• Lady Macbeth at Opera Carolina - Announcement and Interviews

    Opera Carolina, a company Opera Lively is very fond of, is presenting in a week one of our favorite Verdi operas, the very compelling Macbeth. It follows the theme for the 19/20 season, "The Struggle is Real," and indeed this is a very dramatic work, complete with mad scenes, panic, sleepwalking, and... witches!

    We'll have our beloved maestro James Meena again, and like we've mentioned many times, his presence is synonymous with quality playing from the excellent Charlotte Symphony. And the cherry on the top is that the two main roles are staffed by extraordinary singers, the baritone with a long and prestigious career Mark Rucker in the title role, and the striking dramatic soprano Othalie Graham as Lady Macbeth.

    Opera Lively will not be there for the opening night, but will attend the second performance on November 9th, so those patrons who are also our readers should wait a couple of days for our review. Meanwhile, read these two nice mini-interviews with Othalie Graham and Mark Rucker.

    Click [here] for more informations and tickets. The performances happen at the Belk Theater in downtown Charlotte, NC, USA, on November 7 at 7:30 PM, November 9 at 8 PM, and November 10 at 2 PM.

    We have had the pleasure of interviewing Othalie before. If you haven't followed our Turandot articles a couple of years back, learn more about this excellent singer by visiting her website (click [here]).

    The Exclusive Opera Lively Mini-Interview with Othalie Graham (Lady Macbeth)

    Copyright Opera Lively. Reproduction authorized as long as the source is quoted and a link to this article is given.

    Othalie Graham, credit unknown, fair promotional use

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - It's nice to see you again, Othalie. I fondly remember your Turandot here in Charlotte so I really look forward to your performance of Lady Macbeth. Turandot is your signature role (together with Aida); you've sang it in countless productions. Now, this run with Maestro Meena at Toledo Opera and Opera Carolina is your role debut of Lady Macbeth, which in my opinion is an even more impressive role than Turandot, given that it requires phenomenal dramatic singing. Please tell us about the vocal challenges involved in singing this role. What are the most difficult parts?

    Othalie Graham - I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be interviewed by you. Your vast knowledge and your passion for Opera is so refreshing. There are many challenges in this role but I think the most difficult part is singing a role that can be at times extremely dramatic and remembering to keep the “ice water” in your veins as Maria Callas said. Making sure that you don’t let yourself become so emotionally overwrought it affects you vocally especially when you have the glorious sleepwalking scene at the end of the opera.

    OL - Thank you for your kind words. The pleasure is mine. Among your predecessors who sang this role, who was/were the most inspirational for you, and why?

    OG - I will always love Birgit Nilsson in this role for her incredible high notes and her lean sound. I love Leonie Rysaneck who sang it at the Met in 1959 replacing Maria Callas for her vocal beauty but my favorite is Shirley Verrett. She has everything that this role demands power, beauty and agility.

    OL - Likely the most striking characteristic of your role is the psychological part. Usually the soprano is the nice one... but this time, Lady Macbeth is quite evil. How do you describe her psychological arc and her struggles, from being confident and assertive, to panicky (for example in Act II when she desperately tries to save the day when her husband starts to hallucinate, seeing Banquo's bloody ghost)?

    OG - I think that if this were a different time Lady Macbeth would have been a Queen like Elizabeth I of England. Lady Macbeth is quite ruthless and she knows exactly what needs to be done in order to achieve her goals. The first time she sings the Brindisi she is truly happy until her husband starts to lose his mind, then she starts to panic as you said. I think that she knows how weak her husband is and I think that she realizes that her husband could ruin everything for them.

    OL - In my opinion, among Verdi's operas, this one requires some of the most advanced acting from the part of the singer doing Lady Macbeth. What is your game plan to portray this very controversial character, in terms of allowing the public to relate to her, despite her personal shortcomings?

