first trip to the UK was when I was 15, and I fell in love at first sight. That being said, I never intended to stay here. I took a break from music in 2004 to come over and do a year-long MA programme in Roman Archaeology at the University of Liverpool. I wanted to ‘round out’ my education and do some traveling and experience living abroad. I’d planned to go back to Portland when I was done and decide what to do with myself, but then I met my husband. He’s British. I stuck around and did a Ph.D. in Roman Archaeology while we dated, and then we got married in 2008 and here I am! We lived in London from 2005 until this past June. In 2009 I decided I had to go back to music. I’d put it off long enough, and I’d ‘rounded out’ my education as far as one possibly can! I found myself a voice coach, started going on master classes . . .  And that leads me to . . .

What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge of my career, by far, has been returning to a career in opera. One doesn’t usually just take 5 years off and think they’ll even have a career in opera. Especially since I’d only done a handful of professional operatic things in the US before I stopped singing. In fact, when I first started back to singing in late-2009, I spent a good 16 months trying to do musical theatre instead of going back to opera. I thought that I’d been out of the game way too long to be able to catch up and be competitive in the industry at all. Especially when, added to my lengthy absence, I also had to deal with a totally different voice. In the US, I sang mezzo-soprano. I’m not sure what happened between 2004 and 2009, but I came back and was categorically not a mezzo anymore – which meant re-training, learning completely new repertoire and trying to identify with myself on an entirely different plane artistically. I think it’s why I initially tried musical theatre instead of going straight back to classical and operatic music. I was scared. Heck, I still am scared. It wasn’t until I auditioned for Cameron Macintosh and was told, “You need to be singing opera, not musical theatre. You’re wasting your time here with a voice like that!” that I went, “Okay . . . ,” and came back to opera.

I picked up mezzo rep initially and was told off left and right by everyone I encountered. So I started singing the soprano rep. I wasn’t entirely sure where to start, and started out a bit bigger than I should have at that point (Aida…!), but after a year of playing around with the difference between what I could sing and what I should sing for where I am at this stage of my development, I finally landed on my feet. That was only recently, though. The beginning of 2011! I’m still working on developing the soprano inside me. It’s still a challenge and every day I have to fight with myself not to go back to my old mezzo ways, but I am loving the rep I’m singing now. I’ve found a kind of vocal peace in singing Bel Canto rep. It fits like a glove right now, and it’s helping me continue to settle into my new abilities.

I actually think that this next year is going to be the most thrilling part of my career. It hasn’t happened yet, but I have to remove myself from who I was prior to 2004 and who I am now. As my therapist says, there is no point in looking backwards. Singing my first professional gig (Carmen) was brilliant, but it’s not who I am anymore. I haven’t done much over the last few years as I’ve been focusing on finding my new voice and getting “back on the horse”, as it were – but I don’t do things by half! My debut role as a soprano is Anna Bolena – no small task. It let’s me dip into that mezzo richness I still can bring out and play with, but also lets me expose my newfound coloratura and my developing high notes. I’m also a bit of a Tudor history obsessive, which makes it all the more fun! The company I’m doing it with is performing all of the three Queen operas in upcoming seasons (Roberto Devereux and Maria Stuarda are concert-style, though), and I’m singing the range of them. I think that is the most exciting thing in my career thus far – getting to sing Bolena, Elisabetta and Maria! It’s a lot of extremely hard work, and some nights I go to bed wondering what I’m doing and have nightmares about falling off the stage, but I wake up every morning knowing I’m on the right path finally, and I’m totally excited about it!

“Rochelle Hart’s voice soars and depreciates delicately but powerfully, making the most of the high ceilinged acoustics in St. John’s Minster. It’s a mesmerising performance that will leave opera fans and sceptics alike spellbound.”
         — Katie Siobhán Mercer for The Two Hats     

Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Role? Venue?
I love Puccini and Donizetti. Honestly, if I never sang anything else ever again apart from Puccini and Donizetti, I could probably die happy. My favourite role has got to be Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor). I’m working on it between other things and it’s such a thrilling part to sing, and to listen to. Stunning music. My all-time favourite opera has to be Tosca. It combines my love of Rome and my love of opera into one dramatic, climactic piece. “Vissi d’Arte” is kind of my go-to aria, and is just a piece of musical perfection. Every time I hear it I want to cry!

Do you enjoy performing in the UK? How do UK audiences compare to US audiences? US opera houses compare to UK houses?
Performing in the UK is interesting. Audiences seem to come in two varieties – the ones that are totally receptive to everything, and are encouraging and generally lovely, and the ones that have to sit and tear performers apart. It’s hard being a singer, knowing that there are those people sat somewhere in the audience that will pick up on every single flaw of everything you do, and will talk to each other about your said flaws, especially when music is such a personal thing and we’re bearing our souls to perform these roles. Then one little old lady will come up with tears in her eyes and tell you how much you moved her, and it will make it all better. I’m not singing for the critics, I’m singing for the soul of the character, and for the general audience to appreciate the music the composers put on the paper. No human is perfect, but we are all human.

I digress…

I’ve not yet sung in a house as a soloist on either shore – only with companies who perform in different theatres or churches depending on space or the production. Generally, though, I think US audiences, in my experience, seem to be more ‘roll with the punches’ and don’t expect the same level of superhuman perfectionism that European audiences do.

Have you picked up a British accent?
Oh heavens, no! I have picked up a bit of a British “twang.” You can tell I’m American, but I sound like an American that has lived in the UK for a while. I get odd looks in the States when I’m visiting, and often get asked if I’m Irish when I’m in the US (which I don’t understand at all!), but to the Brits I’m most definitely American. Mostly what I’ve picked up is pronunciation. You say toh-may-toh, I say toh-maaaaah-toh….

