• Rigoletto at Opera Carolina - Interviews with the Artists

    As usual, we are starting our coverage of our beloved partner company Opera Carolina's winter opera, which this season will be Verdi's spectacular Rigoletto on February 11, 15, and 17, 2018. See the Press Release by clicking [here], where you will find links to tickets and other information about the show.

    Opera Lively will attend and review the show. We interviewed the artists who are singing the three leading roles.

    Let's start with Canadian soprano Magali Simard-Galdès who hails from Québec and is known to the Charlotte public from her very successful Roxane in the fall production of Cyrano. Learn more about her by consulting her website, [here]. Questions by Luiz Gazzola. Reproduction authorized as long as the source is quoted and linked to. Opera Lively interview # 243. This is Magali's second interview with us. Read the first one [here].

    The Second Opera Lively Interview with Magali Simard-Galdès (Gilda)

    OL - Gilda is a difficult role. She comes in, sings two duets, then attacks "Caro Nome," which is very exposed and sits high. Later, "Tutte le feste" sits much lower. The quartet and the storm trio are very loud. The death scene is high and light. So it’s a roller-coaster of a role. Please tell us about the challenges of interpreting Gilda.

    MSG - Well you just named all of the vocal challenges of singing this role! It is important to be thoroughly warmed up right when you go on stage. but also not have sung too much before the show that you don't have enough stamina to finish it. The challenge is also mental, like an athlete, because once you sing through act one you have this sense of : "yay! I did it!" but you can't relax because you still have more than half of the singing to do, even though the more vocally challenging passages are done. So it is important to stay focused.

    OL - What about her psychology? Much has been said about whether the Duke raped her or not. Still, she remains loyal to him. How does a modern woman like you relate to the psychological traits Gilda exhibits, maybe as an abused woman who is too willing to excuse her abuser?

    MSG - For me it is not about whether he physically forced himself on her or just convinced her to do it. I think that Gilda has this blind love that in today's times would be the young teenage girl who is with a young adult man who will have her do anything (drugs, pornography, prostitution). She flees her family because even though this man is taking advantage of her she cannot see anything else than how wonderful he is when he tells her he loves her. And in Gilda's case she kills herself to save him.

    OL - Rigoletto in spite of all the love he expresses for his daughter, also comes across as strict, cold at times, and controlling. What would you say about this operatic father-daughter relationship?

    MSG - I perceive it as a highly dysfunctional one! He is putting all that pressure on her, that she is the ONLY thing in the world that makes him happy, without ever telling her anything about the world she lives in or himself. Of course in those circumstances she makes bad decisions, she has no idea of anything!

    OL - We are glad to have you back, after your successful performance of the role of Roxane in last year’s Cyrano. What is special about this opera company that presumably makes you equally excited about being back?

    MSG - For me the staff at Opera Carolina really makes the difference, you feel welcome and supported and that is why I am so excited to come back!

    OL - It is interesting that you mentioned in your first interview with us that you are very much into physical fitness, having been a gymnast from age 4 to 14. I say so because another Gilda we interviewed, Lisette Oropesa, is also very much focused on working out. So, tell us about the old controversy that opera singers needed to have bigger bodies to produce a larger and more resonant sound. What is changed that it doesn’t seem to be the case any longer? Has the vocal technique evolved so that slender bodies can sing just as well? What are the advantages for an opera singer of being physically fit (beyond the obvious health benefit)?

    MSG - I don't think the vocal technique has changed, there have always been slim singers. The big opera singer is really a stereotype and like in society a lot of body types are present in the opera world.

    The benefits of being fit for me is that I feel more grounded on stage, and the exercise helps a lot with stress management.

    OL - You are coming from France where you just sang the role of Ève in Théodore Dubois’ oratorio Le Paradis Perdu. It’s interesting to think of the name of the piece, given that its orchestral score was lost. It’s been recreated for a reduced ensemble, and revived in 2011 in Montpellier, but now this performance in Tourcoing is said to be based on the original manuscript and to count on a full orchestra – I don’t know what they meant by that; did they find the lost score, or did they redo the orchestration? So, what do you think of the work?

    MSG - They meant that they found the original orchestral manuscript in the basement of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The work is very beautiful and has a lot of richness of colors in the orchestration. Dubois was perceived to be an academic, sometimes boring composer in his time, but his music can definitely compare with Gounod or Berlioz.

    OL - I’m curious about your next commitment, Mad Chorus in the world première of James Rolfe’s genre-bending work The Overcoat, A Musical Tailoring, in Toronto and Vancouver, which seems to be something between a musical and an opera, based on Nikolai Gogol’s play. Please tell us about it.

