• Interview with Elizabeth Caballero singing Nedda and Zemfira for Opera Carolina

    Opera Lively is starting the coverage for our partner Opera Carolina's double bill of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci and Rachmaninoff's Aleko, which is having its US professional premiere by a major company. Escaping the usual Cav-Pag, it is indeed an excellent idea to pair these two operas with similar storylines and even some musical moments that appear to cross-reference each other (which is certainly coincidental because they were composed simultaneously, miles apart).

    The show will run three times at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in downtown Charlotte, NC, on Sunday April 10 at 2 PM, Thursday April 14 at 7:30 PM, and Saturday April 16 at 8 PM. Tickets ranging from $19 to $150 can be purchased by clicking [here].

    We came to expect from Opera Carolina over the ideas exquisite musical and production values, and this double bill appears indeed intriguing, because it marks the start of the planned long-term collaboration between the Charlotte company and New York City Opera. Michael Capasso, who resurrected NYCO, is stage-directing the pieces. Maestro Meena will be manning the podium, and we know that his presence guarantees the musical excellence of the performances.

    The singers are also very exciting, and we are interviewing three of them (spanning five roles), starting today with soprano Elizabeth Caballero who portrays the two leading ladies in each opera - Nedda in Pagliacci and Zemfira in Aleko. This is her second Opera Lively interview - we talked to her in Colorado in June of 2012 [read her first interview by clicking (here)]. Just like the first time, it is clear from her answers that Ms. Caballero is very insightful in her deep descriptions of the characters she impersonates.

    In a couple of weeks or less we will publish the other two interviews, with Russian baritone Alexey Lavrov who will be singing both Silvio and Aleko, and American tenor Jeff Gwaltney who will be Canio.


    Koke Photography

    Singer: Elizabeth Caballero
    Fach: Full Lyric Soprano
    Born in: Havana, Cuba
    Home base: Miami, Florida
    Website: elizabethcaballero.com
    Recently in: Liù in Turandot, Pacific Symphony
    Next in: Violetta in La Traviata, Opera Naples, March 18 and 20

    Elizabeth as Violetta - Photo Kathy Wittman

    Notable domestic appearances:

    Major National Companies and Concert Halls:

    Metropolitan Opera - Musetta in La Bohème (Met in the Parks), Frasquita in Carmem (on the main stage and in the HD broadcast)
    The older version of New York City Opera - Musetta in La Bohème, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Nedda in Pagliacci
    Seattle Opera - Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro
    Carnegie Hall - John Rutter's Requiem

    Regional Companies:

    Lyric Opera Kansas City, Hawaii Opera Theatre, Florida Grand Opera, San Antonio Opera, Central City Opera, Madison Opera, New Jersey Opera, and many others, in roles such as Violetta in La Traviata, Mimi in La Bohème, Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly, Contessa Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro, Micaëla in Carmen, and others

    Notable Internacional Appearances:

    Elizabeth as Cio Cio San - Photo Cory Weaver

    Berlin Staatsoper - Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly
    Teatro Giuseppe Verdi in Trieste - Magda in La Rondine
    Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira in São Paulo - Anne Trulove in The Rake's Progress
    Teatro Nacional Santo Domingo - title role in The Merry Widow


    National Grand Finalist, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions
    Gerda Lissner Foundation Award winner
    New York City Opera Diva Award winner
    Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation place winner
    One of Miami's most influential people by Miami New Times

    Elizabeth in Florencia en El Amazonas, Nashville Opera 2015

    New York Times review of her Musetta:

    "The evening’s most show-stopping performance offering a thrilling balance of pearly tone, exacting technique and brazen physicality.”

    Koke Photography


    The Second Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Elizabeth Caballero

    This is our interview #193. Copyright Opera Lively. Reproduction of excerpts is authorized for all purposes as long as the source is quoted and a link to the full piece is provided. Reproduction of the entire interview requires authorization - use the Contact Us form. Photos are fair promotional use.

