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Our excellent partners Opera Carolina will be showing a Puccini opera that is rarely staged around here: La Fanciulla del West.
This opera that is notable for its exquisite written-through score and was Puccini's own favorite is inaugurating an important step for Opera Carolina: its first international cooperation, with the Teatro di Giglio in Puccini’s hometown of Lucca, Italy, the Teatro Lirico in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, and the New York City Opera.
Charlotte will have the privilege of counting on world-class major star Marcello Giordani in the leading male role, and acclaimed Italian stage director Ivan Stefanutti. Sets and digital projections were built by Opera Carolina. New costumes are by Atelier Nicolao, Venice, Italy. Maestro Meena conducts.
So, dear readers, we've been treated to great productions by Opera Carolina before but this is likely to achieve an even higher level of quality. The "not to be missed" cliché is looking to be very true indeed!
Unfortunately Opera Lively will only be able to attend the third and last run of the show but we will be publishing our review when that time comes. Below you'll find our exclusive interviews with the three principal singers (a longer one with Marcello Giordani as Dick Johnson, the last one when you scroll down, and two mini-interviews with Kristin Sampson in the title role, and Aleksey Bogdanov as Jack Rance).
Click [here] for more information and tickets from the company's web site.
Sunday April 23rd at 2 PM is the first show; the second one is on Thursday April 27th at 7:30 PM, and the run ends on Saturday April 29th at 8 PM, at the Blumenthal Performance Arts Center in Charlotte, NC.
Here is our first mini-interview, with Russian-American baritone Aleksey Bodganov in the role of Jack Rance; his answers are to the point and interesting! Learn more about this singer who has had a rather impressive career, by clicking [here] to consult the artist's website.
Exclusive Opera Lively mini-interview with Aleksey Bogdanov – Jack Rance
Opera Lively interview # 218 - copyright Opera Lively - Reproduction authorized as long as the source is quoted, with a link to this article.
Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - I believe that Jack Rance is a beautiful role to sing. For example, I like the opportunities for a lot of dramatic color in the first act, starting with “Minnie, dalla mia casa son partito” – many of his lines are recitative-like instead of lyrical but with a lot of emotion. Please tell us about the challenges in singing this character.
Aleksey Bogdanov - Jack Rance is a beautiful and complex role, but there are a few challenges when casting it. Mainly, you need a lot of projection top to bottom to cut through the rich orchestration and a really strong dramatic presence that enriches the voice. He has some glorious vocal moments, but it's the dramatic aspect and personality of this character that makes him so memorable.
OL - Maybe a pitfall when interpreting this role is that psychologically he doesn’t change much – always the spiteful and jealous type – so I imagine that the singer must be careful to avoid a mono-dimensional acting problem. How do you see your character’s psychological arc?
AB - Well, to start with he's a cop. He feels entitled to Minnie's heart, and he is the law of the land. He's also a gambler and a drunk. As far as I'm concerned, Puccini gave him not only the vocal line, but the entire opera to create a real human character. Though he may act like the villain, Rance is more of a weird hardened loner type than an evil person, and as the Sheriff he's an outsider anyway.
OL - He does show integrity when he respects his deal with Minnie in the second act. In this sense he seems better as a human being than other Puccini antagonists like Scarpia. How do you compare this role with other, shall we say, evil Puccini roles?
AB - Interesting question, but I would say that just like comedy actors don't think they're being funny, villains don't think they're so bad. In fact, both Scarpia and Rance are just trying to do their jobs!
OL - This is a very important production for Opera Carolina, in co-production with companies from Italy and New York. What can our public expect from this show?
AB - The cast for this production sounds fantastic! We move into the theater tonight for tech and I can't wait to see the set. Our costumes were handmade in Venice and they are divine! Expect to see a Spaghetti Western come to life before your very eyes with a peel-the-paint orchestra and glorious voices.
OL - You immigrated to the United States from Russia at about the age of 9. Given the strong Russian tradition in opera, did your background play a role in your career choice? Are there musicians in your nuclear and/or extended family? Still on the Russian theme, having had your training in the United States, how special was for you the day when you interpreted Eugene Onegin?
AB - My mom went to a conservatory for singing and piano in Odessa and my dad sang in the army choir, and I have an uncle who used to play in many orchestras. My parents never pushed me one way or the other with a career choice, they just wanted me to be happy. I think the instability of a career in the arts worries many parents, and that's ok. We immigrated to San Francisco in 1992 when I was a kid, and I would say it has worked out immensely for my family. I think of that before starting Rance's aria about leaving his home that's across another ocean.
Speaking of Onegin , my parents actually flew to Edmonton in 2013 to see my last minute debut as Eugene Onegin, and that's where I worked with Maestro Meena for the first time!
OL - Tell us a little bit about you, please. What are some of your personality traits, and your hobbies and extra-musical interests?
