• The Elixir of Love at Piedmont Opera - Interview with David Blalock (Nemorino)

    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with David Blalock

    One of our favorite companies, Piedmont Opera, will be performing the delightful bel canto comedy by Donizetti, L'elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love), in Winston-Salem, NC, on March 15, 2019 at 8 PM, March 17 at 2 PM, and March 19 at 7:30 PM, at the Stevens Center. For more details and tickets, click [here].

    The cast is fabulous, featuring two favorites of the North Carolina public in two of the main roles, Jodi Burns as Adina, and Brian Banon as Dulcamara. We've heard these two singers numerous times and can attest to their high quality. We will be attending the opening night, and will publish a review of the show.

    Singing Nemorino, we have the lyric tenor David Blalock, who was born in nearby Chapel Hill, and is a passionate Tar Heel basketball fan! His young career already includes singing leading roles with Atlanta Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, North Carolina Opera, Virginia Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Madison Opera, Opera San Jose, and Opera Saratoga. He has also sung roles with Central City Opera and Santa Fe Opera as a member of their young artist programs. Learn more about the singer by visiting his website, [here].

    We interviewed the artist, and found his answers to be really interesting and intelligent. Enjoy!

    Questions by Opera Lively journalist Luiz Gazzola. Copyright Opera Lively. Reproduction authorized as long as the source is quoted and a link to this article is provided. The pictures above are fair promotional use, sent to us by the opera company (photo credits unknown, will be added if we are told to whom they should be credited).

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Every time we think of the tenor role in L'elisir d'amore, naturally one of the greatest arias ever composed, "Una Furtiva Lagrima," comes to mind. It must be a bit nerve-wrecking to sing this piece that was made famous by some of the most illustrious tenors of all time, the piece the public is expecting from the beginning. It is not only extremely beautiful but also very delicate and emotional, with this serious moment happening inside this rather funny comedy. Please tell us about your feelings in terms of singing this spectacular aria, how you go about it, and whether or not you look up to predecessors for inspiration.

    David Blalock - On paper, yes, singing an iconic aria like this should be nerve-wrecking. One of my first introductions to opera was this aria sung by Pavarotti. As far as I'm concerned, he is the standard. However, singing "Una furtiva lagrima" in the context of the show is much, much easier than just singing the aria alone in a concert or something like that. If I were just getting up in a tuxedo, and singing this aria at the beginning of a program, an audience member might expect perfection. It's hard not to, when one has heard an aria so many times.

    However, in the context of the entire opera, Donizetti has set this aria up in such a way, that you're not listening to David Blalock sing "Una furtiva lagrima;" you're watching Nemorino come to the realization that his dreams have come true - Adina really does love him. It becomes about the drama, rather than just the music and the singing. Obviously, I hope to sing it beautifully, but when I am performing, I tend to get lost in my character and not worry about things like singing "perfectly." To me, good story-telling is the more important goal.

    OL - Please tell us about the psychological arc of your character. Nemorino can be called a simple guy in love, but he does have his touches of manipulation when he pretends to pay little attention to Adina. What's your plan for delivering a good Nemorino, acting-wise?

    DB - This is a great question, and one that I've been struggling with since before we began staging. I think if Nemorino is played as a complete idiot with no charm or appeal from the beginning, then why does Adina ever fall in love with him? I think there has to be something that Adina sees in Nemorino from the beginning that, perhaps doesn't make her consider marrying him, but something that at least makes her intrigued. There is a real sincerity in Nemorino's first aria, which is the first thing he sings in the opera, in which the audience hears why Nemorino is so infatuated with Adina.

    Nemorino is all heart, and I believe a truly good-natured person, and sometimes that can be more important than all the personality and status in the world. Add to all of those layers the fact that a lot of the story is being told while Nemorino is tipsy or drunk after drinking the "elixir," and one has a difficult challenge playing this role over an entire opera. I think it is important to show Nemorino slowly gaining confidence throughout the opera, so when he finally does manipulate Adina and pretend to not be interested in her, it doesn't come out of left field.

    OL - Please describe to us what is to be expected from this Piedmont Opera production, in terms of stage direction, and quality of the cast.

    DB - We have an incredible cast! You can expect to have fun if you see this production. Something that surprised me during our first rehearsal with the chorus was how many people are actually on stage. This is a big chorus, and they are having a blast singing this show, which makes our job as the principals much easier. When they are reacting to what is happening on stage and creating their own individual characters, whether they are singing or not, it makes the whole story work so much better.

