• Rigoletto at Piedmont Opera - Interviews With the Cast

    Our partners at Piedmont Opera are presenting Verdi's Rigoletto on October 23, 25, and 27, 2015, in Winston-Salem, NC, featuring international star René Barbera and other great singers. Opera Lively is covering the event, and in this article you will find brief (but very informative and insightful) exclusive interviews with the talented cast.

    Piedmont Opera always presents compelling productions, especially when Steven LaCosse directs, which is the case this time. James Allbritten on the podium never fails to conduct very well the excellent Winston-Salem Symphony, given that the maestro is a former tenor himself, therefore he profoundly understands what is needed to support the singers. We have heard most of the artists before in other regional productions, and they are homogeneously great, so our expectations for this show are very high.

    The opera will be given at the Stevens Center of the UNCSA (a theater with excellent acoustics), at 8 PM, 2 PM, and 7:30 PM respectively on the above dates. The theater is located at 405 5th St NW in downtown Winston-Salem, and tickets can be purchased by clicking [here] or calling 336-725-7101. They go from $18 to $98.

    Associated Events

    As usual Piedmont Opera provides a full array of parallel events to enhance the enjoyment of this masterpiece.

    For the opening night on October 23, patrons can purchase a supplement and enjoy a buffet dinner at 6 PM before the opera on the 10th floor of the Stevens Center, and sparkling wine with desert while mingling with the artists after the show. $50 for dinner, $30 for dessert and sparkling wine, $75 for both. Tickets [here].

    On October 4 from 3 PM to 4:45 PM, join Piedmont Opera at a/perture cinemas for the US premiere of Rick! - the story of Rigoletto is retold at Christmas time in Manhattan's corporate world. Tickets for $11.50, [here]

    On October 25 for the matinee, Well-Spring's Luxury Coach provides transportation from Greensboro to the opera with on-board pre-opera talk. $15, [here].

    On October 27, parking is free for opera patrons on the deck at Cherry-Marshall Street (42 N Cherry St) from 5 PM through 12 AM. Just show your ticket.

    On October 4, Meet the Cast at the Nissen Building, from 5 to 7 PM. The $20 ticket includes wine and appetizers. Tickets [here].

    On October 13 at 12 PM, join maestro James Allbritten and several cast members for La Lunch; more information and tickets for $20, [here].

    On October 21 at 7:30 PM through 10 PM, Student Night for Rigoletto - the final Dress Rehearsal is open to students and their chaperons. $5 for students and $15 for adults. Crosby Scholar Students and students from the Enrichment Center attend for free. Tickets [here].

    On October 23, parents can drop their kids ages 4-11 at SciWorks from 5:30 PM through 11:30 PM. While the parents attend Rigoletto, kids will receive a pizza dinner, museum time, a planetarium show, and a late night snack. $25 per child. More information and tickets [here].

    On October 23, Student Rush: A limited number of specially-priced tickets ($20) may be purchased 30 minutes prior to the performance (that is, from 7:30 PM through 8 PM) by full-time students. A valid school ID must be presented at the Stevens Center Box Office. You'll get the best available seat in the house, including orchestra-level seats if available.


    Stay tuned for Opera Lively's review

    Opera Lively probably won't be able to attend the opening night on Friday as we usually do, but in this case we'll attend the second show on Sunday and publish a review. So if you don't see the review early on Saturday, check again late on Sunday.

    Interviews with the Cast

    Below, we will insert the interviews with three of the artists.

    Given that it is the first time we interview Amy Maples, she got more questions, while the other artists have shorter interviews because aspects of their careers and personalities have been addressed in their previous pieces (links are provided to their past interviews, for the readers who are curious to learn more about them).


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interviews with the Cast of Rigoletto at Piedmont Opera

    These interviews are copyrighted to Opera Lively but reproduction is authorized as long as the source is quoted and a link to this article is provided. Questions by journalist Luiz Gazzola. Head shots were sent to us from Piedmont Opera; photographic credit is unknown to us but will be inserted on demand (Contact Us form) - fair promotional use.

    The Title Role - Robert Overman singing Rigoletto

    This is Opera Lively's interview # 186. Read [here] our previous interview with baritone Robert Overman (once you click on the link, scroll down to find his piece). More information about the singer can be found [here].

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Dear Bob, it’s the second time we speak with you, so instead of focusing a bit on your life story and career which we have addressed already, let’s go directly to Rigoletto, this time. As the title role, Rigoletto is of course the most decisive character in this opera, given its enormous psychological complexity. First of all, you have two lovely daughters. How heartbreaking is it for you to portray Rigoletto? Do the emotions become overwhelming at any point?