Singing Tosca at Murray Edwards Hall

Where would you like to be in five years? In ten years?
I’m realistic. I took 5 years off, and spent the first two years back in serious singing having a crisis of identity. If you asked me 5 years ago where I saw myself in 5 years, I would not have said “singing Anna Bolena in June!” I’ve changed fachs completely since my original training, and I have a lot of new repertoire to learn to get back up to speed. My voice still hasn’t completely settled into its new identity, and I have a lot of work to do to catch up with other people my age that I’m competing against in the industry. Some of them have been singing roles for years that I’m only just now starting to look at. I know that I’m not at the level I should be for a 32-year old professional soprano, but despite the odds I’m persevering and I’m getting opportunities to get out there and improve myself and my art form. I’m feeling much more at ease in my own vocal skin, and I’m forging my own path. Everyone I meet seems to have a differing opinion as to what my soprano-fach should be, so I’m just moving forward and singing what’s comfortable and it’ll all fall into place eventually – whether that be 5 years or ten. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about where I’d like to be, though!

In the next 5 years, I’d love to be singing at the smaller houses and with the touring companies in England (ETO, Glyndebourne, Opera North), and possibly in Germany and parts of the US. I’d love to sing Butterfly at the Portland Opera someday. For now, I want to be cementing the roles I’m singing with small companies now and really burning them into my soul. I believe that less is more, and I’d rather sing 8 or 10 roles really well, and have them be part of my soul, than sing 40 roles but never real feel like any of them are one with me. Not to say I wouldn’t take something outside of my standard repertoire, or that it won’t change completely when I’m in my 50s or whatever, but I don’t want to learn something now just to never sing it again! Been there, done that….

In 10 years, I’d like to have made my debut at Covent Garden and the English National Opera, and possibly Vienna, even if only in smaller roles. I don’t expect that as the outsider who took time off that I’ll ever get to sing a lead role at a major international house, but a girl can dream! Hey, stranger things have happened . . .

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. My friends and some of my closer colleagues know this, but it’s not something I go shouting to the rooftops. It’s difficult, and I don’t want people to pre-judge me based on it. I’ve lightly blogged about it, but I try not to bring it up too much.

Basically, my brain overreacts about everything (far more than the average person). I worry myself into state of pure panic quite frequently over even the smallest things and find it very hard to snap myself out of the ‘downward spiral of doom’ as I like to call it. We’re talking can’t breath, think the walls are closing in on you, I think I’m having a heart attack type panic. I have to fight every day to ensure I keep my mood on the positive side of the tracks, so I don’t end up sabotaging myself. Honestly, it nearly kept me from coming back to music. I could have taken the easy route and gone about working in academia and archaeology, but I knew that deep down, even though I loved archaeology, I wasn’t happy. I had to have a serious period of self reflection to work up the courage to return to singing, and to this day I still struggle massively with that decision. I can still manage to convince myself that nothing I do is ever going to succeed, and I have nightmares about it quite frequently. My brain latches onto the fact that I look, on paper, to be so far behind my competition because of the time off and the fach change, and in my head I am sure that people think I’m a fraud. I know deep down that it’s not really the case, but anxiety disorder takes your internal niggles and exacerbates them to the point that some days I have a hard time even getting out of bed.

The funny thing is that when I’m on stage, and I’m lost in being someone else and interacting with my colleagues in their characters, those are the times I’m free from the clutches of the anxiety. But other times, like auditions and job interviews and even meeting a new person for the first time – I have to really work on not totally falling apart. I know I don’t audition well because of it, and I don’t give off a good first impression because of it. But it’s something I work on every day.

Also, singing a mad scene or two when I’m having a ‘bad’ day usually helps. 😉

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You can find out where Rochelle is performing through 2013 at her website. Or you can follow her on Twitter @raketje.

 

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Filed under artists, Bel canto opera, Favorite arias, Interviews, Q&A, sopranos

for Mozart’s birthday, I’m putting on a few airs

"Had this man Mozart lived, none of the rest of us would earn a crust of bread for our operas." - Antonio Salieri

Wolfgang Amadeus [Amadé] Mozart was born today,  January 27, 1756, in  Salzburg, Austria.

“Mozart is the highest, the culminating point that beauty has attained in the sphere of music,” Tchaikovsky said. And of course, he was just one of many composers with highest praise of Mozart–Rossini, Brahms, Gounod, Bernstein, to name a few others.

To celebrate, I’m putting on airs–arias (for the uninitiated, that’s what aria means in Italian). And I received numerous wonderful titles from the Twittersphere when I asked for favorite Mozart arias.

I have my own faves, which like my best loved foods and wines, I go back to again and again. But on this august occasion, I am happy to share others’ favorite arias by the birthday boy, as much for myself as for you.

This is the musical version of me trying sushi rather than ordering another filet mignon, medium rare.

Here’s three arias (airs) offered up like pure and noble sacrifices from some of the lovely folks populating my humble but extremely useful Twitter feed pour vous.

Soprano La Toya Lewis (@LaToyaLewis) mentioned “Hai già vinta la causa” from The Marriage of Figaro as one of her favorites. Here’s a fine version from American baritone Rodney Gilfrey:

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More than one Twitter compadre named “Come scoglio”  from Così fan tutte as their favorite Mozart aria. Brandon Antoine (@B_A_L_Baritone),  soprano Kate L. Fenech (@MissFeneshhhhh), and Pokrovsky Opera (@Pokrovsky_Opera), who  mentioned this clip in their Tweet, from Salzburg 2009 sung by Miah Persson:

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Finally, here’s Mexican Tenor Ramón Vargas performing “Fuor del mar” from Idomeneo, who Paulo Montoya (@operarules) must concede is spectacular:

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Filed under Audience participation, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Favorite arias, Mozart, Opera anniversaries