AB - I'm a big fan of Major League Baseball. I fell in love with the game when I moved to the United States and later pitched on my high school team. I threw a mean 45mph heater.
I have played guitar in many bands and have toured with a few bands across the country. I can assure you that opera pays better than beer, pizza, and a couch!
Let's listen to the singer in Carmen, the Toreador song:
Our title-role Minnie's singer is Kristin Sampson. Read below her mini-interview with us, she is a very well informed musician, gauging by her answers. Get to know her better by clicking [here] to consult her website.
Exclusive Opera Lively mini-interview with Kristin Sampson - Minnie
Opera Lively interview # 219 - copyright Opera Lively - Reproduction authorized as long as the source is quoted, with a link to this article.
Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Please tell us about the psychology of your character. In the original play turned novel, she is shy and cries a lot, and is more passive in the rescue of her beloved. The librettists and Puccini made her much fiercer.
Kristin Sampson - I find this extra level of strength a fantastic addition to her character. While she is soulful, prayerful and loving, she knows how to take care of herself at all times.
OL - How do you compare Minnie with other Puccini heroines?
KS - She is feisty and fiery like a Tosca, passionate and loving like Mimi with a youthful innocence like Butterfly. I love singing her music and making all the many facets of her personality come to life.
OL - Minnie is a difficult role. She stays on stage for a long time, must use lyricism in some parts but also a lot of dramatic soprano power in others. Some of her arias have a wide range such as “Laggiù nel Soledade, ero piccina.” What challenges do you see in singing this role?
KS - My primary challenge would be always maintaining a consistent level of breath support. In the dramatic passages filled with emotion, one can never let the emotion take over and rob the instrument of breath. Anchoring the voice with air and then letting the instrument supply the colors necessary for the drama is the goal. Needless to say, this can be quite a challenge. In my opinion, this task can only be achieved successfully through impeccable breath support and physical commitment to the character.
OL - The score is beautiful but it seems to never have achieved as much popularity as some of the other Puccini operas, in spite of the composer’s fondness for it. What can you say about the music in La Fanciulla del West?
KS - The music from this score is hauntingly beautiful. While it may not have the same level of popularity La bohème has achieved, there are passages that a listener will instantly recognize as composer Andrew Lloyd Weber utilized musical material directly from La Fanciulla del West. I love this music and truly consider it a masterpiece.
OL - This written-through opera uses a lot of recitative and can be seen as a precursor for modern and contemporary operas with not many recognizable arias. You’ve done a lot of contemporary works. Any comments on the position of this opera in the history of music?
KS - As you know, La Fanciulla del West was originally commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and was deemed a critical success largely due to the fantastic orchestration of the piece. Puccini used modern tonal elements, as well as historical and nostalgic tonal language to help tell the story. By doing so, he set a perfect example of how to blend the two arriving at what many consider his finest masterpiece.
OL - Tell us a little bit about you, please. What made you embrace the operatic profession?
KS - I love the story telling involved with the music making of opera. As I progressed with my career I made it my personal artistic mission to be a vessel for this amazing music. In opera, verismo or bringing truth; being truly present in the moment, and living through the text is what drives my love for the art form.
OL - What are some of your personality traits, and your hobbies and extra-musical interests?
KS - I currently live in New York City and have been there for almost 12 years. I am a detail-oriented person who loves staying busy and multitasking. When I have free time, I enjoy swimming, cooking and spending time with family and friends.
Let's listen to this impressive performance by Kristin Sampson of "La mamma morta" from Andrea Chenier:
Now, the main fare, our interview with the great Marcello Giordani. Learn more about this singer's fantastic career by consulting his website [here]; and also check out his foundation [here].
The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Marcello Giordani – Dick Johnson / Ramerrez
Opera Lively interview # 220 - copyright Opera Lively - Reproduction authorized as long as the source is quoted, with a link to this article.
Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - We are honored to have a star of your magnitude in Charlotte, Mr. Giordani.
Marcello Giordani – Thank you, thank you!
OL - Let’s talk first about your role, Dick Johnson. His most recognizable aria comes very late in the opera, in the third act, “Ch’ella mi creda libero e lontano,” after a lot of stage presence and recitatives. Is this challenging in any way, regarding pacing? Is this a difficult role to sing?
MG – Well, it is a difficult role; first of all because it’s not only a matter of singing. If you consider the first act, it’s just acting. It’s not a big sing for Dick Johnson; it’s conversational. Puccini is doing this great discovery of new things in music. He is maybe inspired by Debussy and Richard Strauss, putting this nice conversational attitude in beautiful musical phrasing. Of course the “Ch’ella mi creda” is the climax of the opera; everybody knows this part but it is just one minute of music. We have so many other beautiful musical moments; it’s very concentrated.