    MSG - It is completely different and very exciting. It is physical theater, so it is very physical in the acting. The music is very beautiful but definitely not as vocally challenging as Gilda! So it will be nice to explore different challenges after two big role debuts in November and February and rest my voice for the following projects!

    OL - Like we mentioned last time, your still young career is evolving as we speak, going from smaller roles, to your first leading role as Roxane last year, and now you are doing the very important role of Gilda in Toledo and Charlotte. Has this exposure benefited your reach in terms of new contracts?

    MSG - Yes it has. After Cyrano an American agency offered to take me in their roster, and we are just starting to work together so I am very excited to see what will come out of this collaboration.


    Next, let's speak with the Persian-American baritone Annoshah Goleshorki, in the title role. Learn more about this intelligent singer by visiting his website [here]. Opera Lively interview #244, conducted over the phone. Questions by Luiz Gazzola. Reproduction authorized as long as a link to the source is provided.

    The Opera Lively Interview with Annoshah Goleshorki (Rigoletto)

    OL - Please tell us about the musical challenges in singing the role of Rigoletto. What is your recipe for a good Rigoletto?

    AG - Rigoletto is one of the most challenging parts for a Verdi baritone to sing. It's like Hamlet for an actor. It's very long, very complicated. The musical lines are very difficult and very high. Verdi really had in mind someone who really knew his craft, when he wrote the role. On top of that, besides the musical complexity, the characters are very complicated also. There is a father-daughter relationship. There is this relationship and having to live with the sins of his life and to reckon it against the forces of karma, of God, or however you want to put it.

    The recipe for singing it well first of all is to have the technical learning to be able to sing it. And when that is done, when you can actually sing the role with comfort, then you can think about all the different layers of character you want to have. It also helps when you've sung it a lot. So every time you sing it, it becomes that much easier, although it never really becomes easy.

    OL - About the psychological arc of your character, it is one of the most complex in opera, with contrasting personality traits, both good and bad. How do you describe your character from the psychological standpoint, and how do you plan to portray him, acting-wise?

    Well, you are right. The psychological arc is quite complicated. He is many different faces, many different people. We don't know much about his background. We only know that he's been there for a short period of time, in Mantua, and we only know that he has had his daughter with him for a short period of time. She had been living in a convent somewhere.

    He doesn’t know how to be a father but now he has to be a father of a teenage girl, who has teenage problems like all teenage girls about finding their womanhood. There is no mother. We don't know much about the mother either, if they were together a long time or not. We do know that he is crippled and the only way he could get any job whatsoever as a crippled man was to become a court jester.

    Because he's clever. And he's smart. And he is a very very good stand-up comedian with a very smart tongue. And except for that, he is so physically handicapped that if he didn't have the protection of a strong man like the Duke, he'd be in trouble. In the original book that it's based on, he had the protection of the king because he is his jester. He's many different people at the same time. He knows very well that what happens in the court is not exactly what he wants for his daughter's life, for sure. They abuse women and so on and so forth in the court so he basically hides his daughter, so no one can find her and do the same things to her. He facilitates all day long for the Duke.

    In Italian culture when you curse someone, that's quite important. And he's cursed by a father whose daughter has been abused by him and the Duke. So the curse comes back to him and his own daughter, clearly. As in any good Shakespearean-like tragedy, he finds out too late what to do. Besides that, he's so concentrated on himself! He's such an egomaniac that even when his daughter dies at the end, he doesn't say 'oh my poor daughter'; he says 'oh poor me'. He is a very mangled-up sort of individual who really doesn't know what to do. If he didn't have to take his daughter in, maybe his life would be different, but this combination of being a father, being a cripple, having to work for a living, being very vulnerable and cursed on top of it, is sort of like a soup - with a mix of different ingredients that don't really go with each other.

    How you portray it of course depends on the staging that the director has in mind: how much of that we want to explore and exploit, and in what way. So every production is somewhat different. Within that, you have as a performer, the possibility to bring in whatever characteristics the production allows you to bring in - physicality, weight, looks and so on.

    OL - The fate of baritones is to sing almost invariably the bad guy, like Iago or Scarpia, and more rarely the good guy like Amonasro or Simon Boccanegra. From the acting standpoint, what roles do you prefer? Is it more fun to be the evil character?

    AG - Sure – everybody knows that in the movies the bad guy has most of the dramatic content. In James Bond movies, you don't like the bad guy but he drives the show. He drives the movie. Rigoletto is not a bad guy or an evil character but the circumstances of his life force him to make decisions which are not moral. Characters such as Jago or Scarpia or Barnaba in Gioconda are not simply baddys but evil in their core.

    Normally speaking in Italian opera, or Germany opera that I know of, the dramatic content, the dramatic driver is the baritone. Baritones are usually the dramatic driver of the opera. The bad guy – you have more things to do, more possibilities. Yes, I like the bad guy, sure.

    OL - You were raised in Southern California but now you live in Berlin. What made you move to Berlin? Are you permanently there, or do you plan a return to the United States?

    AG - I went to Europe originally for reasons other than opera - business reasons. I just stayed there because the amount of opera I was singing became so much; thank God. Then I had to choose a career. I was already in Europe. It was much easier to work in Europe because there are more houses, there are more performances, there are more opportunities, especially to start a career. I have lived there for a while, but I love coming home. I come to California a couple of times a year to visit family. You know we are all gypsies in this business and we have to go where the work takes us. So if the work takes me back to California or other places in America - great! I don't know - when I retire, I have no idea where I am going to live. But you know what? I've seen pictures of Asheville, NC and it looks like a nice place to live. I am planning to take a visit in the middle of performances and to go down there.

    OL - Yes, Asheville is lovely. Your career has focused on European opera houses much more often than American ones. What are the major differences you see in the European operatic environment as compared to the American one?

    AG - First of all, it's the number of houses. There's many, many more performances per year, let's say. There are very many houses in Germany and Austria and Switzerland and so on and so forth, and Italy. Most of their budget comes from the state. And they don't have to actually raise money. Their financial environment is not as dependent on differences in tax laws, investments and the curve in the economy. There are more things being done.

    Having said that, there is a lot of experimental work, let's say we call it, or a lot of productions that are very new or so new that they are abnormal for most opera watchers. In America, our operas are much more traditionally staged. And even when we don't do them traditionally, in comparison to European non-traditional productions, they are pretty traditional. They are pretty tame. That is the difference.

    And also, the other thing is, I think, the opera is done more efficiently in America because of the money, perhaps. The rehearsal periods are shorter; the people are really prepared. They come, they do the work in a short period of time and that's it. And we do it. Except we don't do so many performances. Except for the Met and Chicago; maybe San Francisco, and LA, the maximum number of performances is probably 5 or 6 per show. Whereas in European opera houses, in middle Europe anyway, you're talking about, I don't know, 10 or 15 the first year. And then the production goes into repertoire, and lives for 10 or 15 years...so they get a lot more mileage out of it, that way.

    OL - You hold a degree in music composition. Are there any plans to compose in your career? Would you want to try your hand at composing an opera?

    AG - You know, I think there are two parts in music composition. One is the mechanics of it, which one learns in school. And the other one is the gift of composing, which is to hear melodies in your mind and to make those melodies and the music. My father was a composer and a conductor and so I think that's maybe one of the reasons why I gravitated into composition.

    But unfortunately, I don't think I have the gift of the melody. So I think composition is just for fun when I sit at the piano and play. But I don't think I'd compose for real. There are so many wonderful composers out there - it's not for me.

    But I must tell you - having studied composition and therefore a little bit of conducting, was very helpful to become a better musician as a singer and to understand how the music is written and how it is orchestrated, especially when you get to the music of Wagner and Strauss and much more complicated music. It's much easier when you have studied that, to say "ah ha - this is what it is doing, this is where it is going." That's why. It becomes much easier to learn it and much easier to sing it.

    OL - You also hold two advanced degrees in Chemistry. What made you go from Chemistry to opera?

    AG - I never thought of becoming a singer - it sort of all happened very accidentally. Even after I made my debut for the first few years, I had no thought of becoming a professional opera singer. I was working in finance and when I decided to become a singer I took quite a pay cut for the first couple of years. But it's like malaria – once it's in your blood, you can’t get rid of it. I actually never intended to become an opera singer. But today, I’ve been singing for 20-something years now, and it's still a surprise that I'm doing it. But fortunately I keep doing it and it is great.

    OL - Please tell us a bit about your personality, your take on life, and the things you love to do when you are not involved with music.

    AG - My personality - I think I'm rather easygoing. When I work, I'm very concentrated, but outside of that, I'm easygoing. I also have an undergraduate degree in philosophy, so I like reading a lot. I like reading philosophy, I like reading literature, and I love cooking, eating, and good wine. Things that are enjoyable - I like enjoying life. Not only on a very profound level; let's say reading a good book, and talking to people hours long about politics and this and that and the other; but also the other stuff that is much more tangible and simpler - a good meal, a good wine, you know, a good movie, a good TV series, a nice dog on your lap - things like that. After all these years, I think when I'm not working, because I'm working a lot thank God - I mean, I'm on the road 10 or 11 months out of the year - when I have free time, I'd rather do nothing. I'd just rather be a homebody. But I don't knit, so it's not a proper homebody.


