• Maria Stuarda at Piedmont Opera in Oct 2019 - Announcement and Interviews

    One of our very favorite opera companies, the excellent Piedmont Opera, is presenting Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (being called Mary, Queen of Scots), in a new production that features a very exciting cast. As usual, Opera Lively will be attending and reviewing the opening night on Friday October 18, 2018 at 8 PM in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA. Two other performances of the run occur on Sunday October 20 at 2 PM, and Tuesday October 22 at 7:30 PM. Click [here] for more information and tickets.

    Maria Stuarda is a very interesting work, for many reasons. One, it is very melodious, given that it is a worthy representative of the Bel Canto style. Two, the plot is very compelling and theatrical, featuring the imaginary clash (which never happen in real life) of two very strong women. Three, it is one of the spectacular operas called Donizetti's Tudor Queens Trilogy, together with Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux. Four, the vocal writing is very dramatic and includes several nice duets, ensembles, and chorus. It is guaranteed to please!

    Add to this, a luxury cast with one of our favorite sopranos in the title role, Jodi Burns, helped by her very good colleagues Yulia Lisenko who hails from Ukraine, the insightful and erudite Kirk Dougherty, all three artists already known to the North Carolina public from prior productions, to whom we add the very interesting Jonathan Hays, who has a diction to die for.

    We get Jamie Allbritten as the conductor and Steve LaCosse as the stage director - I've never seen a production by Steve that wasn't remarkable, and our Jamie on the podium is also guaranteed quality. We can't go wrong with the above combination of a great opera, fabulous singers, and the Jamie-Steve duo. So, don't miss this show, dear reader!

    Below, we bring to you mini-interviews with the four main singers, Jodi, Kirk, Yulia and Jonathan. These are very interesting answers. Enjoy!

    [Copyright Opera Lively. Reproduction authorized, as long as the source is quoted and a link to this article is provided. The pictures below were recovered from the artists' pages; credits unknown to us; will be happy to add credits upon request; fair promotional use]


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Mini-Interview with Jodi Burns (Mary Stuart)

    For her artistic biography, click [here]

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Listening to you again, what a pleasure, Jodi! You know that I always wildly enjoy your performances, so I look forward to seeing you in another principal role. Please tell me, what should the public expect from this new Piedmont Opera production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda?

    Jodi Burns - Hello! So pleased to be speaking with you once again! Thank you for your kind words…

    Oh heavens, so much to see in this opera. We have a tremendous cast. Yulia Lysenko, whom you must have seen in La Bohème last fall, plays Queen Elizabeth I with incredible strength and complexity, and she is just the most beautiful singer. Kirk Dougherty, who sang the lead tenor role in Silent Night in 2017 returns to the Piedmont stage as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and sings with incredible power and tenderness. New to the Piedmont stage is Johnathan Hays, in the role of Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, a confidant and trusted friend of both queens. Dan Boye, whom you saw in Silent Night is back, as Cecil, the commanding and manipulative advisor to Queen Elizabeth. And Brennan Martinez, a current Fletcher fellow at UNCSA is in the role of Anna, Mary’s nurse and confidant. Watch out for her gorgeous tone, she is a beautiful singer and actor.

    Our production is relatively stark in setting, which powerfully sets the tone for the devastating challenges the two queens face. Mary stares at the abyss, not knowing if she will live forever in prison, and eventually facing death. Elizabeth stands at the helm of making a dramatic and unprecedented decision, that of whether to order the execution of an anointed queen.

    Based on the play Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller, Donizetti’s Mary Queen of Scots tells the story in its most epic form. It is pure Italian Bel Canto perfection, condensing the story into only the most compelling and passionate segments, with lush and lavish chorus scenes, fiery arias from the queens, desperate pleas from the tenor, a devastating mad scene for Mary… And triumph in the form of death, while the chorus weeps their hearts out...

    OL - It sounds really compelling, indeed! When the libretto for this opera was written, Italians were very sympathetic to Mary Stuart, and considered Elizabeth I as the heretic who expelled Catholicism from England. The historical character of Mary Stuart was likely to have been a lot less nice than what is depicted in the opera. What would you tell us about the psychology of your character?