    Robert Overman - What a wonderfully insightful question! This is something I’ve struggled with every time I’ve sung Rigoletto. There is tremendous emotion at the end of the opera when Rigoletto realizes that his bloodthirsty quest for vengeance has destroyed that which he loves most, his beloved daughter. When she sings “Lassu in cielo, vicuna alla madre…” (up in heaven, near my mother…) it always broke my heart and choked me up. Now that I have daughters… well… I just hope I can cope. But somehow these emotions belong in this role. If ones performs the role of Rigoletto without becoming emotional when he is singing with or about his daughter, I think something is missing.

    OL - It’s got to be hard to find the right balance in the acting and the singing, to do Rigoletto right – he is part of Verdi’s evolution in going for grey areas in his characters – not the all good or all evil ones, but someone who is both, like Rigoletto: a loving father but also a bitter, superstitious, and revengeful man. Of course this balance will also depend on the stage direction and where the production wants to go. Please tell us about how you see this character’s psychological arc, and how it will be handled in this Piedmont Opera production.

    RO - It is extremely challenging to find a balance between the bitter anger and spitefulness in the character and maintaining enough balance to be able to sing the incredibly difficult vocal part. I have heard and seen one or the other (acting or singing) done well, but on the occasions where I have witnessed both it is truly inspiring and motivating.

    I believe that Rigoletto had a certain amount of anger at the world and bitterness toward society because of his physical deformities. Then, a beautiful woman pities him (in his words) and marries him and gives him a daughter. His happiness is complete… but temporary. His beloved wife dies, leaving him even more bitter and angry. He fears the world and fate, so he keeps his daughter hidden and does his best to prevent her from having any contact with the outside world. Then, when his worst fears are realized, he swears revenge.

    Rigoletto is a compelling character study. He has the key to happiness and throws it away. His internal rage will not allow him to access the softer side that lies hidden within in order to enjoy life with his daughter. Instead, he both revels in and despises the only job he can secure - as court jester. The court hates him even as they laugh at his foibles and the cruel tricks he plays on others.

    I love working with Steven LaCosse because he not only brings wonderful ideas to his direction, but he is confident enough to allow actors to explore their own ideas, which are often incorporated into his direction.

    OL - One interesting take on Rigoletto that I heard from Lisette Oropesa, is that she feels that to a certain degree he is also abusive. According to her, in some productions he is not the warm kind of sweet, loving daddy that will give everything for his child. Instead, he is very strict, very direct, and very cold sometimes. He doesn't want to share, and doesn't want to have an open conversation with Gilda, therefore in a way it's another type of abuse that she is having to put up with. Please tell us if you agree with this take, and comment some more on this father-daughter relationship.

    RO - Perhaps I am swayed by my own father - daughter relationships, but I disagree that he is not warm and sweet with his daughter. Certainly there is some roughness in his interactions, but this stems from his obsession with keeping her hidden and protected from the world - which he sees as intrinsically evil.

    In a way, he blames the world (fate, karma) for his wife’s death and is determined to do everything in his power to keep Gilda out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, he is unable to see the fatal flaw in this plan until it’s too late. But as a father he is loving, kind and gentle. He would have gladly given his own life to save his daughter.

    OL - Vocally speaking, tell us about the challenges in singing this iconic character.

    RO - Honestly, there’s not an easy part in Rigoletto. The Duke’s part is relentlessly high; Gilda must navigate some pretty difficult coloratura and still project over a pretty heavy orchestra at times (the trio with Maddalena and Sparafucile) while maintaining the sweetness in the voice.

    Rigoletto… well, it’s the most difficult role I’ve ever sung. Much harder than Nabucco, Trovatore (Luna), Forza, etc. He sings the entire opera, mostly with an extremely high tessitura and long lines requiring incredible breath control. Playing Rigoletto is doubly difficult because of all that is required on stage - lots of movement and animation but still keeping the voice fresh and the breath low and steady. Mostly the difficulty lies in the immense amount of music that just keeps coming. The role is relentless and brutal, but oh what a reward if you are able to cope with the challenges!

    OL - Who are the most inspirational singers for you, in this role? Do you have a favorite recording, audio and/or video, of this opera, that you would recommend to a novice? Let me tell you about a couple of recordings that I like among others, and see if you agree or suggest something different: DG: Rafael Kubelik with Renata Scotto, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Carlo Bergonzi, Fiorenza Cossotto, Teatro alla Scala; Decca: Richard Bonynge with Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes, Martti Talvela, Kiri Te Kanawa, London Symphony Orchestra.

