• Fidelio at Opera Carolina - Interview with Andrew Funk (Rocco)

    Opera Lively is starting the coverage of Beethoven's only opera Fidelio by our partners at Opera Carolina in Charlotte. This is a very beloved work that is not often given, and we are thankful to Maestro Meena for bringing it to us. A series of short interviews with five questions each, hopefully with singers in all five principal roles, will be published in this space, in preparation for the show. As usual, we'll have our review, after opening night on October 17. Today we are delivering the first one, with Andrew Funk in the role of Rocco.

    For the new readers still unfamiliar with Opera Carolina, it is a remarkable regional company with high quality productions, always bringing to Charlotte a compelling cast. The pit is very well taken care of, with great orchestral playing by the exquisite Charlotte Symphony, and the secure conducting by James Meena who with his prodigious memory knows his scores by heart, without ever needing to consult a print copy. Therefore Opera Carolina shows are not to be missed, and with better reason when such an interesting work is on stage.

    Don't forget that Opera Carolina's season starts with a concert on October 3 (Art/Poetry/Music). See announcement [here].

    Fidelio will run on Saturday October 17 at 8 PM, Thursday October 22 at 7:30 PM, and Sunday October 25 at 2 PM, at the Blumenthal Performance Arts Center, in German, with English supertitles. Tickets can be purchased by clicking [here] or over the phone at 704.372.1000 and range from $19 to $150.

    Though Fidelio is Beethoven’s only operatic exploit, the music in this stirring story of oppression and liberation represents some of his finest work. Opera Carolina's unique production sets his magnum opus behind the Berlin Wall right before its 1989 fall, and features tenor Andrew Richards as Florestan and soprano Maria Katzarava Hernandez as Leonore/Fidelio.

    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Andrew Funk (Rocco)

    This is Opera Lively Interview #181. Questions by OL journalists Mary Auer and Luiz Gazzola. Copyright Opera Lively. Reproduction of this brief interview in its entirety is authorized but we request citation of the source and a link to this article.

    Singer: Andrew Funk
    Fach: Bass
    Nationality: American
    Web site: http://www.uzanartists.com/portfolio/andrew-funk/

    Bass Andrew Funk has performed with such houses as Los Angeles Opera, San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Seattle Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Arizona Opera, Opera Boston, Opera Lyra Ottawa, Bard SummerScape Festival, and the Metropolitan Opera.

    He is a frequent guest artist at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where he made his début in the world première of the opera Amistad, subsequently appearing as Pistola in Falstaff, One Armed Man in Die Frau ohne Schatten, in La Gioconda, Roméo et Juliette, Tosca, Die Zauberflöte, Salome, Aïda, as well as covering Gremin in Eugene Onegin, Heinrich in Lohengrin, Osmin in Abduction from the Seraglio and King Marke in Tristan und Isolde.

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - The jailer is probably the most complex character in this opera. He seems to be a basically decent individual, but there is a bit of a venal quality suggested in his aria and his acceptance of Pizarro’s “hush money.” It seems he also waits to see who is going to come out on top before he throws in his lot with Leonore and Florestan. How do you see Rocco? Is he a sympathetic character or not?

    Andrew Funk - It takes a while before we really find out about Rocco. While he tells Pizarro that he will not kill, he is complicit in what is going on in that horrible place. At first we see little bits from Rocco: acquiescing in letting the prisoners out, allowing Fidelio to give Florestan some bread and wine, answering some of Florestan's questions. We also see his love for his daughter, and his fondness for Fidelio. But we really don't know for sure about him until everything hangs in the balance. Will he do the right thing and finally stand up to Pizarro? When it comes down to the ultimate moment, he stands up for what he sees as the right thing. Of course, as a singer and an actor, I have to believe my character is sympathetic, even if they are not. But in this case, I believe that Rocco ends up being a sympathetic character.

    OL - You have a stylistically diverse repertoire, with the bel canto, German Romantic, French, mature Verdi, Slavic, and modern operas all represented. One hears about how difficult Beethoven’s writing for the singers is in Fidelio. What have been the most demanding roles you’ve sung so far? How difficult is Rocco’s music?