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Aleko and Pagliacci premiered only two days apart, respectively on May 19 and 21, 1892. The plots are remarkably similar, and even some of the music; for example, the short, rhythmic overture in Pagliacci reminds me a bit of the "Men’s Dance" in Aleko, although of course they do belong to different stylistic schools, musically. Dramatically, the Russian opera also addresses commoners as characters, in a sort of Verismo approach as well, just like Pagliacci. So, it’s a very clever pairing for Opera Carolina, and it is remarkable that the company is doingAleko’ s US professional premiere. Please, let’s start by comparing and contrasting these two pieces. Tell us about your views on the music, the drama, and the characters in the two operas. The word harsh comes to mind when I think of Zemfira. Nedda does have melodious arias and duets.

    Elizabeth Caballero - Musically, I find these two pieces very similar even though they are from very differently schools. Aleko is very lush and so romantic and I wish the love duet between the tenor and soprano was as long as the Nedda/Silvio duet. This is the first time I'm singing in Russian and I am LOVING IT. It is such a juicy and sexy language to sing! I love all the open vowels.

    Zemfira's aria is somewhat "harsher" than Nedda's aria but perhaps Zemfira is a bit harsher of a person because it's in her DNA to do what she is doing. As a matter of fact, her mother did the same to her father and all the gypsies know this and accept this. It is their life and they just live it. Even in the end when Aleko kills both Zemfira and her lover, they do not take revenge on him because it is not "in their ways" to do so. They accept the fate of all, do away with Aleko (banish him from their group) and move on with their lives.

    I think the situation with Nedda is a little different. She is desperate to live another life and simply escape or "fly away". I feel that neither woman is truly in love but more in lust and just going with their flesh instinct. They are both very young and fearless. They both know how to protect themselves for as long as they did, up until the very end when fate sets in.

    Elizabeth as Nedda - Photo J. David Levy

    I love the role of Nedda. I don't think she is a bad person; she is just in a bad situation. None of the characters in Pagliacci are truly evil except for maybe Tonio, who is the true puppet-master in this horrible plot, and he loves it. That's why I love it when he says the final line how it's written: "La commedia è finita".

    It took me a while to love Zemfira. I hated how she taunts Aleko in her aria and then later on with her lover. But while studying the role, the language and the poetry, and where the piece came from, I came to the conclusion that it's simply in her nature to do what she does. It is the way of the gypsy life. And perhaps Zemfira is tired that she "owes" something to Aleko because he left his life for the gypsy life. In her mind she owes nothing to no one. It is destiny, whatever happens in life. They just live day by day. In a way, it is a very carefree and somewhat refreshing way to think of life. I like it. Does it work for us? Perhaps not exactly but maybe a little bit of that we can choose to take. [smiles]

    OL - In your first interview with Opera Lively in June of 2012 [see link above] you said you like to interpret fierce ladies, since you are a strong woman in real life. Nedda doesn’t hesitate in poking Tonio with a knife when he is crossing the line with her, and Zemfira mocks Aleko quite courageously. So there are similar in this way but like you’ve explained, their character arcs are indeed a bit different, right?

    EC - Nedda whips Tonio when he tries to rape her. She is defending herself after her mocking ways lead her too far. But then again, Tonio was being Tonio and constantly watching and peeping her in yet another private moment. God knows how many times he has done that already. Nedda is exhausted with her life. All she wants now is to run away, escape, flee, fly away to a new life. Haven't we all been there once in our lives before? Isn't that easy to understand? Nedda is in a loveless marriage, constantly moving around, constantly being harassed by all the men in her life except for Beppe who is truly an innocent victim. His life will forever be changed after what he saw Canio do.

    With Zemfira it's a little different. It's just in her way of life, her destiny, the only thing she knows. Aleko not being a real gypsy, he doesn't understand their ways; never did, never will. It's like Carmen and Jose. He never truly understood the gypsy life because he was not born in it. Gypsies are not bad people; they just live their lives buoyantly, moving from one place to another. Zemfira is not looking for an escape like Nedda; she simply wants a small change in her current life.

    OL - You’ve sung Nedda several times but it is the first time you sing Zemfira. The latter is a shorter sing but does sound difficult to me – not only because it is in Russian, but also because it seems more forceful, although Nedda has her very shouty moments as well. Please tell me about the musical side of these two ladies. What are the difficulties in going from one to the other, and what are the possible pitfalls or challenges for the singer, in each role?