It is very difficult for the tenor to perform this role because he has to be perfect in Italian diction. I’m lucky that I’m Italian, so I can really do some juicy words and I love what I am singing. I really understand what I’m saying and singing. The best part for an Italian singer, is singing in an Italian opera.
OL - Other than the lyricism early in the first act sung by a comprimario, Jake Wallace, in “Che faranno I vecchi miei,” Johnson seems to have the best juicy parts, like the one I just mentioned, and like the beautiful “Quello che voi tacete.” Otherwise this written-through opera with not so many arias has suffered in popularity in spite of its beautiful score. Please tell our public why this opera is still very compelling. The orchestration is the best part, right?
MG – Yes, the orchestration is the best part with such beautiful passages, but I find that the theatrical part is also not secondary. Consider that Puccini saw this play The Girl of the Golden West in New York in the Belasco Theater and he was overwhelmed and fascinated. He decided to make an opera of it and of course he put all his Italian music in it. He was in a sense the pioneer of silent film music. One can say he created the Spaghetti Western.
As you said, “Che faranno I vecchi miei,” and “Quello che voi tacete, me l'ha già detto il cuore,” etc. etc., have beautiful lyricism and musical line. Only Puccini could write such beautiful music, because he was so romantic!
OL – Please tell us about the psychological arc of your character, and compare him with other Puccini characters.
MG – Well, he is different; there is this idea of catharsis in one act. He comes to the Polka Saloon with the intent of stealing the gold, and then immediately when he sees these people and sees Minnie, and listens to her talking about how strong she is about protecting the gold and protecting the miners, and she adds that she wants to meet the man that will give her the first kiss, he is blooming, he is falling in love and changing his idea. In the second act he tells her that when he saw her, his life changed. He says that he was born a thief and got into this position by accident for having been born of a father who was a thief, but seeing her, his life changes.
That’s what is different because the other Puccini characters are monochromatic. From beginning to end they are the same. Rodolfo is a poet in love from the first act until the end. Dick Johnson is different; he is growing by the act.
OL - This is a peculiar opera, with Italians displaying their vision of the American Wild West. Some people accuse it of being a bit cheesy and stereotypical.
MG – Yes, like I said, it’s a Spaghetti Western. [laughs]
OL - What do you think of this opera’s libretto? (I’m being the Devil’s Advocate here – personally I do think it is theatrical enough, coherent, and well-paced).
MG – The libretto is written beautifully. I love all words of it. It is very carefully crafted even for the small roles. Every single word is heartbreaking. It is so poetic! And of course Puccini’s music, it is impossible to consider it trash. After Manon Lescaut, this is my second favorite Puccini opera.
OL - Opera Carolina is engaged with this show in trans-state and international cooperation in co-production. It’s an important moment for our company. Please tell our public what to expect from this production.
MG – I just saw the production for the first time yesterday when we were on stage. The production is beautiful. It is very sensual. There is nothing modern; it is very, very like a Western. We are in the saloon, there is a projection in the back… I don’t want to say too much, because I want to invite people to come to the opera and enjoy these beautiful visuals as a surprise. I’m very proud that I was one of the people who convinced James Meena and the other companies in Italy and in New York to have this co-production, particularly in Tuscany, in Lucca where Puccini was born. I’m very proud that I belong in this production in this particular moment, and I invite the public to come and see the visuals, and enjoy not only the music but this beautiful and sensuous production.
OL - Please tell our readers a little about the vocal competition you’ve sponsored, and your work intended to support young singers.
MG – The competition alternates between America and Italy. One year here, one year there. This is my sixth edition. I have the privilege and the honor of doing it here in North Carolina this year. I have to thank maestro James Meena and the board for hosting the competition. The goal is of course to promote and discover a new generation of singers. The specific of the competition is that I never intentionally invite veteran singers to be part of the jury, because with all due respect, the veteran singers can give suggestions and advice but no future jobs. So I always invite general directors, managers, intendants from all over the world.
[see the press release for the competition by clicking (here)]
Here we have the privilege of having maestro Dominique Meyer from the Vienna State Opera, Liviana Caporale from the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, Evans Mireagas from Cincinnati Opera, Sabino Lenoci, CEO of the magazine Opera Italy, Michael Capasso from the New York City Opera, Eva Franchi from the Sergio Franchi Foundation, and Claudio Ferri, a manager from Royal Artists in Monaco.
Over these five years I already heard over two thousand singers. The winners, they are already in careers. An American guy who won in 2013 in America, David Pershall, already had his debut at the Vienna State Opera. The girl who won my first competition in Italy is already singing at Vienna State Opera, La Fenice in Venice, and La Scala. I’m very honored and very proud. The Marcello Giordani Competition is becoming a part of the big league of the great aria competitions.
OL - What are some of your best pieces of advice for young singers trying to break into the operatic career?