    RO - I had a close, personal relationship with Sherrill Milnes (he sang at my wedding and stayed with me often in my home in Europe) so I would have to say his recording is my favorite. I love the intensity with which he sings. For sheer beauty of sound it’s very hard to beat the recording with Robert Merrill and Anna Moffo. These two would be at the top of my list judging primarily from the performance of the title role.

    But all of the recordings you mention sound delightful. I have not heard Fischer-Dieskau but I love Bergonzi! There are a couple of recordings that aren’t as well known, one featuring Cornell MacNeil and one with Aldo Protti. Another I have enjoyed is with Cotrubas, Domingo and Cappuccilli.

    OL - Thank you Bob, for your insightful answers!

    Let's listen to the singer. See this fragment from Lucia di Lammermoor in the role of Enrico (he starts to sing at 1'37" into the clip). This recording has a lot of audience noise but we do get to listen to his beautiful voice.


    The leading female role - Amy Maples singing Gilda

    This is Opera Lively's interview # 187, and our first one with Amy Maples, a light coloratura soprano from Colorado. Learn more about the singer by consulting her web site, [here].

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - As far as I can tell this is your first Gilda, right? It’s a spectacular character. Let’s start by talking about the vocal part. Gilda seems to be a very difficult role. She sings "Caro Nome" after two big duets, right after she enters the stage so it’s conceivable that there isn’t much time to warm up, and suddenly you are thrown into this famous and huge aria that everybody is waiting for, which sits quite high, and involves some passionate acting. Tell us about it.

    Amy Maples - On the other hand, at least it's not an entrance aria! The two duets prior, especially the duet with Rigoletto, are very challenging vocally--challenging enough that by the time I get to "Caro Nome," it's really a relief! As a coloratura soprano, in some ways "Caro Nome" sings itself. It's the most "coloratura" part of the show for Gilda and it's where I feel the most at home vocally. The acting of the aria is harder than the singing. In typical fashion, the text is some four lines repeated over and over; so the challenge is in creating a dramatic arc through a text that is remaining stagnant. You have to find new meanings for the same words.

    OL - Then in the second act, "Tutte le feste" sits much lower and is more dramatic. The bumps don’t stop coming because the quartet and the storm trio are very loud with intense orchestration, while the death scene is high and light. Whew! You need to be several different sopranos! Any comments?

    AM - That is absolutely true! At the risk of revealing my weakness, "Tutte le feste" is one of the most challenging parts for me vocally. The high-flying stuff I can manage, but finding that fuller mezzo-y sound for "Tutte le feste" is a real challenge and something I'm still working on.

    OL - Hey, working on the less ideal stretches for one's voice comes with the territory, and it's great that you are willing to speak up about it! I respect your answer very much! Now, not only the part seems vocally difficult, but it is also taxing from the acting standpoint. How do you see her character arc? Productions vary in making the rape angle more or less explicit. When they do insist on this angle the ending gets to be harder to explain and relate to, in terms of her sacrifice. What do you think of this conundrum? How will this production handle it?

    AM - We have yet to stage the rape/post-rape scenes, so I'm not completely sure how it will be handled. But I know we won't be completely glossing over it.

    Gilda's reaction to the abuse in some ways is extremely common: she feels guilty. She believes that she brought this on herself. She was asking for it. What she does later, however, does vary from the typical script--saving his life by sacrificing her own. The way I understand Gilda's actions is this: the Duke's defiling her actually solidified their bond in Gilda's mind. Regardless of his actions with other women, in Gilda's mind they are now one--even perhaps, husband and wife. I think Gilda has married the Duke in her mind and now feels a holy obligation to save him.

    OL - Is it difficult to relate to her, as a modern woman?

    AM - Of course. I have a hard time relating to someone so pure of heart and willing to fall in love so quickly. If I channel my teenage self, however, I can certainly find some common ground. I'm pretty sure I fell in love about that fast when I was fifteen.

    OL - What do you make of her relationship with her father? Is he too dry and strict with her? Keeping her isolated from society, could this be called a form of psychological abuse that contributed to her being unprepared to deal with the Duke?

    AM - No, I don't see it as abuse. Yes, she's unprepared to deal with the Duke, but that may be because she hasn't had a mother and her father doesn't have the sensitivity to fill that motherly role. It's mothers who often talk to a young girl about boys--at least in that time period. Rigoletto hasn't the tools to communicate with Gilda about his own life, much less about what she, a desirable young girl, might face in the world.

    I think Rigoletto knows he can't keep her hidden away forever, but he still hasn't found the words or the courage to talk to her about the world she'd face. Gilda is only now old enough to understand some of the horrors Rigoletto has been through (his wife dying, his being a deformed outcast). I don't villainize his over-protection. I think he's all too aware of the danger outside; and as we soon learn, it really is dangerous out there.