    OG - My game plan is to really be true to the music and story. There are some moments where you can see that she genuinely loves her husband. I don’t think that she needs to be portrayed as a complete villain. That’s very one-sided. I think that she wants success not only for herself but also for her husband. It’s very important for the Lady Macbeth to not only be ruthless but also seductive, beautiful and willing to do anything to get what she wants.

    OL - Excellent answer! I look forward to seeing how you do it! Now, let's think of a prospective audience member who is very familiar with Shakespeare's play but is uncertain if he/she should come to see the opera. Let's suppose the person has never seen an opera before. What would you say to that person, in terms of what the musical side brings to the story?

    OG - The music really helps bring the story to life. This is a perfect opera for opera lovers or for anyone who has never attended the opera before. Macbeth is considered early Verdi since it was written before 1850 and even though he made corrections and revisions in 1865, he didn’t change very much of the opera. The music is so spectacular, there weren’t many changes necessary. This is an opera that is truly a must see.

    OL - Please update our readers: since we last interviewed you on the occasion of Turandot in Charlotte, what artistic accomplishments were most rewarding for you, in this more recent stretch of your career?

    OG - I have had wonderful experiences since I was last here. I sang my first Ariadne which I love so much. I sang an exciting production of Turandot in Málaga Spain. I had a wonderful opportunity to revisit Elements at Teatro San Carlo in Napoli. I sang Turandot in Canada with Edmonton opera and More Turandot’s in Lima Perù. I also sang Turandot with the incredible Detroit Symphony which was to be Maestro Slatkin’s farewell to his orchestra.

    OL - Thank you, Othalie! These were interesting answers!

    OG - Thank you so much for this interview!


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Mini-Interview with Mark Rucker (Macbeth, title role)

    Copyright Opera Lively. Reproduction authorized as long as the source is quoted and a link to this article is provided.

    Learn more about the singer by clicking [here] to consult his web site.

    Mark Rucker as Macbeth - credit unknown, fair promotional use

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - This new production of Opera Carolina and Toledo Opera has already been given in Toledo in early October, so you have already had an opportunity to relate to the show. What should the Charlotte public expect? What are the strong points of this production, theatrically speaking?

    Mark Rucker - This production is a fascinating one, visually, also setting the mood and the prophesies of the witches, thanks to Michael Baumgarten’s projections. These also create the atmosphere for Macbeth’s violent reactions in the Banquet and Apparition scenes. They take a relatively modest set and transform it into a very satisfying Macbeth experience for the audience. There are many strong points to this production. One is the very strong contribution of a wonderful cast. Musically you just simply don’t get any better than Maestro James Meena.

    OL - Let's talk about the psychological characteristics of King Macbeth. It is interesting to notice that the real historical figure was much stronger and less evil than the one depicted by Shakespeare, Verdi, and Piave, having reigned fairly well for 17 years, and having had a valid claim to the throne. In the play and the opera, we see a tortured and conflicted Macbeth, and a man who is dominated by his greedy wife. There is even a mad scene which is unusual for male characters (usually it is the soprano who has one, haha). So, what can you tell us about the psychological arc experienced by your character, and how do you plan to portray him, acting-wise?

    MR - As you have already stated, the Verdi Macbeth is certainly different. However, I don’t necessarily think of my characterization as concentrating on the “evil” interpretation of Macbeth. I believe that he is tortured only because he lets himself be manipulated by his wife. Macbeth is primarily a soldier and thinks of himself as deserving of his position as a leader. The “tortured” comes into play when he actually kills Duncano the king in the manner that he did. This is a very difficult thing for an honorable soldier to do to someone that he has served. He is delighted to have the predictions of the witches that he will be king, until they tell Banquo that his children will be king. The couple then starts to attempt to change fate (which NEVER ends well).

