• The Exclusive Opera Lively short Interview with Tammy Coil, Marie in Written on Skin

    [Opera Lively interview # 113] This article is part of our Written on Skin coverage. Go up one level in this section to read the announcement that contains links to the other parts of Opera Lively pieces on this extraordinary contemporary opera.


    Photo Credit Kevin Gordon

    Tammy Coil, mezzo-soprano, sang the roles of Angel, and Marie. She is the Eunice Alberts and Adelle Alberts Vocal Studies Fellow at Tanglewood Music Center.

    Artistic Biography

    The New York Times said of the young singer that she performed the in Written on Skin with
    "a vibrant voice," and the excellent critic Anne Midgette from the Washington Post called her singing "with engagement and amber warmth" in Albert Herring.

    Earlier this year she sang Zwei Dame in Die Zauberflöte with Opera Philadelphia, as well as her first Verdi Requiem with the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas. In 2011, her performance as Mercedes in Carmen with the Opera Philadelphia was said to be truly outstanding in both vocals and characterization.

    She has sung with Sante Fe Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Chautauqua Institution and New Jersey Opera Theater. Ms. Coil has also participated in the inaugural Chateauville Festival singing the role of Nancy in Albert Herring under the baton of Lorin Maazel and reprised the role with Cal Performances in Berkely, CA. Tammy was a member of the 2010 Opera on the Go! Program with the Opera Theater of St. Louis singing the role of Cherubino. In 2009 she sang the roles of L'Ecureuil, La Bergère and La Chatte in L'enfant et les Sortilèges as well as Zulma in L'Italiana in Algeri with Opera Philadelphia.

    Tammy holds a Masters of Music Degree from The Curtis Institute where she sang numerous roles, each "summoning up vocal fire," (Diane Burgwyn, Opera Now) including Margaret in Wozzeck and Lorca in Golijov's Ainadamar in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia and the Kimmel Center. Other roles performed during her time at Curtis include Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro, Lady with a Hatbox in The Postcard From Morrocco, and Sicle in L'Ormindo.

    Ms. Coil holds a Bachelors degree from The Juilliard School where she sang Zwei Dame in Die Zauberflöte with The Juilliard Opera Workshop and Tasse Chinoise and the Libellule in L'enfant et les Sortilèges with Juilliard Opera Center.

    Tammy has appeared with the Santa Fe Opera as an Apprentice Artist and with the Opera Theater of St.Louis as a member of the Gerdine Young Artist Program. She participated with the Opera Theater New Jersey in their premiere season as the title role in L'enfant et les Sortilèges. At the Chautauqua Institution she performed Octavia in L'incoronatizione di Poppea and Dorabella in Così fan Tutte. Tammy was a soloist in the New York Philharmonic's production of Candide and has appeared at the Kennedy Center with Marvin Hamlisch and Lorin Maazel.

    Ms. Coil was a District Winner of the 2007/2008 Metropolitan National Council Auditions and placed second in the Denver Lyric Opera competition in 2009 and fourth place in 2010.

    Ms. Coil's discography includes The Curtis Institute of Music's Professional Release of Postcard From Morocco with Albany Records.

    Her web site is www.tammycoil.com

    Upcoming engagements

    Monteverdi's Ulysses peformed with Opera Omnia. Tammy will be singing Minerva as her Opera Omnia debut. Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York, NY - 09.10.13 to 09.12.13, at 7:30 PM - click [here] for related site.

    Premiere productions of Michael Dellaira's The Death of Webern, and John Eaton's Rerouted - Tammy's debut with Pocket Opera Players, New York. Thalia Theater, Symphony Space - 10.10.13 to 10.12.13, at 7:30 PM - click [here] for related site.

    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Tammy Coil

    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

    Credits - Questions by Luiz Gazzola. Photos of the singer were recovered from her web site, fair promotional use. The smaller picture is cropped from a larger one by Stephanie Fay.

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - You've just performed in the US premiere of George Benjamin's masterpiece Written on Skin at Tanglewood Music Center on August 12, 2013. Were you aware of this opera's enormous success in Europe? When and how did you get to know the piece for the first time? And how did the rehearsal process go? Was your role hard to learn?

    Tammy Coil - I had heard that it was very well received in Europe and the buzz circulating around those initial performances really peaked my curiosity as to what I would discover in learning and performing the piece. I heard about the piece in late 2012 through colleagues, friends, and people in the music business. I began my own work on the piece in the Spring of 2013 after being assigned to the project at Tanglewood, and before arriving there as a fellow. I was sent a musical score and began preparing the score by reading the story and the libretto. I began by speaking the text, to learn the rhythm of my part. I then added pitches. Adding the piano part was the next step and took a lot of patience and time because the vocal line is almost never doubled with the orchestra. The next step was adding other singers into the scene. This added new challenges in finding your own pitch and counting your rhythm against a colleague who had different rhythms in different meters simultaneously.

    OL - Written on Skin is being heralded as the best opera written in the last 20 to 50 years, depending on the source. What is your opinion of the piece? What do you most like about it?

