• Exclusive Interview with Philippe Pierce

    Philippe Pierce was Gerard in our partners NC Opera's performance of Glass' Les Enfants Terribles in January of 2012. Opera Lively interviewed him about his role and career plans. [Opera Lively interview # 26]

    OL - Is it more challenging to sing contemporary opera as opposed to the more traditional repertoire?

    PP – I think it really depends on the piece and the composer. There are still some composers right now that are still very steeped in traditional melodic lines, but in the case of Philip Glass he is really playing a lot with rhythms and tonality. This is definitely the most challenging piece I’ve ever heard performed. It was hard, I’ve never done this much counting in my life while learning a role. It’s a huge musical challenge, but it is also incredible because once you get to the other side and you learn it and you understand where your vocal line lies in the best of the piece, the piano parts, it’s an incredible sense of achievement. It’s exceptionally beautiful. The end product is so beautiful that even though it’s very challenging, it’s incredibly rewarding.

    OL - Being this opera by Glass relatively obscure, what kind of material have you used to prepare yourself for the role?

    PP – When they first offered me the job I actually listened to the recording to get a sense of the piece. I generally don’t like to learn anything by learning from the recording because I don’t want to learn anybody else’s habits or interpretation. I just sat at a piano for hours just plucking out my notes, working rhythms, talking the text, and really just doing a lot of it on my own, and then taking it to a pianist and singing through it with just the piano part.

    OL - Tell me about your character.

    It’s very interesting, because in the opera, more so than in the movie and more similar to the novel, he is a very passive character. He is very in awe of Lise and Paul. He mostly just goes along for the ride without really contributing very much to the plot. He is very passive, it’s very difficult for me because I’m involved in a lot of scenes where I don’t actually talk, I’m just a listener and a witness to the events that are unfolding. It’s interesting that he is so completely in love with Lise; he is not terrified but it just never comes to his mind to say it, to admit to any of it. At the beginning he has a schoolboy crush on Paul and he never really admits to it. He never speaks out his mind to either Lise or Paul, he remains completely quiet. The piece is from his perspective in a third person as a memory piece of everything that has happened in the past. He only opens up when the whole story has finished.

    OL – So for several moments in the opera you have to do more acting than singing.

    PP – Yes, absolutely.

    OL – Does it feel uncomfortable for a singer to do that?

    PP – No, no, because I was trained as an actor before I started opera. I did a lot of acting for 12 years before I ever started. It’s a great challenge for me and also a great way to get back into an old skill that I loved.

    OL - What is your opinion of this North Carolina Opera production? How is the work going so far?

    PP – Oh great. I mean, I think it’s a privilege to be part of this. I came into it knowing that I was going to have a lot of fun, because I knew two of the three other singers, I knew the conductor, and I knew one of the dancers. I walked into this production feeling very comfortable. It’s incredible, I’m learning so much from these dancers! We had a few discussions amongst ourselves about the fact that opera and dancing are sort of two complete opposite art forms that utilize the body. It’s sort of the two extreme sports that you can do with just your body, as far away as possible in terms of how you use your breath and how we hold ourselves. I’m just having an incredible time watching them work and learning from their vocabulary of acting and their vocabulary of movement. It very much informs the way I act in this production. Being staged by a choreographer – Robert Weiss – it’s really fantastic because I’m learning so much about my own body and how I hold myself, so I’m really loving this process. This has been an incredibly challenging learning experience.

    OL - Tell me about your career so far. What would you highlight as your best successes?

    PP – Let’s see, before… I just performed a triple bill of operas at Central City Opera, Colorado, where I sang Gerardo in Gianni Schicchi, and Lacouf in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias, and the brother in Kurt Weil’s The Seven Deadly Sins. I sang Beppe in Pagliacci at Opera Cleveland, Gastone in La Traviata at Nashville Opera.

    OL - What are your plans for the immediate and distant future, in terms of desirable roles?

    PP – I’m about to go next to Detroit in two months to perform Beppe in Pagliacci again at Michigan Opera Theater. I’m dreaming of doing a production of La Rondine by Puccini, I really want to sing Prunier. That’s a role that I did once a few years ago and I’m really looking forward to a production of that piece.

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Dept. of Music, UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences