• The Barber of Seville at Greensboro Opera - Interviews with the Artists

    Our partner company Greensboro Opera has been putting together some very compelling shows ever since the company's rebirth under the leadership of Artistic Director David Holley. This time, the company will be presenting Rossini's The Barber of Seville with a very good cast. We at Opera Lively know some of the singers already from other productions and can vouch for their quality, and the ones until unknown to us look great when we look at their artistic biographies and video clips. It's always great to see a well-sung production of this beloved opera, so, dear readers, don't miss it! There will be two performances: on January 12 at 7:30 PM, and January 14 at 2 PM, at the UNCG Auditorium, 408 Tate Street, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Click [here] for tickets, and [here] to know more about the cast. Opera Lively is interviewing the singers; see below. THE REVIEW OF THE SHOW IS NOW IN. CLICK [HERE]



    The Exclusive Opera Lively mini-interview with baritone David Pershall (Figaro)

    Opera Lively is interviewing the singers. Let's start with the title character, Figaro, manned by David Pershall (Opera Lively interview # 238 - reproduction authorized as long as the source is quoted and a link to it is included). He is known to the Triad public for his successful role of Escamillo in last year's Carmen, and has sung with some of the most prestigious companies in the world, like the Metropolitan Opera and Vienna State Opera, and venues such as the Salzburg Landestheater and Carnegie Hall. He was this past November with San Francisco Opera in the role of Lescaut in Manon. To learn more about this dashing baritone, consult his website by clicking [here].



    Opera Lively - You sang the role of Figaro in two of the most important opera houses in the world, The Metropolitan Opera, and the Vienna State Opera, among others. What do you bring to this production in Greensboro from your experience with the same role in such prestigious settings?

    David Pershall - As with any opera, the more times you have performed a role, the easier it becomes for you. Spending years with an opera, as I have with Barbiere, allows you the opportunity to pull the absolute best ideas about a role from multiple sources to create a better sung, more stylistic, and, ultimately, a more interesting and enjoyable interpretation.

    OL - This is a return to Greensboro for you. Last year you were Escamillo in Carmen. What’s special about Greensboro Opera?

    DP - I decided to participate in last year's Carmen because of David Holley. I met David while I was in school for my undergraduate where he directed the very first opera in which I ever performed. When he asked if I would participate in Carmen, I told him it would be my pleasure. I made some great friends last year, and I am thrilled to be back!

    OL - I find that the "Largo al factotum" is harder than people realize. My conclusion about it comes from the fact that it is so hard to find a really good video clip of it on YouTube, even when we look up some of the great historical singers who tackled the role. It requires great agility, poise, projection, and acting abilities. Tell us about the vocal challenges in singing this aria.

    DP - "Largo al factotum" has long been known as one of the most technically demanding arias of the baritone repertoire. You are correct to say it requires agility, poise, projection, and a larger-than-life characterization which makes it all seem easy. Combine all this with the fact that it is the first thing you sing the minute you step on stage, and you begin to understand what makes it nerve-wracking for the performer. However, this is also what makes it so enjoyable for the audience. The greatest audience reactions I have ever received were a result of singing this aria extremely well. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge!

    OL - Tell us about your larger-than-life character. Is the acting part tricky, in order to avoid falling into a stereotypical pitfall?

    DP - Yes, these parts can quite easily become a mundane stereotype. To fight against this reality, I try to find the real heart and soul of the character. What motivates him? Why does he say things his particular way? Who or what does he care about the most in any given situation? Answering these questions breathes new life into any characterization.

    OL - From your interview with Opera News when they selected you as one opera’s 25 rising star, I found this fragment that I think is very interesting: you said, “Are we heading in ten years to being a digital medium, where everyone can find any performance all over the world at any moment?” You talked about the acting challenges this day and age, versus the vocal focus of bygone eras. Will you please elaborate more on this topic?

    DP - Well, it is something I was struggling with more at the time than I think I should have been. I firmly believe the theater is the place that opera is the most convincing. The theater is where it was intended to be experienced. Sure it’s fun to have a video of a performance you found particularly interesting or beautiful. However, the thrill of the voice, the beauty of the music, the sets, costumes, lights, and ultimately the most moving moments of an operatic experience can only be experienced in their entirety inside an opera house.