    JB - You are so right about this. Mary here is the tragic heroine, and Elizabeth the tortured villain. In reality, the story is so much more complex!

    I read Donizetti’s Mary as being a wild-hearted, proud, short-tempered and intelligent woman. She was crowned Queen of Scotland at six days old, and has never known anything but the life of a queen. Yet when she came to the helm of Scotland in her early twenties, she was not prepared for the pressures of politics. She was raised in the comfort of a beautiful court in France, and enjoyed a happy and fulfilling childhood/adolescence. Her young husband, King of France, dies of illness. Eventually she moves back to Scotland, and her life is changed irrevocably by forces seemingly out of her control. She marries Lord Darnley for love, only to find him changed and power hungry soon after they’ve taken their vows. He is involved in the violent murder of her dear friend Rizzio, and then Darnley himself comes to a surprising end. The accusation that she is involved in his death is torturous and unbelievable to her. I think she was raised with such privilege, she knew mostly a world of hope, friendship and learning and also believed that she was entitled to not only the throne, but to a rich and joyful life. When the world comes crashing down around her, she simply cannot bear all of the trials that her time as ruler in Scotland brings.

    When we meet her at Fotheringhay Castle where she has been imprisoned for 18 years, we have a brief glimpse of the vibrancy of her spirit, as she has been let outside for the first time in many years (this is historically factual; she was rarely let outside). She relishes this moment of freedom, of fresh air outside of the dark rooms of the castle, graciously smelling flowers and thinking back on her youth, and thinking of her allies in France. Thinking of all she has lost, and all she has given up.

    Though Donizetti’s Mary is sympathetic, she has never dropped the mantle of queen, and believes that she should be the rightful ruler, so when she hears hunters nearby shout that “La Regina” (Queen Elizabeth) is near, she is filled with a mixture of emotions. How could she come unannounced? Yes, Mary asked for a meeting, but she expected a response to the letter she sent, not a surprise visit. It all seems too calculated on Elizabeth’s part, to begin a game of chess this way. Mary is frightened, agitated, and unprepared.

    Fortunately Leicester flies in, and we can see in their duet the mutual feelings of friendship and care between the two. Unfortunately, his warning that Mary should appear submissive to Elizabeth is not swallowed well by Mary.

    When the two queens finally meet, Elizabeth slings insults, and Mary holds her tongue for just as long as she can. She is, after all, in her mind and the mind of many, an equal to Elizabeth, and should be treated as such.

    Her temperament does not hold strong for long, and we see her set herself on the path to the chopping block in this pivotal scene.

    In Act II, Mary has the chance to confess her sins before Talbot, and at this point, we see her shift into the knowingness that death is near, and that she will ascend to Heaven as a Catholic martyr.

    OL - We last talked when you did Adina for Piedmont Opera. I very much liked how you gave your own twist to Adina’s personality, with your insightful observation that she was the true elixir of love. Are there any similar touches for your portrait of Mary Stuart?

    JB - I don’t know that I am presenting anything particularly new to the character of Mary, but overall, I think her story in this depiction is one of redemption. She is in no way a character without flaws, an easy heroine. One thing I think we have achieved with this Piedmont Opera production that many fail to do is to establish these two very powerful women as complex multi-layered women, and not caricatures.

    OL - Hey, when played and sung by you, no character is a caricature! Talking about vocal challenges of this role, there is the famous high D that ends “Figlia Impura di Bolena.” On top of the difficulty in producing and sustaining the note, it’s also a very loud scene with the ensemble, the chorus, and the orchestra. What is your game plan for that moment?

    JB - Breathe, prepare, and pray. Haha!

    Fortunately, if you can harness them properly, the bel canto technique gives you all of the tools you need to sustain in a scene like this. If you think like Pavarotti, and sing with a high soft palate, throat open with the sound being floated on a strong cushion of air, all of the expression being created by vibrato and breath, then you will be ready for the high note at the end. The trickiest thing is keeping the strong emotions of the character in the sound, but not allowing this to create tension in areas of that body that need to expand for the high notes. Perhaps it’s a bit like that image we have of a ballet dancing football player. In all motions there must be strength and also flexibility, nimbleness and power, always balancing.

    Ideally, I sing the scene as if the D was always the next note, ready for it at any time. Ideally. [Winks]

    OL - So many spectacular sopranos have tackled this role, like Devia, Gencer, Gruberova, Sutherland, Sills, Caballé, and so on. My favorite was Mariella Devia. I loved her performance at La Scala in 2008, with her Elisabetta being the glorious Anna Caterina Antonacci, what a show! Do you have a favorite; someone who inspired your performance of this iconic role?

    JB - Oh, Devia is unbelievable. She is all wiry strength and lean beautiful singing. What a woman. I find myself very fortunate to have all of them to look back on, with each of the women you’ve mentioned adding their own myriad of colors to Donizetti’s Mary. In my dreams I would harness them all and I would take: Caballé’s richness and timing, the way she can create a tear in her sound, she often nearly sounds like she’s speaking on pitch, and the consistency of the sound throughout her range; Sutherland’s sweeping legato, her extremes of fortitude and delicacy; Devia’s stamina and brilliant, effortless high notes; Sills’ flexibility and tenderness.

    All of these women bring me to tears and it is an honor to be given the opportunity to add my own colors to Mary.

    OL - The music in Maria Stuarda is very intense. There aren’t too many delicate moments. Donizetti uses duets, ensembles, and chorus quite extensively, and unlike other Bel Canto operas when the orchestra pretty much exists to support the singers, this orchestra is very loud. Please tell me about the music in this opera.

    JB - You can certainly see Donizetti expanding on the 19th century traditions in Italian opera in Maria Stuarda, the Italian name for Mary Queen of Scots. As is typical, each of the main characters receives a two-part aria upon their entrance. This is the typical cavatina/cabaletta form: cavatina being a slow legato aria, and the cabaletta being a faster more florid work. But for each character in Maria Stuarda, this form is used to great dramatic effect, these arias serving to clearly describe the very moment in which they are living, and not like in some operas, a showy piece relegated to declaring the stars’ capabilities. You can see Donizetti’s interest in storytelling here, in using the time wisely to develop the personalities of the characters before your eyes. Elizabeth has the opportunity to establish herself as a conscientious, thoughtful, and lovely woman who considers the issue of Mary with a great deal of weight and concern as she sings.

    I think you see a distinct shift toward emphasis on the plot and storytelling in the music of Maria Stuarda compared to some of Donizetti’s other works.

    The orchestra does achieve great strength and fullness quite often in this piece, which makes the moments of subtlety and quiet all the more stunning. In the orchestral color schemes Donizetti conjures here, and also the vocal requirements for the singers, you can see him more clearly exploring the beginnings of the potential for the orchestral/vocal relationship that exists in the operas of Verdi and other later composers than you can in, say, The Elixir of Love.

    OL - Would you like to share with us any career or personal update since we last talked in March 2019?

    JB - I am currently working on a piece that I will be performing with members of The Winston-Salem Symphony at The National Gallery in D.C., and as always, auditioning and singing in competitions, working to expand the horizons of the world in which I sing.


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Mini-Interview with Yulia Lisenko (Elizabeth I, Queen of England)

    For her artistic biography, click [here]

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - The role of Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda is somewhat uni-dimensional, theatrically speaking. Unlike her hero status in England, in Italy at the time the libretto was written, she was seen in a very negative light. So, understandably, she comes across as spiteful, cold, and cruel. How do you relate to this character, psychologically speaking, and how do you plan to portray her?

    Yulia Lisenko - The role of Elsabetta is very interesting! First of all, it is not a typical character for me. Plus, it is my first Queen who historically lived, and my first powerful woman. So, I prepared very hard to portray her. I read all the information i could find about her, watched films... And yes, perhaps she was spiteful, cold, cruel, and she didn’t trust anyone. But, thanks to Donizetti, we can see her other side... In her first aria (cavatina and cabaletta) Elizabeth is dreaming about love, marriage, and a happy future. The last aria shows her doubts and fears. In my opinion, she wasn’t so strong, but she had to appear to be so. During the performance I will try to show both her sides.