    EC - I find Nedda much more difficult to sing than Zemfira; not vocally but physically. It's mostly the commedia part that is more physically exhausting since you are in this little box and in an unnatural way of acting during this part. Also before that, you have a long aria, followed by a violent confrontation, then a LONG love duet and then another violent confrontation. Immediately after that, you run off stage, quick change into Colombina and then you're in your little box to act the 'play' and then to be tossed around stage by a jealous husband. IT IS TRULY EXHAUSTING. After every Pagliacci production I always go home with a couple of bruises and bumps as souvenirs that remind me of the show for another week or so. [laughs] Thankfully it is not a very long opera but it is exhausting nonetheless. Vocally I've learned to pace myself with her. She's taught me a lot.

    Elizabeth as Nedda - photo Hawaii Opera Theatre, 2014

    Elizabeth as Nedda - photo Hawaii Opera Theatre, 2014

    Zemfira is much MUCH shorter both vocally and physically. She has many more breaks. The role also sits a little lower too. Nedda is a tiny bit higher but not lighter. Nedda is not a light role at all. It is quite dramatic and the aria alone can be challenging with the way it continues to go up and up and up. It can really ride up on you, vocally. Honestly if this was the first time I was singing both roles, this would be a big challenge but thankfully I know Nedda very well so I just focused on learning Zemfira and figure her out vocally, emotionally and physically. I'm pleased to figure out for me that Nedda (being more my comfort zone because I've done it many times before) is the more difficult role.

    OL - In Aleko, the music for the men seems meatier and more melodious than the one for Zemfira. Would you agree?

    EC - I do agree that in Aleko, the music for the men is, as you say, "meatier". Towards the end, after her lover is killed, Zemfira has a lovely and lush line but it is cut short because she is killed by Aleko soon after.

    Rachmaninoff was only 19 when he composed this piece and while musically it is so gorgeous, dramatically I find it a bit short. The drama in Pagliacci is more complete but the music in Aleko more satisfying. This is really a wonderful pairing of two different composers taking on, more or less, the same story.

    OL - A standard-bearer for Nedda in my opinion is the spectacular performance by Stratas with Domingo in the famous Zeffirelli film. Did she serve as inspiration for you? I know Aleko considerably less well, having only heard it once, with Zemfira interpreted by Maria Gavrilova in Paris in 2006. In your research for your role, did you listen to anybody that you felt had something to contribute to your preparation?

    EC - I have watched Stratas as Nedda. She is one of my favorites and I do love that Zefirelli production. For Aleko I listened to several recordings that I found to get an idea but soon after I had to put the recordings down and focused on learning the role properly with my coach. I was getting into the habit of trying to sound "Russian" instead of singing the language properly. I had to stop listening and start focusing on what works for me. I also went on YouTube and tried to find a production of Aleko and found a couple of clips that helped me see the action. YouTube is truly an amazing tool we have in our fingertips today. We are very lucky.

    OL - What can we expect from this Opera Carolina double bill? Any hints about directorial concepts?

    EC - Rehearsals begin in a week. Right now I'm simply looking forward to this great pairing & singing my first Russian opera.

    OL - Almost four years ago you were interviewed by Opera Lively (although a mishap made us lose the second part of your interview – only the first part got published). At the time you mentioned your dream of one day portraying Manon Lescaut, and Tosca, although you did say that particularly the latter wouldn’t be suitable to your voice type. How is your voice evolving, and are you closer to fulfilling your dream?

    EC - I'd actually love to move in a different direction. I'd love to be able to sing more Belcanto and Verdi. Zemfira is a far cry away from Tosca. The role of Zemfira is very short in comparison and much lower too.

    Koke Photography


    Let's listen to the singer as Mimì:


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    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Povero Buoso's Avatar
      Povero Buoso -
      Thank you for this interview. I confess my lack of familiarity with Aleko though I had heard that Rachmaninoff in his youth turned out several operas. The comments on Pagliacci intrigued me (it has my preference over Cavalleria Rusticana). I am inclined to agree with Ms Caballero on the character of Tonio a truly despicable villain in opera terms and one who wins completely by the end of the Opera which even Scarpia fails to do. I agree somewhat that Nedda is not a wholly bad person or Canio for that matter. I personally believe that they are very realistic characters who both show very human flaws and Leoncavallo should be commended on his libretto for I Pagliacci which is very almost as good as his music for the opera which itself is superb and memorable. A very interesting interview with great insights on the opera(s)

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