    Finally, let's finish with Italian tenor Raffaele Abete, in the role of the Duke. Learn more about this nice artist by visiting his website [here]. Opera Lively interview #245. Questions by Luiz Gazzola. Reproduction authorized as long as a link to the source is provided.

    The Opera Lively Interview with Rafaelle Abete (Il Duca di Mantova)

    OL - Tenors usually sing the good guy, but this role of the Duke is one of the exceptions to the rule. From the acting standpoint, is it interesting to sing an evil character?

    RA - I don't think the Duke is really an evil character. He is selfish. I think he is a spoiled "baby" and he wants always more and everything. Because he is bored, he tries every time to find something to bring excitement to his life; he does it with Gilda and with women in general.

    OL - In some fleeting moments the Duke does seem to love Gilda, but then things take a dark turn. What can you tell us about the psychological arc of your character?

    RA - In the very beginning he plays with feelings but when he meets Gilda for the first time he feels like something is different and his soul starts slowly to change against his personality. In the second act in "Parmi veder le lagrime," the Duke is overwhelmed by a thousand emotions; love, anger and revenge, only because his toy was stolen from him.

    OL - Are there challenges in the role of the Duke? I’d say, both vocal and psychological? To explain the second part of this question, in this role, you sing some very famous pieces of music, starting with "Questa o quella;" then later you have an even more famous one in "La donna è mobile," not to forget your participation in the gorgeous quartet "Bella figlia dell’amore." After you tell us about whether or not there are musical pitfalls, I’d like you to also address it from the point of view of the psychological impact on the singer: some of the most prestigious singers in the history of opera got known for their interpretation of these famous pieces. Does this fact put considerable pressure on the singer, in terms of the risk of inevitable comparisons with these performances of the past? Or do you take it in stride, using the past masters as inspiration?

    RA - The role of the Duke is one of the most difficult roles to sing because the tessitura is always in the passaggio, culminating in high notes. The arias are so famous that it is not possible to avoid the comparison with past singers. But that's not a problem for me. I love to study and my first inspiration is Nicolai Gedda although for the specific role of the Duke my favorites are Shicoff and Pavarotti; the first one for his solid technique; the second for the beautiful color of his voice.

    OL - As an Italian-American with dual citizenship, I am of course passionate about Italian culture. I see that you were born in Napoli [Naples], a lively city that I adore, and now you live in Milano [Milan], the economic engine of our country, and the city that harbors my favorite football (or as we say in America, soccer) team, AC Milan… and… La Scala too, to complete the dichotomy lowbrow / highbrow entertainment (hehe). I interviewed maestro Marco Armiliato and he is a passionate football fan (he roots for Sampdoria), and he considered becoming a professional football player before he decided to veer towards conducting. What about you?

    OL - I live in Napoli now but I was for a long time in Milano where I studied with the great American Soprano from Texas, Lella Cuberly. I like soccer, especially the Napoli team and I also like to play soccer with friends three times a week... when I'm not singing.

    OL - Now, please tell me a little about the current operatic environment in Italy. Is the budget crisis easing up a little? I hear that in addition to La Scala, the Teatro Regio di Torino [Turin] does well, financially, while in Roma [Rome] and Napoli the companies are still struggling.

    RA - In Italy the situation is really bad. There isn't enough money for the culture and especially for opera. The TV ruined our market, with talent shows etc. etc. Italy is trying so hard to fix this bad situation because we have to understand that culture is the principal source of income for our Italia.

    OL - You sang several times at the Arena di Verona. What is that experience like, singing in the open air in a huge amphitheater? Is it very difficult for the singer, exposed to maybe non-ideal weather conditions, poor acoustics, and the need to project very far?

    RA - The Arena di Verona was built like the old Roman and Greek theaters and the acoustic is naturally perfect. If you push your voice you will ruin your instrument and also you will affect the natural sound of your voice.

    OL - What made you become an opera singer?

    RA - Watching The Three Tenors concert on TV when I was six years old, I was trying to imitate them; and when I was 17, after singing for a long time in a choir in my church, I decided to enroll in the Conservatory of Music.

    OL - What can you tell our readers about your person so that they get to know you a little more? What’s your personality like, what’s your take on life, and what other interests and hobbies do you have, besides music?

    RA - I don't have particular things to say. I love to laugh, sleep, eat and cook. But Maestro Meena has taught me an amazing word that describes now my life: "Whatever!"


    As you can see, dear readers, this is an excellent cast! Don't miss Opera Carolina's Rigoletto !


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