    OL - It is interesting to know that both main female roles in Maria Stuarda, the title role, and Elisabetta, have been performed by both sopranos and mezzo-sopranos. Also, when Donizetti had to rewrite and recast the opera under the title Buondelmonte to escape the ban it was subjected to, he turned Elisabetta into a tenor role. With all this baggage behind its vocal writing, please tell us about the tessitura of this role.

    YL - The tessitura is typical for lyric soprano, and for high mezzo too. But the character of Elizabeth isn’t. You often have to sing very dramatically and loudly ... and this is a big challenge for a lyric soprano. Not everyone has those colors in the voice. Also, a soprano usually adds ornaments and high notes while a mezzo doesn’t do it. The biggest challenge is to combine the bel canto singing and the verismo acting.

    OL - Great answer, this is indeed how one should think of Maria Stuarda: bel canto singing and verismo acting; I love this description of yours! Elisabetta opens the opera with a cavatina followed by a cabaletta, and things get pretty intense rather quickly, giving you little time to warm-up. Is this difficult?

    YL - You are right, I will have no time to warm-up. But, I don’t see any problem... I usually do it before the performance! [laughs]

    OL - How interesting, a soprano from Ukraine singing for us here in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As far as I can tell by your artistic biography, your career has happened mostly in Europe. How do you describe the experience of performing for Piedmont Opera? As you know, we are a small company, budget-wise, but we do quite well in terms of artistic quality, and singers usually have a very nice time in Winston-Salem.

    YL - Yes, I’m a quite new person in the music world of the United States. But it is my second production in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Last fall I sang Mimi in La Bohème. In my opinion, it is very important not WHERE you are working , but with WHOM. Piedmont Opera has a great team! I’m enjoying our cooperation in every rehearsal ! And the performance for me is like the cherry on the cake.

    OL - So that our readers get to know you a bit better, please tell us about your artistic trajectory. What pushed you to become an opera singer, and what are some of the best moments you have had in your career, so far?

    YL - It is hard to say what pushed me... I think it was destiny or some intuition. I grew up in a small village and no one was a musician in my family. It was in the middle 80’s, we were still in the USSR. Sometimes you could see an opera or a ballet on TV. My parents told me that when I was about three years old they heard some strange noises from the living room. I was watching opera. It was Khovanshchina, not the best choice to make a first impression... [laughs]. They decided that I should change the TV channel to see my cartoons. But they where wrong! Without taking my eyes off the TV screen, I asked, "what is it?" and prohibited them to change the channel. When I was five I said that I would like to learn music, and my parents allowed me. That was the beginning of my pathway.

    OL - What a lovely story!

    YL - Yes. Later, after music college and music Academy, I started to work in Opera Theater. In Ukraine there is another system. You don’t need to audition for every opera... I worked in one Opera Theatre with a big repertoire. There were lots of rehearsals, with different performances every month and lessons with a pianist-coach every day.

    Yes, I worked in Europe and Asia... met many interesting people and have quite many stories to tell. But I hope that the best story is still in the future.

    OL - Nice answer again, that's an interesting life philosophy to have, to be always looking forward to the next and future adventure. Regarding the person underneath the artist, what kind of personality do you have? What do you like to do for fun?

    YL - I'm the exact opposite of Queen Elizabeth I! [laughs]. In my free time, I like to relax outdoors with my family.


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Mini-Interview with Kirk Dougherty (Robert, Earl of Leicester)

    For his artistic biography, click [here]

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Dear Kirk, I fondly remember your interview with Opera Lively on the occasion of your role of Nikolaus Sprint for Piedmont Opera’s production of Silent Night. I called your answers insightful and erudite, and mentioned that they were among the best we’ve ever collected, which is not a small feat because we’ve interviewed to date almost 300 artists, including many of the most prestigious names in the national and international opera field.

    So, I’m very curious to hear your take on the character of Roberto, Earl of Leicester in Maria Stuarda, which unlike the meaty material we had to discuss last time (a contemporary opera), can be called a kind of standard Bel Canto tenor role. So, what can you tell us about Roberto to make him unique? Let’s start by asking this question as it applies to the musical side. It’s been said, for example, that his duet with Elisabetta that starts with “Era d’amor l’immagine” has a peculiar rhythmic structure.

    Kirk Dougherty - It's good to talk to you again. Leicester is not a completely standard romantic tenor character, however his vocal music does feel like many of Donizetti’s more famous operatic melodies. Often tenor roles revolve around a single romantic relationship with the opposite female character and then the opera revolves around that romantic relationship. In our production of Maria Stuarda, the Earl of Leicester is an advisor to Elisabeth, the English queen and a political and romantic admirer of Mary Stuart, a rival queen and claimant to the English throne. This is a much more jagged relationship between the two women and Leicester. There are personal relationships between all three characters but they are not necessarily romantic. Sometimes the relationships between them are politically pragmatic, more like a personal friendship, or ambiguously between the practical and the romantic. That’s hard to present that subtlety within the time of the opera. It’s unusual for the tenor to be more than either a romantic love with a personal/romantic conflict or a character role.

    I think the music is unusual because it is presented in the context of a second character – often talking about one of the queens not present – as opposed to a single character reflecting upon their own internal world. This means that basically arias are not used to define a character, but rather duets and trios present the characters and their relationships to the audience. That’s unusual for this repertoire. In the duet for example, it may be that, because he speaks to Elisabeth about his admiration for Mary, he uses dotted rhythms in the cavatina section, which at the time was associated with Scottish music.

    OL - Interesting! OK, now, let’s talk about his psychological side. Anything to tell us about the character’s arc?

    KD - Leicester decides that he wants to create the opportunity for the queens to meet. Before the encounter, I think he’s hopeful that the encounter will lead to Mary’s freedom, Elisabeth’s clemency and a larger relationship with Mary.

    After this confrontation between Elisabeth and Mary, he feels upset with Elisabeth for provoking Mary, though at a deeper level he feels responsible for creating the meeting. When Elisabeth sentences Mary to death, he is angry at Elisabeth and, returning for the execution, is ready to take vengeance on Elisabeth. Mary by this time, however, has accepted her fate and asks Leicester to accept it as well, which he does.

    OL - Unlike most operas of that era when the tenor was one of the two main characters together with the soprano, here we have an opera that is basically about two strong women. The clash between the two queens (which by the way never happened, historically) that ends the first act is one of the most impressive moments in all of opera. Hey, you are used to being the center of attention which is not exactly the case here, but you want to be noticed too, right? What, in your interpretation of your character, can you do to make the public pay attention to the tenor, as well?

    KD - I think that the difficulty of this vocal score will give the audience opportunity enough to consider the tenor character. it’s not an easy part to sing, because it was written at a time before people sang and trained to sing in the particular way we now recognize as operatic.

    Bel Canto spans a wide time period. The challenge with singing this kind of tenor part is doing justice to the Bel Canto vocal style, but also rendering it with the modern, efficient vocal technique that today’s audience recognizes and expects. By singing this way, I navigate a much higher tessitura than the typical Donizetti tenor part and it’s one of the reasons that you don’t always see this opera as much as the standard Donizetti opera like L’Elisir d’Amore or Lucia di Lammermoor.

    OL - Talking about erudition, this opera has a peculiar history; it was banned by the King of Naples (because his wife was a descendant of Mary Stuart), and Donizetti tried to rewrite it and rename it Buondelmonte, turning one of the female roles into a tenor role. It was a fiasco; it was performed only six times, and never more. Please educate our public about the interesting history of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda.

    KD - It’s a tangled history and, as you mention, the politics and also the society of the day was a factor in producing opera in the 19th century. I’ll only say that the two singers playing the roles of Maria and Elisabetta actually did have a real life confrontation. Donizetti wrote about how cantankerous the rehearsal process was in a few of his letters, but apparently, they were in fact very mad at each other.