    AF - Beethoven's music is in general very difficult for the singers. I know from speaking with my instrumental colleagues that he also pushed the boundaries with their instruments, so it makes sense that he is trying to do similar things with the voice. We have to remember that this was his FIRST opera. What would we think of Verdi if all we had was "Oberto"? Or Puccini if all we had was "Le villi"? I sincerely wish that Beethoven had kept working within the art form. As far as the difficult and demanding roles that I have sung, certainly Rocco is up there. Osmin from Die Entführung aus dem Serail is difficult because of the crazy range that Mozart has written for you. His original singer, Ludwig Fischer, must have been an amazing singer. Hagen from Götterdämmerung is demanding in part because of the stamina required--you just don't leave the stage for long stretches of the show. And it is a long show!

    OL - Something that is often not noticed in Fidelio are the suggestions of social class differences between the “Dons” (Florestan, Pizarro, Fernando) as well as Leonore, and the working class represented by Rocco, Marzelline, and Jaquino. Rocco rejects any notions of Jaquino marrying his daughter, but is quite willing to accept “Fidelio,” whom both he and Jaquino perceive as coming from a higher social stratum. Communist ideology, of course, has the working class at its center. How will that play in this production’s setting in East Berlin during the final months of the old German Democratic Republic?

    AF - Until Fidelio came along, Jaquino was probably perfectly acceptable to Rocco. Fidelio seems like an obvious upgrade; it is correct that they all perceive somehow that Fidelio is from a higher social stratum. The DDR certainly had its own version of social hierarchy, despite Communism. In the hierarchy of this opera, nomatter how you set the scene, Leonore, Florestan, Pizarro, and Fernando are the ones who control the action. Rocco, Marzelline, and Jaquino are not able to control their own fates because of a lack of social power. Rocco seems to rise above this in the end. He could play the dutiful worker and stick by Pizarro, but he follows his conscience and sides with Leonore/Florestan.

    OL - I noticed that you had a role in Die Frau ohne Schatten. This is my absolutely favorite R. Strauss opera, although I’m fully aware that I’m quite alone in this preference, given that most people will favor Der Rosenkavalier, Elektra, Salome, etc. This is not to say I don’t like the others; I do! But I have a soft spot for Die Frau ohne Schatten, and maybe since you’ve performed in it, I’ll finally find someone who shares this preference (laughs). Or maybe not. What do you think of it? How do you compare it to other R. Strauss works?

    AF - I have done Frau a couple of times now, and I love it. When some critics harp on Strauss for retreating from the "crazy" music of Elektra and Salome, I think they completely forget the wonderful insanity of Frau. I will say I was very concerned when several of my family made Frau their first opera when I was in Los Angeles, but they seemed to enjoy themselves. I hope they weren't just humoring me! That said, I can't help it--I will always love Der Rosenkavalier the most of all the Strauss operas. Baron Ochs is such a delicious part!

    OL - We love to get to know the artists a bit closer. Why did opera become your career choice? How are you as a person, and what do you like to do outside of the realm of opera and classical music?

    AF - I took a bit of a roundabout path to get into opera. My undergraduate work started in biomedical engineering at UCLA, and I sang in choir on the side. Eventually, everyone back home noticed that all I seemed to talk about was singing, and not engineering. It took me a bit longer to figure this out, but eventually I took some voice lessons, and everything sort of grew from there. It took a while to convince my parents about the switch from engineering to opera! After my sophomore year our choir flew over and performed in England, and then I took a little time and traveled around Europe. It was in Salzburg, wandering around Mozart's hometown and seeing all the advertisements for the Salzburg Festival, that I realized I could make a career out of it.

    I live in Evanston, Illinois, with my lovely wife, incredible daughter, and two somewhat rambunctious cats. With Halloween coming up, we have been in serious planning mode. This year is going to be a Greek theme--my daughter wants to be Iris, so I am going to be Zeus, and my wife will be Hera. In years past we have been characters from Harry Potter, the Wizard of Oz, and Frankenstein. Yes, we like Halloween.


    Here is a clip of the singer interpreting Schubert:


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    We are transcribing and editing our exclusive interviews with Stephen Costello, Heidi Stober, Vivica Genaux (her second with Opera Lively), Chinese composer Huang Ruo, and Chinese soprano Qian Yi.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Florestan's Avatar
      Florestan -
      Excellent! I enjoyed the first interview and learned some new things about the opera Fidelio. Looking forward to the next interview.

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