    OL - The music in this opera already features some innovations, with Verdi finishing up his galley years and getting ready to embark next into his three most successful operas, Traviata, Trovatore, and Rigoletto. Although its place in the repertoire is well established, I find it slightly underestimated, because I like it as much as Verdi's better-known works. What can you tell us about the music in Macbeth? Are there vocal challenges for the singer, in this role? If yes, what is harder to navigate, in this sing?

    MR - The music for Macbeth (the baritone), is all about vocal color to help communicate drama. Because there are so many complicated emotions for this character, it’s important to be able to communicate it through as many vocal colors as the singer can produce. Really the only other opera roles that Verdi wrote that have this for the baritone voice are Rigoletto, Nabucco and Iago. This is more through composed for Macbeth than for other of Verdi’s characters up to this point, which signals a new direction.

    OL - You have had 36 years of a very illustrious career with multiple roles everywhere in the important opera houses around the world, and I bet you have a lot to share with our voice students at MSU. What do you try to convey to a young student approaching the world of opera and embracing this career? What parts of your vast experience do you feel is most important to transmit to the newcomers?

    MR - I have been teaching at Michigan State University now for 3 years and have been loving every minute of it. Mostly, I try to instill a desire to be prepared vocally, musically and dramatically. Most of them don’t understand what it takes to be a professional opera singer. However, my main goal is to be positive with them about their talent. It’s most important to not tear them down. I have one student that is already having a career and look forward to having many more. Actually I feel very honored to be performing in this performance of Macbeth because Zaikuan Song (Banquo) is singing in this production. Zaikuan is from MSU and has a fantastic voice. His teacher at MSU, Professor Rick Fracker, is solely responsible for his vocal development.

    OL - You and Maestro Meena have a long history together, since the days of Grand Rapids. I have enormous respect for our talented conductor. Please tell me why working with Maestro Meena is so good.

    MR - Maestro James Meena, is one of the greatest conductors I have ever had the extreme pleasure to work with. My greatest compliment is that we are so musically in sync, I never have to break character to look down at him. I will say that when I eventually retire, the biggest thing that I would miss, would be performing with him.

    OL - I find that your introduction to the world of opera, through what can only be described as blackmailing from your music teacher to poach you from a football career to opera, truly fascinating! I know the story already, but would you please repeat it for the delight of our readers?

    MR - This started in my high school (Kenwood High School) in Chicago. I was playing football as a half-back and having a rather successful time doing this. I was also playing saxophone in the band. I was asked to play in a small band that was going to accompany the choir which Lena McLin was the director of. She was also the head of the music department. As they were singing a song of The Carpenters, I was way on the side of the room, humming the tune. To my amazement, she stopped and told me to come close. I proceeded to grab my sax when she said “No just you”. When I got to her, I was stunned when she commanded me to sing. I said “absolutely not”! She said no one would leave until I did. Eventually I did and everyone laughed. I was devastated. I went home vowing to never return to that room.

    The next term, I went to sign up for football and was told that I would not be allowed to do it because I had failed a music theory class. I told them that this was impossible. They replied that I had to talk this out with the teacher of that class. Of course the teacher was Ms. McLin. I confronted her and she immediately said that she would only pass me if I joined the choir. I said this was not acceptable since this was indeed blackmail. I went home and talked to my father who knew her well thinking that he would be irate. His response shocked me even more. “You have a choice… Sign up for choir, play football… No choir, no football.” I signed up for choir. Soon after I sang in the choir, she appeared at one of the my football games and shouted from the stands “Don’t hit him in the throat!”

    Soon after that, I injured my right knee,ending my high school football career. I have to say that I’m not sure she didn’t have something to do with this, because the next time I saw her, she said “don’t worry about that because you’re going to sing at the Met.” I made my Metropolitan Opera debut in 2004. She was in the front row.

    OL - That's one of the most fascinating stories I've ever heard from any of the about 300 singers I've interviewed! Thank you so much, Mark, for your very interesting answers!
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      The second interview, with Mark Rucker, is now complete and has been added to this article.

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