    OL - Interesting answer! Turning to your career, now. You have two important recordings, both unique for these pieces, The Fortune Teller, and Blossom Time. Please describe briefly these two pieces for us.

    AM - I recorded both of these shows with The Ohio Light Opera. OLO is really good at putting forgotten operettas back on their feet. Both of these shows had more or less vanished from the repertoire with no known complete recordings of them until OLO rediscovered them.

    The Fortune Teller, a Victor Herbert operetta, is one of the most fun shows I've performed and was equally fun to record--primarily because the leading soprano sings two completely separate roles: a gypsy fortune teller with a wildly exotic accent, and her doppelganger, a prima ballerina (yes, I had to dance!). As one might expect, it's a hilariously hard plot to follow but very entertaining, and it was extremely rewarding for me as an actress to toggle between the two roles.

    Blossom Time, a Sigmund Romberg piece loosely based on the life of Franz Schubert, is much more sentimental. Romberg quotes some of Schubert's most memorable melodies throughout the operetta. It's music to hum along to and a heartwarming story. I sang the role of Mitzi, Schubert's unrequited love.

    OL - You play the piano, the flute, and you dance ballet, in addition to singing; a multi-talented artist! Please describe to us how this came to be, and how you picked opera as a career, growing up.

    AM - I come from an exceptionally musical and artistic family. Every member of my extended family plays an instrument, or paints, or designs, or sings. We are all hopelessly bad at sports. I grew up knowing that I would end up in the arts somehow, and really, I didn't decide on opera until college. It came down to the fact that I'm just not great at flute, piano, or dance. I was a much better singer and I abide by the old biblical adage "to whom much is given, much is required."

    OL - You sang in Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, and you did a fair number of operettas. Please compare and contrast your artistic interest for musicals/operettas, and operas, and tell us about the future – in what direction do you see your career going?

    AM - Musical Theatre and Operetta have been a big part of my career up to this point partly because I have a lighter voice. I'm only 29, which makes me a baby in the opera world. Singing Cosette, Christine, and Mabel allows me to work safely within my vocal means but still gives my dramatic chops a workout. I love musicals and operetta because vocally there's little fear--I can experiment with new techniques without too much risk--and I get to really play around as an actor.

    Does any singer really know where their career is going? I could speculate but I honestly don't know. My voice seems to be leaning into more of the bel canto repertoire, but until now I've focused more on light opera, early music, and musical theatre. I'll be happy with any direction, as long as I get to keep singing.

    OL - How fun was it, to perform in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tiresias?

    AM - It was the best! Mamelles is quite possibly my favorite show. Poulenc's music, while incredibly beautiful, is surreal and almost otherworldly at times. The plot is completely ridiculous, but it offers dramatic opportunities that a soprano is never going to find elsewhere: a discontent housewife wishes her way into becoming a man, her breasts fly away as red balloons, she ties up her husband whom she then parades around in drag, and she gets to rule her own world for a bit. Ultimate feminism! (Except that in the end she goes back to her husband and her traditional wifey role.)

    Favorite moment of the show for me: walking around in a bright red zoot suit, top hat, and full red beard with a lit cigarette hanging out of my mouth. I looked like a red leprechaun but I felt like a king!

    OL - Yes, Mamelles is a wild ride! Please tell us a little about your personality, take on life, and favorite hobbies and extra-musical interests.

    AM - I'm a left-brained introvert. I was always good at math and grammar and terrible at history, which means that I tend to dwell on the details more than the big picture...that's a blessing and a curse in music.

    I believe that people are the most important thing in life. Actually, I just got married three weeks ago and I can't say enough how happy I am to have found such a wonderful partner in life. My husband is a business owner and e-commerce expert, no relation to classical music at all. We value our time together and with our 80lbs golden-doodle more than anything.

    My husband and I spend a lot of time outside. We're based in Denver, CO, and find ourselves hiking, biking, camping, or fishing in the mountains almost every weekend. I love tending my garden and have some very happy roses this year!

    OL - Good for you! Thank you for a lovely interview!

    Let's listen to the singer in this Handel piece that does demonstrate her agility ("Tornami a vagheggiar" from Alcina):


    Sparafucile, the assassin for hire, sung by Brian Banion

    This is Opera Lively's interview # 188. Read Brian's previous interview with us [here] - once you click on the link, scroll down; it's the second one from the top down. Learn more about this bass-baritone by consulting his web site, [here].

