• Exclusive interview with American mezzo Nicole Rodin

    Nicole Rodin was in the double roles of Dargelos and Agathe in our partners NC Opera's performance of Glass' Les Enfants Terribles in January of 2012. Opera Lively interviewed her about her role and career. [Opera Lively interview # 28]

    OL – Your name sounds French, are you of French background?

    NR – [laughs] No, it’s Russian, it used to be Rodinsky, it was shortened when my family came over.

    OL - Is it more challenging to sing contemporary opera as opposed to the more traditional repertoire?

    NR – That’s a good question. There are certainly aspects of it that are more difficult. It’s hard to say so generally between traditional and contemporary, but often times contemporary music can be much more difficult to learn. So this piece in particular, the music is beautiful [emphatically], although it doesn’t really always sound this way it is extremely difficult to learn. The counting is very difficult, the rhythms are all sort of polyrhythms, which makes it very difficult for the singer to count and make sure that we all sing together, whereas in traditional music it often times lends itself to be more simple, but not always.

    OL - Being this opera by Glass relatively obscure, what kind of material have you used to prepare yourself for the role?

    NR – Well, there is a wonderful film that Cocteau himself contributed with, so, you know, we’ve all watched the film, and that has been extremely helpful. I read the original novel, which certainly informed me of the piece, as well as, Philip Glass wrote a little bit about this piece, sort of how he felt about it, sort of where he was coming from.

    OL – How long did it take to learn the role?

    NR – My role is not quite as big as the other roles, so probably not as long as some of the others, but it certainly took longer than what I was expecting. I guess one of the things that make this piece so difficult is that it took a little longer for the music to sort of settle in. Often times as a singer you can learn a piece of music but there is something about really getting it into your body, really fully understanding it and memorizing it, and in particular that piece of it took much longer for me.

    OL – I saw in your resume that you’ve done a couple of trouser roles – Cherubino and Nicklausse. This one, you start in a trouser role and then you switch to a female role. Was it difficult to shift gears?

    NR – That’s a very good question. Actually I did not find it difficult because in fact the two characters – Dargelos and Agathe – represent sort of the same thing for Paul, the object of his affection – and at the same time something that is pulling him away from his relationship with Lise. Dargelos is such a small… the actual time Dargelos is on stage is not very big. But I guess that informing both roles with a sense of what they represent for Paul made it a little less difficult.

    OL - Tell me about your characters, their psychology.

    NR – Sure. Well, Dargelos is much more developed in the movie and the book although in both of those he remains a sort of mysterious character that the audience and the reader don’t ever get to know very well, and I think that’s probably on purpose. He is very confident and sure of himself and shows far less interest in Paul than Paul has in him. Agathe on the other hand is, like the two children, an orphan. She is a fashion model working to sell dresses. She is shy and totally enchanted by the brother and sister Paul and Lise. She is a very dear friend to Lise but sort of acts almost like an audience member for them, which I think is part of why their relationships are able to work. It sounds like you’re very familiar with the piece. Lise, it seems like she needs an audience, and that’s part of her psychology, and I think Agathe is happy to play that audience number until she really falls in love with Paul and realizes how much Lise is fighting against that.

    OL – So it’s not just a gender switch, but also switching from assertive to passive; does it represent an acting challenge?

    NR – Yes, I would say so, Dargelos is much more assertive than Agathe. It certainly is a challenge but Dargelos is only in the first scene, and much of his assertiveness comes up in the scene when he hits Paul with the snowball that sets the entire thing in motion.

    OL - What is your opinion of this North Carolina Opera production? How is the work going so far?

    NR – I think it’s going very well. I think the collaboration with the NC Ballet has been wonderful. It is interesting working with a choreographer as our director because he certainly works very differently than the opera directors that I’ve worked with before. He is much more movement oriented as one can probably assume. It’s more movement than motivation. But at the same time, the motivation and reasons for our movements and our lines are extremely clear.

    I think the way he has used dancers is really extraordinary. It brings a total new depth to everything that our characters are already doing and singing. It adds a completely different color. In some cases a more melancholic color, in some cases a more playful color. The way the action is sort of handed off from dancer to singer and from singer to dancer makes it really interesting.

    OL – In the past the conductor would be the one training the artists and paying most attention to the vocal score. People would stand and deliver and acting was less important. These days with new concepts and updated versions we see the role of the stage directors becoming more and more important. How do you compare these mentors when you go to a production? Are they equally important, or as a singer you still concentrate more on the singing?

    NR – That’s a very interesting question. I think it absolutely varies from production to production. In the beginning ideally you have a few rehearsals just with the conductor to make sure the music is sound and ready. Obviously the movement towards having more focus on the acting has been a fantastic change in opera, because it makes the piece so much more interesting and more accessible to our audiences! You know, to believe more in the characters… not that I’m saying it was not how it was done previously but it is certainly a stronger emphasis now.

    You know, people always joke that in rehearsals in the opera world the conductor is God. So in that sense what the conductor wants and needs is sort of top priority. But at the same time having a joint effort and a collaboration, a mutual respect from conductor to director is of utmost importance to a smooth rehearsal process in a really integrated production.

    OL – Was acting an important part of your training?

    NR – Yes, in my graduate training at the New England Conservatory we had acting classes a few times a week. I think it is a really important part of any opera singer’s training. It is pretty much a big part of any school curriculum now, which I think is a very positive thing.

    OL - Tell me about your career so far. What would you highlight as your best successes?

    NR – I’m currently an Emerging Artist with Boston Lyric Opera where I have sung Rosina in The Barber of Seville, and Hansel in Hansel und Gretel with their outreach program. Probably what I’m most proud of is with Center City Opera last summer which is where I met the [NC Opera] artistic director Tim Myers. I was a cover and got to sing a performance of Amadigi in Handel’s opera.

    OL – From Handel to contemporary opera, it’s a big jump.

    NR – Yes. [laughs]

    OL - What are your plans for the immediate and distant future, in terms of desirable roles?

    NR - I’m upcoming, I’m going to be a resident artist at the Pittsburgh Opera which I’m extremely excited about. I’ll go to Santa Fe Opera as an apprentice artist this summer.

    Dreams role for me… I’d love… actually I have it coming, I’m going to be doing it, coming up – Angelina in La Cenerentola by Rossini, I’m going to cover it for Pittsburgh Opera and then do a family performance. That has been my dream role for years, I’m really looking forward to it.

    OL – Any final statements for us?

    NR – I think we are all really excited to perform the piece, and eager to see what everyone thinks of it. I think people are really going to like it.

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