• Exclusive Interview with American mezzo Janine Hawley

    Opera Lively has interviewed accomplished American mezzo-soprano Janine Hawley, on the occasion of her performance of the role of Elizabeth Proctor in Robert Ward's Pulitzer Prize-winning opera The Crucible. This interview was part of our series of articles on this important contemporary American opera, published to support our partners Piedmont Opera and the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, co-producers of their run with three performances of the opera in March 2012 in Winston-Salem, NC, at the Stevens Center. This was a fabulous show, reviewed [here] by Opera Lively. [Opera Lively interview # 14]

    Janine Hawley has achieved accolades for her critically acclaimed performances of such roles as Carmen, Cherubino, and Isabella in opera houses throughout the United States.

    In particular she was honored as Young Artist of the Year by the Washington Opera, Kennedy Center, while performing the Page in Salome with Maria Ewing under the baton of Gerard Schwarz. She has worked with the Metropolitan Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, New Orleans Opera, New York City Opera, Opera Festival of New Jersey, Boston Lyric Opera, Tulsa Opera, Connecticut Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Santa Fe Opera, Sacramento Opera, Chautauqua Opera, and Piedmont Opera, among others.

    Other roles performed have been Dorabella in Così fan tutte, Hänsel in Hänsel und Gretel, Komponiste in Ariadne auf Naxos, Stèphano in Romèo et Juliette, Siebel in Faust, Angelina in La Cenerentola, and Suzuki in Madame Butterfly, receiving great critiques that praise her lush quality, dark timbre, technical facility and charming stage presence.

    Concert performances are an equally important aspect of Ms. Hawley's art and conductors are drawn to her impressive musicianship, mastery of styles and sensitive interpretations.

    She has worked with the famed Detroit Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Omaha Symphony, and in such concert venues as Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, and Weill Recital Hall.

    Ms. Hawley made her international debut with the Jerusalem International Symphony singing Mahler’s famed Second Symphony in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

    Ms. Hawley performed the New York premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's autobiographical cantata, Landscapes and Remembrances, in celebration of the composer's 85th birthday with the Little Orchestra Society. She has performed the Verdi Requiem numerous times and when performed with the Cedar Rapids Symphony, the Gazette wrote "Hawley's voice is gorgeous and her style so convincing".

    Her Carnegie Hall debut was as soloist in Vivaldi's Gloria, and she returned to sing Handel’s Messiah, both with John Rutter conducting. Other appearances have included the American premiere of Tchaikovsky's Hamlet, with Mark Lamos and the Hartford Symphony, Respighi's Laud to the Nativity and Il Tramonto, de Falla's El Amor Brujo, Handel's Belshazzar, Bach's Magnificat, the Mozart and Duruflè Requiems, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

    Ms. Hawley has further distinguished herself in several productions of Carmen, where the critics wrote "Hawley triumphed as Carmen." Opera News noted that "she placed her stamp on Bizet's Gypsy at her first entrance, a tough provocative Carmen providing the sensual centerpiece for the evening, negotiating all the arias with lithe grace, her portrayal gaining in tragic stature as the opera reached its climax."

    She was born in O'Neil, Nebraska, and lives with her husband and two sons in Kernesville, outside of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.


    Here is Opera Lively's exclusive interview with Ms. Janine Hawley.

    OL - Thank you for doing this, Ms. Hawley. Please, tell us about the first time you encountered The Crucible – was it as a listener, or as a singer?

    JH - As a singer.

    OL - What were your first impressions of it? You’ve mentioned that the work is “powerful.” Please elaborate, and tell me what The Crucible is for you.

    JH - I was disturbed in first reading the play in high school but didn't really "get" it. Now reading it as an adult, the story itself, that is from history, is truly powerful but I feel that the drama is greatly enhanced by the music. I felt that the story was quite 'operatic' in its raw state.

    OL - Have you had contact with other works by Robert Ward, operatic or not? Have you performed other works by him?

    JH - No, I have not had that good fortune.

    OL - What do you think of his music?

    JH - I love the music in The Crucible; it is so AMERICAN, and I don't mean that in a provincial, trite way. It is expansive, beautiful, dramatic, motif-driven and well-written for the voice in many ways.

    OL - You have sung Elizabeth Proctor before, for Chautauqua Opera. How did you prepare for the role?

    JH - I read the play first. Then I drove to Durham with a pianist in order to get Dr. Ward's take on the role. I did other research on the play and the historical figures on which the play was based.

    OL - In what way is this role challenging?

    JH - It is a very rangy part (2.5 octaves) and the aria in the 2nd act is a 'big sing'!

    OL - What is your personal reading of Elizabeth Proctor, in terms of her psychology?

    JH - Elizabeth suffers from low self-esteem in terms of her relationship with John, but also is confident in her role as a mother and woman in the community.

    OL - Do you see her as despondent and depressed, or angry and steely, or nagging and whiny, or cold and indifferent, or repressed but passionate, or all of the above?

    JH - I don't know if any or all of these describe her -- she is proud; she wants back the man she married, a man of integrity -- and that loss is hurtful but not to the point where she would destroy her marriage.

    OL - How do you think Elizabeth Proctor needs to be portrayed for the performance to be successful?

    JH - She must be strong above all else. She gets the last word in the opera and her word is transforming for the trials - "He have his goodness now; God forbid I take it from him.'

    OL - What else can you tell us about this production of The Crucible?

    JH - I loved the focus on relationships between characters and how the music is used to support choices that the characters make. It made singing the piece so much more meaningful.

    OL - Tell us about your experience with Piedmont Opera.

    JH - The Artistic Director and conductor, Jamie Allbritten is a hugely talented individual whose skill at multi-tasking is unsurpassable! I enjoy working with him as a music director greatly. The stage management staff is highly skilled and on task and the office management are helpful and accommodating; they are a pleasure to work with.

    OL - Great, thank you for your insightful views, Ms. Hawley. Now please tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get in contact with Piedmont Opera and the UNC School of the Arts?

    JH - Well, we moved to North Carolina about ten years ago. My husband teaches at the school. At that time I was singing a lot more, and my son was two years old. We were living in Connecticut but we were interested in finding a great place to raise a family, so that's what brought us down here. I auditioned for Piedmont Opera, then I started doing teaching off and on, and joined the faculty there at the UNCSA, part time. I've been able to collaborate with them several times.

    OL - What have you been teaching there?

    JH - I teach both in the School of Drama and in the School of Music. I teach acting for singers, and I teach singing for actors... (laughs).

    OL - Oh, this explains how good an actress you were in the opera!

    JH - Oh, thank you! (laughs)

    JH - Yes, your performance was wonderful! Where did you get your operatic education?

    JH - I did my undergrad at Indiana University with a double degree in Voice and Music Education and my masters at Columbia University in voice. Then I learned a great deal about the business of singing as an apprentice in Santa Fe.

    OL - What are your best career memories?

    JH - Watching the sun rise on Jan. 1, 2000 over the hills of Jerusalem where I was performing Mahler's 2nd (The Resurrection) Symphony and playing Scrabble on the bus on the New York City Opera tour of Carmen.

    OL - Please tell us about your future plans.

    JH - I have settled into a balance between teaching (at UNCSA), performing and parenting and priorities shift all the time. I am blessed that I have been able to continue performing and believe it is an important way to serve my students by example.

    OL - Any closing statements?

    JH - I believe The Crucible is an important piece of operatic history and wish it would be performed more in larger companies. It appeals to a wide range of audiences and is an unbelievably moving story and score. The themes with which it deals transcend time and their relevance to the present are even chilling.

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