    OL - Your latest role was Lescaut in the gorgeous new production of Manon at San Francisco Opera, in November 2017. Tell us about that experience.

    DP - I had a blast as Lescaut. It was a very successful role debut for me. Everyone in the production put in such hard work and we created something that was really special. I look forward to returning to San Francisco next season, even if I’m not allowed to name the role I will sing just yet.

    OL - You’ll be Schaunard at the Metropolitan Opera on March 7, 2018, sharing the stage with great singers such as Sonya Yoncheva and Michael Fabiano, under the baton of the always excellent maestro Marco Armiliato, in the beautiful production of La Bohème by Zeffirelli. How exciting is that?

    DP - I’m ecstatic to be returning to the Met for La bohème with such a magnificent cast. My first experience working with Michael Fabiano was just this November in Manon at San Francisco Opera. He is a wonderful colleague, and I am happy we will get the chance to sing together again. The illustrious maestro Marco Armiliato and I have also collaborated numerous times at the Vienna State Opera, and I can’t wait to hear his Bohème again, much less sing in it! I have often admired Sonya’s artistry and I look forward to meeting her and sharing the stage together.

    OL - You recorded on CD three operas with the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Beethoven Easter Festival: Gluck’s Iphigenie en Tauride, Montemezzi’s L’Amore dei tre re, and Donizetti’s Maria Padilla which is an opera I never listened to. Which one was more fun to perform, and why?

    DP - I enjoyed performing L’amore dei tre re the most because it is an exciting, beautiful, tragic, and epic piece. I really hope I get the chance to sing it again.

    OL - Now, tell us a bit about you as a person. You grew up in Texas. What made you decide to go into an operatic career?

    DP - My mother is a piano instructor, so I got into music early on and developed a passion for it. I discovered opera in high school when my voice teacher at the time passed me a Robert Merrill album. I have been hooked ever since.

    OL - What’s your personality like, your take on life, and your extra-operatic hobbies and interests?

    DP - I am quite a competitive person, as are most opera singers, and I love a good challenge! I hit the gym daily. I enjoy playing chess as long as I am winning. I absolutely love to read. I just re-read Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and am now enjoying working my way through my old Oscar Wilde collection again. I have three small children and love spending time with them. I find the best way to start each day is with a full cup of coffee.

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    The Exclusive Opera Lively Mini-Interview with Tenor Andrew Owens (Count Almaviva)

    Next, let's talk with tenor Andrew Owens, who will be singing Count Almaviva, a role we already witnessed him performing - and very well - for North Carolina Opera. He is known to the Triad public for having performed in Greensboro Opera's La Cenerentola. Andrew was the winner of of the Zarzuela prize at the 2015 Francisco Viñas International Singing Competition. He's been to the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, and is scheduled to sing at the prestigious Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Learn more about the artist by visiting his website: click [here]. This is his second interview with us. We are recycling some of his previous answers for the sake of the Triad public, given that they are still relevant. (Opera Lively interview # 239 - reproduction authorized as long as the source is quoted and a link to it is included).



    Opera Lively - We last talked with you for your Opera Lively interview in August of 2015 when you were here for La Cenerentola. Please update us. What happened in your life and career in these two and a half years?

    Andrew Owens - I’ve fortunately kept very busy! I’ve been performing my beloved Rossini with a number of companies here in the States (Opera San Antonio, Virginia Opera, Seattle Opera, North Carolina Opera, Arizona Opera, Caramoor Festival). I’ve also taken on a number of other projects with other companies: a world-premiere with Dayton Opera, my first Così fan tutte in Brazil, and my Concertgebouw debut in Amsterdam. I’ve also maintained a close connection with my “home theater” (Theater an der Wien) in Vienna, performing a number of interesting roles there. Away from the stage, I’ve become a resident of Chicago where I currently live with my girlfriend and our little dog, Lulu (who’s here with me in Greensboro!)

    OL - Count Almaviva starts the opera with some very exquisite music. Is it difficult to sing because it occurs so early, before much of a chance of warming up the voice? Are there other challenges in this role?

    AO - That’s definitely a challenge, but I’ve used that “unease” in my characterization. If I’m feeling a bit under, or not entirely warmed up, that’s how I play the character. Conversely, if I’m feeling really good vocally and ready to knock it out of the park, then my Almaviva is chomping at the bit to woo Rosina.

    As for other challenges, the role is an absolute marathon. He just sings and sings and sings. Additionally, he’s FAR less “static” than Ramiro in La Cenerentola, who can get away with flashing a smile and singing pretty. Almaviva has to have the comedic chops of Figaro with the numerous disguises he assumes throughout the opera.

    OL - Let’s talk about the psychology of this character. Sure, he is young and impetuous. But then he is a bit arrogant too. What do you think of the Barber’s Count Almaviva? Would you see underneath the noble young man in the first installment of Beaumarchais’ three plays, a hint of the darker and more conniving character in The Marriage of Figaro?

    AO - It’s very easy to see how this character evolves (or devolves, I suppose) into what we get in the second and third installments of the trilogy. He is extremely bossy and is used to getting what he wants. When things don’t work out, he pitches a fit and has a mini-meltdown. It takes Figaro to calm him down and get him to think less dramatically. One can’t “play the ending”, but I think it’s important to reveal some of those flaws to the audience. There should be a glimpse of that so we can understand how he could go from impetuous lover in Barber, to conniving cheat in Figaro, to abusive husband and father in Guilty Mother or La Mère Coupable.

    OL - Yes, tell us about Milhaud’s La Mère Coupable, and your participation in its production by the Theater an der Wien. Most of us only know, of the operas based on Beaumarchais’ trilogy, the Barber, and the Nozze. The third installment got a number of operatic treatments, including Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, but the story never got to be as operatically successful as its first two installments by Mozart and Rossini, so please tell us about the merits of Milhaud’s opera.

    AO - Mère is a very interesting piece. I read the Beaumarchais trilogy before beginning rehearsals and felt that Milhaud's version is probably the one that stays closest to the original play. He took a few liberties here and there for the sake of musicality, but it remains quite true. There are some incongruities between the music and text, but it was quite fun to sing and the production was very dark. The sexual elements of the piece were really highlighted by director Herbert Föttinger, a wonderful actor himself and the director of the Theater in der Josefstadt in Vienna. Coincidentally, I was in his operatic directorial debut in Fidelio in Vienna two seasons prior. It was a very exhausting process, as I was hit with a bad stomach flu for most of the rehearsal process that carried over into the first couple performances, but in the end I felt good about what was created onstage. I felt even better having a couple weeks off following that production to fully rest up and recover!

    OL - You did extensive training on the job as a member of the Junges Ensemble at the Theater an der Wien, and also as part of the Opernstudio at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. Some people say that this kind of high-intensity ensemble work in German speaking houses is essential to launch an international career. Do you recommend this path to young opera singers who aspire to break into the business? What are some of the pros of this experience?

    AO - I think it is a wonderful way to start a career. I'd always been fascinated by the prospect of singing in Europe, especially the German-speaking countries. I studied the language all throughout high school and college and also spent a summer as an exchange student, so fortunately for me, I didn't have that initial obstacle of trying to learn a foreign language while on the job. If anything, I'd say my German has just gained a bit of a Viennese accent, or so I've been told!

    One of the biggest pros to being out there is the sheer amount of opportunities. Nearly every town has a state theater that performs opera and operetta, so there are more jobs available than back in the States. I know so many American singers that are making a very stable living as Fest members in regional theaters. They're state employees, insured, earn a salary, and can raise a family and stay in one place.

    OL - You won the 2015 Zarzuela prize at the prestigious Francisco Vinãs International Singing Competition. Congratulations. Do you see Zarzuela having any future in the American market, with the growing Hispanic population?

    AO - Thank you very much! Zarzuela is sadly overlooked by many American theaters, as is operetta. It's really quite a shame, since many of these pieces direct themselves and would be big hits with theatergoers. I would love to see a theater, especially one located in a city with a large Hispanic population, put on a festival dedicated to these charming works. I will be debuting with Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid in the future, so I'm excited to revisit this music!

    OL - You started your education in the United States at the Oberlin conservatory, and continued it in Austria and Germany. You are in a good position to comment upon the differences in directorial concept and public reaction between Austria/Germany, and the United States. How do you feel about Regietheater versus traditional staging?

    AO - Oh wow, how much time do you have? I mean, I don't have anything shocking or controversial to say, just a lot of opinions. I feel it's important to have new takes on old classics and to "shake things up" a bit when staging a piece. Art, after all, should provoke thought or emotion. However, there has to be respect for who and what came before you. It's not an entirely new creation. There was so much time and passion and tears and sweat that went into creating this piece and therefore, I feel directors should approach it with a certain degree of humility. I find that directing a piece when you are unfamiliar with the text, unfamiliar with the story, and (above all) unfamiliar with the music, is inexcusable. We are expected to be completely prepared and know our roles inside and out, so why shouldn't they? I've been extremely fortunate to have had a number of very artistically fulfilling experiences, but there have also been frustrating ones. I don't believe that opera is theater. Opera is opera. It has theatrical elements, but it is so unique and individual that you do it a great disservice by simply placing under the heading of 'THEATER'.

    OL - How did opera become your career choice, growing up?

    AO - Two words: Mario. Lanza. I was sitting in music class in 8th grade when our teacher popped in a video of The Toast of New Orleans, one of his early films. I was mesmerized. I clearly remember saying, out loud, "I want to do THAT!" It began a love affair that continues to this very day! I bought every album, film, and book I could find. There was one book in particular that was a collection of stories from people who knew him or were influenced by him. In it, a tenor named Enrico Di Giuseppe, who had enjoyed a long and successful career singing at the Met, NYCO, and numerous other houses, contributed an article. I wrote him a letter requesting voice lessons, and he agreed to meet me! I studied under him for six wonderful years until his passing. He became very much like a grandfather to me and I miss him every day. Those two men, along with my current voice teacher Gioacchino Li Vigni, and my teacher from graduate school Dominic Cossa, are without question the most important influences on my professional life.

    OL - Turning to the person underneath the artist so that our public gets to know you a little better, please describe your personality and take on life.

    AO - I'm a very upbeat and positive person! I feel that it takes so much energy to be upset and angry, so why not do what's easier and just be happy? We, as singers and musicians, are so incredibly lucky to be doing what we're doing and making a living. It upsets me when people complain. Granted, we have our stresses and complications. Our lives are quite hectic and frazzled! I just always try to remind myself that I'm doing what I love: I'm singing, I'm traveling, I'm seeing the world, I'm meeting new people all the time. It's a pretty great life!

    OL - What are your interests besides opera and classical music? What do you like to do for fun?

    AO - Well, my first musical experience was playing guitar and singing… well more like screaming, in a rock band in school. I still play and love writing songs whenever the mood strikes me. However, I've traded my axe for an acoustic and my songs are much more mellow. I've also become a pretty avid yoga practitioner, specifically hot yoga. I've been lucky to find a studio in every city where I've lived/worked and I try to go as often as my schedule will allow. Another relaxing activity I enjoy is cooking. I don't have a huge arsenal of recipes, but as my girlfriend puts it, I do a handful of dishes really well. Additionally, I'm a massive fan of my Philadelphia sports teams and support them unconditionally.

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    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Bass-Baritone Donald Hartman (Dr. Bartolo)

    And now, let's talk with Donald Hartman, a delightful singer whose long career has always produced excellent performances in both the buffo and serio roles of the bass-baritone repertory. We've heard Donald in several roles and he is always a blast. He is a native of Greensboro, but developed his career in Germany for a long time, having appeared in well over 130 productions in 75 different roles, before coming back to his hometown where he is now in the faculty at the North Carolina School of the Arts. He recently appeared in the New York City Opera production of Tosca, in the company's return to Lincoln Center. Learn more about the artist by visiting his website, clicking [here]. This interview is our second one with the singer; for the sake of the Triad public, together with new questions, we recycled some of his previous answers that are still relevant. (Opera Lively interview # 241 - reproduction authorized as long as the source is quoted and a link to it is included).



    Opera Lively - It will be a pleasure to listen to you again on stage. Like Opera Lively has said before, you are always a solid actor, and always in good voice, in your career that is going on for more than three decades. What’s the secret for this longevity?

    Donald Hartmann - I've thought a great deal about my longevity as a singer recently. I'm about to approach my 40th year of professional singing, which started in 1979 at the Stadttheater Regensburg in Germany! I had sung in productions prior to that year: some of them were paid engagements, so, I imagine one could say that I've been singing for 40 years. However, the engagement in Germany marks the first engagement as a "professional" singer and I have been working steadily as a singer since that time, combining teaching and singing as a dual/singular career.

    The secret for my longevity is that I know my voice better than anyone. I know what my limits are and I know how far I am able to push my vocal resources. I learned quite some time ago, to trust myself. Others have their opinions of what you "should" do and "how" you should do it. For example, I was in a production of Peter Grimes and the tenor lead, a rather well-known singer at the time with multiple Met credits, pulled me aside during a rehearsal and asked me why I thought that I was a bass-baritone. He considered me a "lazy tenor" as I had a better upper extension than a lower vocal extension. (I've been told that several times, by the way.) I never believed it! I know where my voice feels comfortable and this is the key to longevity. Plus, I try my best to stay physically active and maintain a toned physique (which becomes more difficult each year!). Regardless of what people say about singing, it is a very strenuous, physical and mental activity.

    OL - Your first interview with Opera Lively was published in August of 2015, a bit more than two years ago. Any updates? What happened in the last two and a half years in your life and career?

    DH - Actually, the past two years of my career have been quite exciting beyond my wildest imagination! Everything is relative, you know? But the year 2016 began with making my debut with New York City Opera in the inaugural production of Tosca heralding the return on NYCO to the Lincoln Center area. Although the critics tended to pan the production for various reasons, being a part of that event was incredible. Michael Capasso, new general director of NYCO, had directed me as the Sacristan in several productions over the years and wanted me for that event. I couldn't believe it! I was 62 years old!

    Also, the summer of 2016 is when I made my debut with Central City Opera in Colorado. I had been asked to sing there before, but was not able to for various reasons. This time, I sang the Sacristan in Tosca and the role of William Jennings Bryan in the 60th anniversary production of The Ballad of Baby Doe. That production was so magical! The cast was incredible including Anna Cristy, Susanne Mentzer, and Grant Youngblood.

    But to be in the 60th anniversary production of an opera composed for Central City was a rare opportunity to be part of "history." I was in 24 performances in 5 weeks that summer. That was quite the accomplishment, especially factoring in the altitude 8500 feet above sea level! Try it sometime.....at age 62!

    I will also be making my debut with Opera Grand Rapids this year. It's nice to be able to continue to make debuts!

    OL - The role of Bartolo is responsible for most of the comedic flare of this piece. The success of the evening is on your shoulders, in great part. Is this big responsibility somewhat of a burden, or is it all a lot of fun?

    DH - As you have noted, I seem to have this knack for comedy. I couldn't tell you how I developed that: I suppose watching I Love Lucy and The Carol Burnett Show growing up: that sort of physical comedy, the timing of movement, the importance of facial expressions, knowing that being still at certain points, etc. is a skill and I took to that. These were also ensemble comedy shows and the chemistry of the ensemble is what is most important.

    Whether Dr. Bartolo is responsible for the comedic flare of the opera is an interesting point. All of the characters in Barber are comedic roles with perhaps the exception of Rosina, although she certainly has her moments as well. My personal opinion is that I feel Bartolo is the least "real" character in this opera. Without going into the psychology of each character, I tend to take this work, as other comedic operas, for what they are on the surface: comedy. I think Bartolo is a slapstick, comedic character. This "responsibility" as you mention is never a burden. It's always fun. I do have a tendency to go "too far" and I have had directors tell me to pull it back. We shall see how my Rossini Bartolo will be received. (By the way, this Bartolo is so very different than the Mozart Bartolo in Le Nozze di Figaro). I think the success of the evening will rest upon the shoulders of the entire cast. We are all in this together.

    OL - What is your recipe to create a good Bartolo on stage, vocally and acting-wise? Those patter songs must be challenging.

    There are many challenges to create a good Bartolo. Vocally, it's extremely difficult. The role is much higher in range than say, Don Magnifico, and it requires a strong "baritone" range. The patter of the aria and ensemble selections is a challenge, of course, but that's a matter of learning it slowly and gradually increasing the tempo. It's also a matter of singing with a lighter tone production, while maintaining a "core" to the sound, and to shape phrases. As an actor, the character is so well defined! The only thing a performer needs to do is pay attention to the music and understand the text.

    OL - When a regional opera company performs one of the workhorses of the repertory like the Barber, there is always a challenge in order to make it their own. It’s a piece that a huge chunk of the public will have seen a number of times elsewhere. How do you make it unique and compelling?

    DH - The Rossini Bartolo has never been a mainstay in my repertoire, which I find odd. I have only sung in Barber 5 times: twice as Basilio and now, this is my third Bartolo. The first time I sang Dr. Bartolo was in 1984: most of my cast colleagues weren't even born then! One of the most obvious ways that my Bartolo is "unique" is that I'm not a large man. In most productions of Barber, Bartolo is heavier set than I am. Few directors consider a trim and not so tall singer for Bartolo. Indeed, most costumes for Bartolo are designed for larger men. Actually, I think my thin frame and size is what can make Bartolo more laughable as others tower over him or outwit him. So, I don't quite fit the stereotypical casting of Dr. Bartolo.

    OL - You’ve done all sorts of roles in your fach, which usually go from the very comic ones to the very tragic or evil characters. Acting-wise, what interests you more – comedic or serious roles, and why?

    DH - They all interest me. I have done large roles and very, very small roles. I enjoy allowing myself to explore character roles more than "real" roles. For example, I have a terrific time singing Benoit/Alcindoro in La Bohème. I have had the pleasure of singing Marcello in several productions, too. But a "serious" role such as Colline, can be rather boring. I find that directors and conductors tend to appreciate my comedic roles more because, as I have been told, I have this certain "thing" for comedy. I suppose it's because I am not afraid of looking silly on stage AND be able to sing! I can hurl a curse in a serious role as well as the next bass, but not every serious bass can be funny.

    OL - Now, operetta versus opera – what’s more fun for the artist? In operetta, you’ve done a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan, and also Offenbach’ The Tales of Hoffmann, and Strauss’ Die Fledermaus.

    DH - I have sung a great deal of Gilbert and Sullivan....with a dreadful fear, dread mainly because of the dialogue. Performing in Die Fledermaus is tougher than Mikado. Frank or Falke are "real" people....not caricatures. The roles in Mikado are pretend people, if you know what I mean. Speaking as a "real" person involves a different type of stage speaking. So, to answer your question, I prefer opera. At least the dialogue is "measured" for you to sing. That said, I have become more at ease with dialogue.

    OL - You are an experienced professor, holding a doctorate in musical arts, having taught as a full professor at Eastern Michigan University, and currently in the faculty also as a full professor of voice at UNC-Greensboro. What are your most precious hints and advice you give to young students who are trying to become full time opera singers?

    DH - This is a very good question. The most important things that I try to teach any student is to know your music, inside and out; to be completely prepared; to be independent about learning your music; to be polite to your colleagues; and to enjoy doing what you are doing.

    OL - Looking back at your long career that is still going strong, what are the best memories and the greatest regrets, if any?

    DH - Oh my...I have many performance experiences that have been huge memories! My first Sacristan in Tosca was with Maria Guleghina as Tosca. Then there was a Salome with a cast that included Maria Ewing, George Shirley, and Mignon Dunn. Then there was the opening production of the Detroit Opera House for Michigan Opera Theater in La Bohème in a cast that included Marcello Giordani and Hellen Donath. Oh....and the opening of the Valentine Theater in Toledo in Tosca with Diana Soviero! Then there was the extremely emotional production of Peter Grimes in Montreal during the 9/11 attack. And I will never forget my first production in Germany: Oklahoma in German! The list could continue.....
    As for regrets, well, there were two roles I sang which were not a good fit for my voice.

    OL - Now, turning to the person underneath the artist so that our public gets to know you a little better, please describe your personality and take on life.

    DH - My personality....that is best for others to assess. I didn't start out being a singer. There are those who remember me as an undergraduate piano performance major. They had no idea that I have had the vocal career that I have had and continue to enjoy. I didn't begin singing until age 25. I did not come from a musical family. I am the only one of four children who went to college. My father never heard me sing as he died tragically in an accident. I haven't sung at the Met or Chicago or any of the big theaters in the US, but I maintain an active career on the regional circuit. I love what I do and I am thrilled that I have the chances to do what I do.

    OL - What do you like to do for hobbies and other interests, outside of the realm of opera and classical music?

    DH - I'm rather boring. I try to walk 3 to 4 miles a day. I enjoy watching my summer veggies grow. And I'm glued to MSNBC, Food Network, or HGTV from 6:00 to 11:00 nightly.

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    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Cecelia Hall (Rosina)



    We will finish this series of interview with our Rosina, the lovely Cecelia Hall. She is not only known to our public from previous productions, but is also a native of North Carolina, and studied at the University of North Carolina School of Arts High School. From our state, Cecelia's career took off, first in New York City at Juilliard, then in Chicago at the Ryan Opera Center, next at the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann program, and then in Europe where she is part of the ensemble of Oper Frankfurt. She is now a rising star in the international operatic environment, singing in prestigious houses such as the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, and the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence in France, and having been featured on the cover of Opera News. Learn more about the artist by visiting her website, clicking [here]. This interview is our second one with the singer; our first one can be accessed [here]. (This new one is Opera Lively's interview # 242 - reproduction authorized as long as the source is quoted and a link to it is included).

    Opera Lively - In September of 2013 you granted an interview to Opera Lively, on the occasion of your Dorabella for North Carolina Opera. That was our interview #118. More than four years later we are at #242, and your career took off. You were at the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Met, and now you got to be on the cover of Opera News, to appear in houses as prestigious as the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, and in two of the highest quality festivals worldwide, Santa Fe and Aix-en-Provence, and you are a member of the ensemble of the Oper Frankfurt. Please tell us what changed for you in this interval, as an artist and as a person.

    Cecelia Hall - The past four years have provided me with many wonderful opportunities. I got a lot of my first jobs from the time I spent in New York, both at Juilliard and in the Lindemann program. In 2014 I became a bona fide free-lancer. A lot of personal growth and artistic development has come along with being my own boss. Now, as a member of the ensemble in Frankfurt, I carry that sense of self with me, while enjoying the benefits of having a home theater. I get to sing great roles with world-class colleagues and go home to my own bed at the end of the night!

    OL - You are a native of North Carolina so it’s always exciting for us to see you back. How special is for you, singing Rosina for Greensboro Opera? What do you expect of this production?

    CH - I love having the opportunity to sing in my home state. And with the cast that David Holley has assembled, including international singers Andrew Owens, David Pershall, and Tyler Simpson, I think it's going to be a great show!

    OL - Rosina’s role might be a bit tricky to act, in order to avoid the stereotype of a flirt. How do you go about portraying this character, acting-wise?

    CH - If you start with the original text, the play by Beaumarchais, maybe it's easier to see Rosina as a three-dimensional person. She's trapped in a terrible situation -- under the thumb of a much older man who wants to marry her, to essentially gain access to her body without her consent, in order to get money that is rightfully hers -- and she manages to find a way out, using only her wits, while also having a lot of fun and gaining the heart a prince. This is a formidable woman!

    It's very important to me, no matter the role, to create and inhabit a character who is just as real as you and me: just as spontaneous, complex, vibrant, and full of contradictions. My Juilliard and Lindemann training gave me great tools in this regard. For any character, I ask: what common ground do I share with her? Have I been in a situation that shares any similarities to her's? Even in extreme circumstances where I can't relate, there's usually an emotional core and the seed of an action that is similar to something I've experienced. For me, embodying a believable person on stage and allowing her high-stakes situation to unfold is the only way I feel like I have a reason to sing!

    OL - What are the vocal challenges in singing the role of Rosina? Do you find her coloratura to be particularly difficult, or is it comfortable?

    CH - I find Rosina to be a challenging but rewarding role. The music requires an ease, agility, and evenness of tone across 2 octaves of the voice. It's also a marathon of singing and acting - after her aria, she barely leaves the stage for the rest of the opera. But it's worth all the hard work -- she's a great character to play and the music is a lot of fun to sing!