    TC - Written on Skin is a work of genius. Its complexity is in every fiber of each artistic and creative choice on the page. There is not a moment, musically or otherwise, that is not completely cherished and represented, turned over and examined for all of its possible beauty or meaning. This piece is like looking into a kaleidoscope that is is constantly changing and seeing the intricacies and shards of human emotion and musical expression. Its beauty and ferocity are so delicate and passionate all at once! It is poignant and heavy, deep and eternal. It is a masterpiece. I particularly like the specificity of the orchestral writing and the huge chances he makes the singers take vocally and emotionally. It requires total commitment.

    OL - How were you picked to sing your part?

    TC - I auditioned for Tanglewood and had attended the year before. The staff knew my voice and my capabilities as a singer and felt I would be a good fit.

    OL - How vocally challenging is your part? Please describe specifically what was hard about this sing.

    TC - My part is very difficult rhythmically and requires use of chest voice in a courageous way. The meter changes in almost every bar and no other instrument plays along with you while you are singing. You must find your pitch by hearing intervals in your head, silently, before you begin, either from a piece of the orchestra or from another singer. The use of chest voice was also a bit difficult to maneuver because it switched between my head register and chest register dramatically.

    OL - The world premiere in Aix-en-Provence and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden run had an outstanding cast. The fully staged performance is available for streaming on MediciTV.com, and the opera has been released on CD. Have you watched it or listened to it as part of your preparation? Was it intimidating to tackle a work that has been so sublimely sung by some of the best artists in the business, for whom George Benjamin specifically wrote the vocal lines, taking into consideration the capabilities of their voices? Was it hard to adapt your own voice to this performer-specific vocal writing?

    TC - I did not watch the performance because I did not want to be intimidated and have the only picture of the piece in my mind be of that performance. I wanted to let my imagination work for my character and the piece and not relate it to a specific performance. I did not want to imitate what they had done. Most every piece we sing was written originally for someone else, so I thought of it like any other work. I tried to bring my own unique qualities to the piece and trust that Mr. Benjamin would tell me what he needed and wanted from me.

    OL - Please tell me about how you read the psychology of your character.

    TC - I believe the Angels are a like a Greek Chorus. They represent social commentary for the time and act as a guide for the audience. Marie, Agnes's sister, cares about her sister and is unhappy with what is happening within her sister's household. She is in a marriage with John, and is the more dominant figure in that relationship. She does not like the Protector and his control over her sister. I don't believe Marie would ever actually have any actual relationship with the Boy; making the fantasy scene a true fantasy.

    OL - How was for you the opportunity to work with George Benjamin in preparation for the performance? What kind of coaching or advice did he provide?

    TC - Working with Maestro George Benjamin was a great honor and opportunity. His ability to hear every instrument and how they should all connect together was incredible. He is very precise and meticulous in his work with each individual. He expects a lot but is very kind and helpful in finding the best way to achieve optimum results. I loved working with him and wanted to perform with the highest level of excellence. Specifically, he helped one find a pitch by helping you hear specific instruments in the orchestra, he also was encouraging when you were able to make a correction. He also gave very vivid imagery for the colors and dynamics that he wanted.

    OL - How do you think you did? Would you do anything different, given a second chance?

    TC - I think that I performed well. If I had the awesome opportunity to perform the role again, I would be excited to feel more confident with the music so I could, in turn, be even more assured vocally. There is so much to discover and color in each part. The layers one can pull back seem endless. I would love the chance to sing the role again, so I could discover more and more and reveal more color and depth into my own performance.

    OL - Written on Skin given its astounding quality in all aspects of it - music, libretto, and theatrical impact - is likely to survive the test of time and become an opera that will be remembered in the next few decades and even centuries. Having participated of the US premiere somehow writes your name in the history books of opera. How special was that, and how did you feel about it?

    TC - Written on Skin should stand the test of time for a multitude of reasons. It is such a culmination of music and composition while at the same time being completely brand new and original! I feel very honored to have been a part of the American premiere. I am excited to see where this piece will go and so happy to have had an important part of its continued performance and expansion.

    OL - How is this opportunity that you had, likely to influence your career from this point on? Did it wet your appetite for contemporary opera? What are some of your next projects?

    TC - I enjoyed working on the piece very much. It was among the few contemporary operas I have ever worked on and left me excited to try new pieces. I realized how much more I am capable of and how much broader the language of opera can be. I accepted a contract premiering two new operas this fall featuring micro-tones due to the success of Written on Skin and my work at Tanglewood and with George Benjamin.

    I am so happy to have had this incredible opportunity. I know for certain I am more well rounded, more eager, more creative, more courageous singer as a result of performing this incredible work of art. Maestro Benjamin is a truly amazing man and composer and I am so thankful for my time with him and with this score! I hope that I have the opportunity to live in his richly woven musical world again soon.

    Photo Credit Stephanie Fay


    We can listen to the mezzo in "Voi che sapete" by clicking on this link [here] and then clicking on "launch track."


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