    One thing Cara Consilvio, our director, is trying to really dive into is the humanity of these characters. It's such a ridiculous, over-the-top plot - boy loves girl, girl doesn't love boy, boy drinks what he thinks is love potion in order to get girl to love boy, etc... But if we portray the realistic side of this story, such as the genuine love that Nemorino has for Adina, then the audience can come along for the ride and hopefully, find the story touching and entertaining, rather than just outrageous and ridiculous.

    OL - Due to the fact that I'm fluent in Portuguese, I am very interested in hearing from you about the unusual experience of singing in a poorly known operatic version of the Marriage of Figaro play, the one composed by Portuguese composer Marco Portugal (1762-1830), which you did with the wonderfully creative On Site Opera in 2016. How do you compare Portugal's piece with Mozart's? And please tell our public a little about what makes On Site Opera unique.

    DB - I envy the fact that you are fluent in Portuguese! We performed a very clever English translation of the piece by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray. This was my second show with On Site Opera. I was fortunate enough to sing Count Almaviva in Paisiello's Barber of Seville the season prior, so it was a real treat to be able to reprise the same role in a different opera by a different composer. I would say that Portugal's version of Marriage of Figaro sticks more closely to the Beaumarchais play than Mozart's version. The music is more closely related to Rossini, and another big difference is that the Count is sung by a tenor in Portugal's version. There are parts of Mozart's Figaro that are so iconic and beloved, one can understand why his version has become the more performed opera of the two.

    We performed Portugal's Figaro with dialogue between musical numbers, as opposed to the recitative you would hear in Mozart's opera. I was a theater actor before I started studying opera performance, so I relish the opportunities I have to perform dialogue. I think it gave us much more freedom to make stronger choices as actors than we may have otherwise had with recitative. When there isn't music, you start with a blank canvas, and I find it really exhilarating to explore the different types of dramatic choices I can make.

    On Site Opera is a company founded by the brilliant stage director Eric Einhorn. All of their productions take place in different venues which are chosen as the venues for specific operas to enhance the story-telling. We performed Marriage of Figaro in a triplex near the West Village in NYC, and the house was chosen as Count Almaviva's residence. It was brilliant. Different scenes of the opera took place in different areas of the home, and it made everything so much more authentic and intimate. The audience at one point also doubled as guests for the wedding of Figaro and Susanna, and we passed out Port wine to everyone as the Count made a toast to the happy couple. I fell in love with old-fashioned grand opera when I was in school, but I am extremely excited about the small companies around the globe who are doing more work like On Site Opera.

    OL - Another one of your experiences that I find very curious, is the musical revue of Jacques Brel's songs, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. I am a big fan of Jacques Brel's songs, and I'd like to hear from you how was it, for an opera singer, to engage in this show. I also wonder how the translation of his lyrics into English worked.

    DB - This was such a wonderful experience for me! I was not very familiar with Jacques Brel's work before this gig, and I became hooked immediately while I was learning the music. These songs are brilliant on their own, but the way they were compiled helped tell a brilliant story about the four singers we had doing the performance over a two hour period. It really evolved into more of a musical or opera, rather than just a revue with no overarching story-line.

    These characters are brilliant and foolish, and also depressed and hopeful. It was really fulfilling work. The biggest challenge for me doing this type of work was using a microphone in that space. It was a small performance space, so the mic really allowed me to play a lot with my dynamics and focus on the words, rather than worrying about projecting over an orchestra or being heard in a big house. It was really closer to speaking than it was to singing. It was a completely different type of performance for me, and I would love to explore another show like this one.

    OL - Please tell us a little about you as a person - what made you choose opera as your profession, what kind of personality you have, what's your approach to life in general, and what are your hobbies and interests beyond opera and classical music.

    DB - People would not hesitate to call me outgoing. I love traveling and meeting new people, as well as reconnecting with old friends doing this kind of work. I don't like to plan very far ahead; I tend to take things one day at a time and live in the moment. Traveling is one of the best parts of this career. I love seeing different parts of the world, meeting people from different backgrounds, trying new cuisines, and staying in different hotels and apartments during every gig.

    I am also a huge sports buff. In fact, if I had to pursue a different career, I might try to find something to do in sports media. I was born in Chapel Hill, NC, so I am obviously a huge Tar Heel basketball fan. I am also a big foodie. I have really enjoyed learning more about cooking over the last few years, mainly because of my wife. We love spending evenings cooking together whenever we are home at the same time, which is quite rare.


    Let's listen to the tenor in this beautiful song from Bolcom's "New York Lights"


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