    OL - Being a member of the ensemble of a German house is said to be extremely important for the career of a singer, in terms of exposure to a large number of roles in rapid succession. People say that once you do this, you’re prepared for whatever else happens, and your career takes higher flights. It is also said to be a bit risky for the voice. What is your opinion on the pros and cons of this experience?

    CH - I can only speak to my personal experience -- in Frankfurt I have not had to sing anything that's not right for my voice, nor have I had to sing too many roles at once. I've found it to be nothing but a wonderful chance to make great music on a great stage and enjoy the consistency of having a home theater. However, I know that this can be a pit-fall at some theaters, and especially for some young singers – I was fortunate in that I came to Frankfurt after having gained some crucial experience already, which is not the case for everyone. However, no matter where a singer is working, it's very important to learn to say no to anything that isn't right vocally or that the singer doesn't have sufficient time to learn. It can be very hard to say no to opportunities, but it's an important part of taking care of oneself.

    OL - You’ve been in some contemporary operas. We from Opera Lively grant huge importance to operas that are being composed today by living composers, as an essential way to keep the art form moving forward. The audiences, though, often crave the older classics. What’s your take on this?

    CH - Opera, like other genres, thrives because it stays alive. A balance of the classics and new works is essential, and I find that audiences respond to good work done well, no matter the date of composition. A great example I had of this was during the final dress rehearsal of Cold Mountain, in which I sang the role of Ruby, at Opera Philadelphia. The audience was filled with high school students and they LOVED the show - they were with us the whole time, cheering and booing as they saw fit; and in the touching moments, they were so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I think an open mind is often all that's needed to enjoy a new opera.

    OL - Our readers might also be curious about your take on the generally striking differences between how the Europeans stage opera within the Regie movement, and how Americans do it. What is your take on this controversy?

    CH - Well, it's not that controversial in Germany. Opera is part of the daily bread there, and so everyone knows the traditional tellings of the classic operas. Because they have that cultural knowledge, there's a hunger to see a new take on an old classic: in many ways, they go to the opera the way we go to the movies, and would be just as bored by a diet of only traditional stagings as we would be with watching only traditional films. If the audience doesn't really know the opera, as is often the case in the US, I think there's more of an obligation for the director to tell the story as the composer and librettist intended, so that audience can enjoy and become familiar with the work. But in my limited experience in Germany, there's as much traditional opera happening as in the US - it's just balanced by a lot of additional productions that might be described as more cutting-edge. I'm always open to seeing (or being in) an experimental staging of an opera, as long as the concept is truly thought-out and makes sense with the music and text.

    OL - In your first interview with us, we focused more on the operatic material, but never asked about you as a person, which is something we like to do, in order for the public to get to know you a little more. So, what made you pick opera as a career, growing up?

    CH - I started taking piano lessons at age 6, from Pei Fen Liu of Duke University. I fell in love with classical music through her teaching, and she saw in me a love of singing, which she mentored. I gave yearly recitals under her tutelage throughout my childhood. Music and the arts run in my family, too, through the generations - my dad's mom was a singer, my mother is a painter, and there's a passed-down story about a great-grandmother who desperately wanted to be a stage-singer/actor and was not allowed to be one, as it wasn't considered lady-like! After my start with piano and singing recitals, choirs and solos throughout public high school fueled the flame, and then I had the great fortune to study at the North Carolina School of the Arts for my senior year - it was free for in-state kids! I loved it there and decided to apply to colleges for music. When I had my first role in an opera at age 19, I was hooked.

    OL - Would you tell us about your personality, your take on life, and your extra-operatic hobbies and interests?

    CH - I grew up with a deep connection to the out-of-doors, and despite the city living that comes with this career I crave the stillness and quietude of nature. Being outside with my dog, doing yoga, cooking, these things ground me, bring me joy, and give me fuel for the stage. My husband, Sam Levine, is also a singer and we support each-other so completely in this career and otherwise, which is an incredible gift. We're expecting a baby in June, and I am beyond excited to start that chapter of life while continuing my work in Frankfurt and all over the world.

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    As you can see, dear readers, this is an excellent cast! Don't miss Greensboro Opera's The Barber of Seville!

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