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Dear Brian, it’s the second time we talk, and the first one was quite extensive so there isn’t much left to ask regarding your life and career. I’d still love to ask you a couple of questions about Sparafucile. But tell me, how do you feel about being back to Winston-Salem?

    Brian Banion - Hi Luiz! It is certainly great to talk again...it is always wonderful to be back in the area. I feel like this place is home for my family and me, as we have found so many true friendships here!

    OL - First of all, a bit of humor: I find his name just perfect for an assassin! Sparafucile! It must be lots of fun just to get to say it on stage. Any comments?

    BB - What a great question - I always say that the way one says a name on stage tells the audience how you feel about that character, even if that character is yourself. Sparafucile says his name twice, and in two vastly different ways, both being quite difficult vocally. The first one is up high on an E-flat, and marked pianississimo (ppp), making it something one worries about in the dressing room. The second being the iconic sustained low F everyone associates with this character, and another moment for dressing room worry ;-) Verdi obviously felt that the way Sparafucile says his name was important, and I am eager to explore character possibilities and choices with my inspiring friend, director Steven LaCosse - we work on this scene tonight.

    OL - You said “I like to joke around, and as a result have spent most of my singing life in comedy. I truly hope to get the opportunity to sing some heavier repertoire, both vocally and dramatically in the future.” Sparafucile is a short role, but he is a very sinister and even terrifying guy, so he’s in line with your aspiration. Tell us about the character and how you plan to portray him.

    BB - I have always felt that portraying villainy well requires creativity and timing similar to comedy, so I will approach this role in the same way I approach everything. The challenge as I see it is to make him somehow attractive rather than overtly menacing. He sells the idea of assassination to Rigoletto, and I think it will be far more interesting if he does so with a smirk on his face rather than a scowl.

    OL - What else is going on, these days, and in terms of future plans?

    BB - These days I am consumed by my 13-year-old daughter's golf game. She wants to play or practice every day, and she really has talent. On her middle school team, she always is set against the top player from the opposing school. Without fail, she is playing someone with more experience, better equipment, and years of lessons (she starts lessons soon). She is always competitive in the final score, though she rarely wins, which doesn't ever seem to crush her spirit. That she approaches golf (which could be anything as far as I am concerned) with such passion and fun is something unspeakably beautiful, and it has been a real spark in our relationship and in our family. It goes without saying that this beautiful thing will certainly bankrupt me ;-)

    As far as the future, I am working my voice towards that more serious, heavier repertoire mentioned earlier. It is time for me to do so - my voice is mature enough at this point, and I think there is room in the business for work in that repertoire. My wife, Elise DesChamps, always the voice of reason and the person I can truly trust in matters of my vocal health, finds it important that I maintain roles like Figaro and Leporello, which have been so present in my career to this point. Without Elise, I would never have maintained my voice through my 30s. She is the sole reason I am singing and I am indebted to her in ways no one will ever know.

    OL - Hey, maybe instead of bankrupting you, your daughter will be a great and rich golf champion! In any case the fact that she faces adversity with resilience without feeling crushed bodes well for whatever she pursues in the future. Good for her! And it's nice to have the support of one's spouse, and especially in this difficult field, one who is a singer too! Now, let's talk about one of your hobbies: Fantasy Football is in full swing – how are you doing?

    BB - "Opera" and "Fantasy" certainly are words that go hand-in-hand... I wonder how much we lose your readership when we add the word "Football"? I won my league last year, which I have done twice in four years. As a result, I had the last pick in the draft this year and my team is not doing well (0-3). I had Dez Bryant, who is out now... ouch. I have Arian Foster, who may be able to help me out - if he can get healthy. Last week I would have beaten most scores in my league but was matched up against the top scorer of the week. I just need to make the playoffs when Dez will probably be back...obsessed here.

    OL - I always say that the reason opera and football are not seen as fully compatible, is because opera is much more violent than football! Anyway, good luck with your team! This season, you are paying for your own success--I guess we can say this about opera too, when singers have to learn new repertory!

    Let's listen to Brian singing Daland's Act 2 Aria in Piedmont Opera's gorgeous production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman:


    Consult Opera Lively's previous exclusive interviews with two additional artists:

    René Barbera, the internationally acclaimed tenor who is singing the Duke of Mantua, was interviewed recently by Opera Lively for another production, [here]. He was also one of our first interviewees (#7) on the occasion of his triumph as the winner of the Operalia in Moscow - read that older piece [here].

    Maddalena and Countess Ceprano are the two roles being sung by Kristin Schwecke, the young soprano with dramatic chops whose career is developing nicely after her studies at UNCSA. Read her previous interview [here].


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