MG – First of all try to find good competitions, look good for the jury, and sing the right repertoire. The important thing is to have patience. Be surrounded by the people you can trust. Don’t trust people who are always telling you how great you were. You are the best teacher for yourself. Don’t trust people who say to you “you sang beautifully tonight” because in five years you’ll find out that that night was the worst. Just have patience, tolerance, and study, study, study. That’s all I can say.
I’m 54 years old. This is the 31st year of my career. For the first ten years of my career I just sang Bel Canto. I heard offers to sing different repertoire in those first ten years, and I’m glad that I said no, in that period. Now with the Bel Canto background I’m able to sing heavy repertoire. So, make the right choice in your repertoire, but you have to trust the right people – a good teacher, a good wife, a pianist, whatever. Don’t rush. Don’t ever be impatient.
OL - A very curious fact in your artistic biography occurred when you joined a handful of singers who sang two leading roles at the Met on the same day, a matinee performance of La Damnation de Faust, and an evening performance of Madama Butterfly. I’m in awe of it. How stressful was it, and how did you manage to have the vocal stamina to pull it off?
MG – [laughs] For me, I consider the Met my artistic home, and of course when your home calls you, you don’t say no. It was a great opportunity and privilege. They said “we are in difficulty, the last moment your colleague cancelled, we need help.” I won’t say it was easy but at least I was lucky to sing Damnation first and Butterfly later. I won’t say I’m a hero, but I’m a professional. Things happen in a career. I did it, I don’t want people to be saying “thank you” to me but I’m proud I did it. I also sang five performances in a week at the Met. This is my job: to do it; so that’s it.
OL - In your discography you have three phenomenal solo albums, “Tenor Arias”; “Sicilia Bella”; and “Ti voglio tanto bene”. Which one gave you the most pleasure? I’d guess that it must be the one with songs from your native Sicilia.
MG – No, you are wrong. [laughs] I’m proud of “Ti voglio tanto bene”; I will tell you why. Because it took me over one year to discover all this repertoire and find the arrangements. Some of the arrangements were totally new, for piano and vocal score. Maestro Mercurio and I worked over a year to find the right arrangements and the right colors. If you have the possibility of getting the CD you will find that every single song is dedicated to a different tenor. It’s a long process in research: who was singing that aria before me, and why it is dedicated to them. For me it is not just simply music that I recorded on a CD, but more a historical moment. For the students of music it could be interesting, I think.
[Amazon link for the CD, with sample tracks, and also available for streaming: (click here)]
OL – What are your next performances?
MG – After this, I’m going to Madrid to sing Le Villi, Puccini’s first opera, in concert form. Right after I’m going touring in Japan with Tosca. In July I am at the Arena di Verona for Madama Butterfly.
OL - You’ve accomplished all that there is to accomplish in your prestigious career. What projects are you planning for the future? Where are you willing to go?
MG – I’m lucky because I have a team that helps me in Italy. I also have a vocal academy that is doing very well. We do pop music, instrumental, and of course opera. I don’t have the time to follow all the singers but every time I go there I give some advice to the kids and they are very happy. Then, I have a foundation in New York. I’m grateful that I have a great team in New York too. My primary business, my primary love is to sing. I’m a tenor, I’m a professional singer, that’s what I do. Maybe in ten years, or fifteen years, or twenty years I will retire then I will dedicate more time to teach or to be a bureaucrat; who knows?
OL - Please tell our readers a little bit about you as a person – what are our personality traits, and your hobbies and extra-operatic interests?
MG – I don’t have many particular hobbies. I’m not a sports guy. My hobbies are just reading books and going to the movies. I love to read as many books as I can, and watch action movies. When I’m in Italy I spend time with my kids, my boys, my wife, and my friends. If I have time I call my old friends from my school and my church, and we chat. We talk about how we were when we were young, and I become again Marcello, and not an artist. I become the kid I was when I was fifteen or twelve.
OL – Very nice. Anything else you want to tell our public before we finish?
MG – I encourage the public to come and see this fabulous opera The Girl of the West. It’s a rare opportunity, to see one of these three performances, not because of me, but because of the value of the music and of this important production.
OL – Thank you for your time. We appreciate it.
MG – Thank you, thank you. Bye-bye.
Let's listen to the singer in "Recondita armonia" from Tosca:
Let's see production pictures, kindly sent to us by Opera Carolina, authorized use. Photo Credit: Mitchell Kearney.
- Group shot
- Dick Johnson, the bandit (Marcello Giordani) and Minnie (Kristin Sampson)
- L to R: Ashby, the Wells Fargo Agent (Jason S. McKinney); Minnie and Jack Rance, the sheriff (Aleksey Bogdanov)
- Crowd shot
- Dick Johnson (Marcello Giordani)
- Crowd shot
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