    OL - Yes, it's been reported that in the scene when the two queens insult each other, the two original singers started physically hitting each other for real! This opera occupies a special place in the repertoire, that of being a member of the trio of Donizetti’s operas about the Tudor Period in English History, together with the also spectacular Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux. Not many know that Donizetti actually composed another one with the same general theme which actually preceded the trio, the much less famous Il Castello di Kenilworth, which I’ve never seen or listened to. Anyway, which one is your preferred one of what came to be known as The Three Donizetti Queens? Please explain your preference, in terms of musical and theatrical merits.

    KD - I enjoyed working on this production a lot. Of the Queen operas, I like this one the best. I once sang Percy in Anna Bolena a few years ago, and while the music is also excellent, I felt that the character was less interesting. It’s easy to make all tenors into the romantic love interests of someone, but it’s far more interesting to be an advisor and admirer in a drama focused around the two main women.

    OL - Finally, please update us on your artistic pursuits since we last talked in September of 2017.

    KD - I continue to sing opera and concerts, mainly at the regional theaters, orchestras, and festivals in the US. In 2018, I was at Utah Festival Opera and Knoxville Opera, and Opera Delaware among other opera companies and orchestras. This year, I sang with the Allentown Symphony, New Jersey Festival Orchestra, and Spokane Symphony. Next year, I’m looking forward to finishing the 2019-2020 season at Opera Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and at Opera Delaware in Wilmington, Delaware.

    I’m thrilled to return to Piedmont Opera for this excellent production of Maria Stuarda. This is one of my favorite places to sing because the theater is fantastic and the staff of Piedmont Opera is wonderful to all of their creative artists.


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Mini-Interview with Jonathan Hays (George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury)

    For his artistic biography, click [here]

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - This is your debut with Piedmont Opera. I am very impressed with your artistic biography, which contains a very large and diverse repertory of exquisite music, including many modern and contemporary works. Since I’ve asked your other colleagues extensively already about the music and the characters in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, for your interview I’d like to have a bit of a different focus. I’ll start by asking you about this particular production in terms of stage direction, concept, and theatrical aspects. Please describe the theatrical side of this production, for us.

    Jonathan Hays - Hello, Luiz! Thank you for this introduction to you and your readers. I am very pleased to be making my debut at Piedmont Opera.

    The answer to this question about stage direction, concept, and theatrical aspects of the production is not really in the compass of my expertise, and so I will make my comment brief. I would refer you instead to our wonderful stage director, Steven LaCosse, who has created the concept for the production - which is historical and not a modern adaptation – and who has helped me build the character of Giorgio Talbo (George Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury), an important historical figure in the life of Maria Stuarda (Mary, Queen of Scots).

    OL - Yes, Steve is great! I noticed in your press reviews that you are particularly praised for your diction. I listened to some of your media, and indeed, it is crystalline. Given that you are also a professor of voice, please walk us through the vocal techniques and training that are essential for acquiring such good diction. What’s the secret for doing it so well?

    JH - Thank you for noting my care of and attention to the text of the works I sing – a necessary skill for any singer. Diction is essentially the art of being understood. Good diction in any language is polished by the attention to the consonants of the language, which are created with the movement of the tongue, teeth, lips, cheeks, jaw, soft palate, hard palate, and/or dental ridge, depending on the consonant in question.

    How much tension is applied to the structures when creating a consonant, how well air moves through the consonant, whether the proper structures are being used to create it, etc., all affect the ability of a listener to understand the singer. For those reasons, I address the movement and function of these structures (the “articulators” of the voice) in every voice lesson I teach, and I must also address them for myself in every phrase that I sing.

    OL - Given that I go to New Haven quite often because my son is a Yale grad and his fiancée is currently a Yale student, I’m curious about the Yale School of Music and its opera program. When I’m there I’m involved with family so I was actually never able to look closer at the school. You did your MM there, and performed in school productions such as Albert Herring, Béatrice et Bénédict (I love Berlioz, by the way, likely more than most opera lovers do), and Così fan tutte. Please tell me about what is unique about that program, and about the training you got there.

    JH - The Yale Opera program functions as an opera company of Young Artists, and the program moves its students into professional opera careers very rapidly following graduation. I myself met my first professional agent at Yale and sang a dozen or so roles and masterworks while I was a student there, some of which were with professional opera companies and orchestras. Yale Opera is also a fully subsidized program – meaning that its students pay no tuition. The combination of an extremely high level of training and the low sticker price make Yale Opera one of the most competitive opera programs in the world.

    OL - Wow, it sounds like I should try to catch a school performance next time I go up there! You’ve been involved with monodramas and song cycles. Please tell us about the experience of singing a song cycle rather than an opera. You are the absolute center of attention. You are by yourself and you have to convey to the audience the full range of emotions and colors, and you don’t get to go off-stage as often, to take a break while your fellow opera singers are performing their parts in scenes that don’t feature you. Is it more challenging than singing an opera role?

    JH - Your statements about the demands of monodramas and song cycles are exactly right. One cannot escape being the center of attention, and that means that the entire range of expression for the evening is on the individual performer. A monodrama also requires many more minutes of stage time than an opera role, and therefore many more phrases to be sung. But there are also things that are simpler. For example, most monodramas are accompanied by piano. So the demands on the voice that are created by a longer performance time are somewhat reduced by not needing to be heard over an orchestra.

    To your question though: Is it more challenging than singing an opera role? I’m not sure that it is. Opera is a very demanding art form. The audiences of our production of Maria Stuarda will hear our two sopranos (Jodi Burns and Yulia Lysenko) sing performances worthy of Olympic medals. To suggest that singing a monodrama is even harder than what these women will be delivering to the audience would be disingenuous. I think it’s sufficient to say that the demands of an opera and a monodrama are different and leave it at that.

    OL - Great answer! With the diversity in your artistic biography that I’ve mentioned above, I’m curious to know about what gives you the most artistic pleasure, in terms of genres and eras, and why. What were some of your most rewarding projects, and what are you excited about, for the near future?

    JH - This is a great question. I hope my answer won’t seem bland to your readers. I am almost always the most interested and the most rewarded by what I am working on right now. I think that’s the quality in myself that makes me know that I’m still an artist, and not merely a curator of my list of past accomplishments. Right now, I am deep into the production of Maria Stuarda here at the Piedmont Opera, and my next engagement is a recording of the monodrama Truth and Reconciliation by Jonathan Levi and Mel Marvin, which is being produced in New York City by Opera America and American Opera Projects. Since I’m so deeply engaged in these two projects at the moment, my brain feels totally alive when I work on them. That’s what brings me the most joy, and so I think that makes these projects the most rewarding.

    OL - Indeed, what you said shows commitment and passion! Regarding the person underneath the artist, what kind of personality do you have, what’s your take on life, and what do you like to do for fun?

    JH - I could write a book to answer each of these questions, so I will limit my answers to one to two sentences for each. Personality: I like to think deeply about things that matter. I also like to find reasons to laugh, even in moments that are dark and upsetting. My take on life: It is important for every human being to find what is most deeply meaningful to them, and to prioritize it. For me, I value family, friends, singing, and learning most highly. For fun: I like to hike, bike, play the piano (badly), brew beer, drink beer, travel, read science fiction, recite poetry, converse with friends, invest in companies, attend the theater, tell bad jokes, listen to music, and diatribe about various topics of little interest to anyone but me.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. MAuer's Avatar
      MAuer -
      As always, great interviews with insightful questions and answers. Hope you enjoy the performance!
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Quote Originally Posted by MAuer View Post
      As always, great interviews with insightful questions and answers. Hope you enjoy the performance!
      Thanks. Yes, I have a pretty good feeling about this one! Great cast, great crew, great opera, great opera company, should be lots of fun!

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Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of Greensboro Opera

Official Media Partners of The A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute and Piedmont Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of The A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute
of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Piedmont Opera

Official Media Partners of Asheville Lyric Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of Asheville Lyric Opera

Official Media Partners of UNC Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of UNC Opera
Dept. of Music, UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences