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Thread: La Fille du Régiment at Greensboro Opera

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    La Fille du Régiment at Greensboro Opera

    This article should have two subtitles:
    1. Welcome Back, Greensboro Opera!
    2. The René Barbera Show

    La Fille du Régiment
    , opéra comique in two acts, premiered in Paris at the Salle de La Bourse on February 11, 1840, in a production by the Opéra-Comique while Salle Favart was being rebuilt after the 1838 fire
    Music by Gaetano Donizetti
    Libretto in French by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard
    This production has musical numbers sung in French and spoken dialogue in English, by Dottie Danner and Michael Albano, translated from both the French original and the Italian version, with some updates

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    Greensboro Opera (North Carolina, USA)
    The Daughter of the Regiment Orchestra, conducted by Joel Revzen, guest conductor; Artistic Director and Principal Conductor at Arizona Opera
    Greensboro Opera Chorus, Chorus Master Welborn E. Young

    Producer and Stage Director, David Holley, Artistic Director, Greensboro Opera
    Scenery designed by Boyd Ostroff, provided by Forth Worth Opera
    Costumes designed by Kathleen Trott, owned by Arizona Opera
    Lighting Designer and Technical Director, Jeff Neubauer
    Wigs and Make-up, Trent Pcenicni


    Main roles
    Tonio - Opera Lively interviewee René Barbera (read his full interview below)
    Marie - Ashley Emerson
    Sulpice - Donald Hartmann
    Marquise of Berkenfield - Susan Nicely

    Comprimario roles
    Hortensius - Scott MacLeod
    Corporal - Derek Gracey
    A Peasant - Jacob Kato
    Duchess of Karkenthorp - Linda Carlisle (non-singing role)
    Duke of Karkenthorp - Jesse Herndon (non-singing role)

    This review is of the opening night on January 9, 2015. The show returns for another performance on 1/11/15 at 2PM; tickets [here], patrons at driving distance who haven't attended the show should not miss the opportunity to see this recommended event.


    Welcome Back, Greensboro Opera!

    During the economic crisis, Greensboro Opera suffered more than the other four major professional opera companies in our state, at one point cancelling staged productions and barely hanging on by a thread with some concerts and recitals, while significant restructuring and fund-raising were sought. Half-empty theaters and struggling production and musical values menaced the company at the peak of the turmoil. We at Opera Lively are happy to report that not only the company is back on its feet, but the return to fully staged shows was surprising successful, adding another worthy venue to North Carolina's operatic offers.

    The effort to right the ship again counted on support from donations by local sponsors, a general grant by ArtsGreensboro, collaboration with The University of North Carolina-Greensboro School of Music, Theatre and Dance, sets from Forth Worth Opera, and a guest conductor and costumes from Arizona Opera. It is beautiful to see local patrons providing accommodation for soprano Ashley Emerson and local businesses such as Cox Toyota underwriting the travel and ground transportation for the guest artists. This was a true community achievement to bring back high level opera to the city of Greensboro.

    And high level it was! Not only the musical quality was very rewarding, but the evening was a success in multiple levels. The public filled up the historic Aycock Auditorium, including some celebrity sighting. See this picture taken during intermission:

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    Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. Indeed you are seeing star singers Ms. Stephanie Blythe and Mr. Samuel Ramey in attendance! The opera community in North Carolina at large also said present; for example among others, we had the pleasure of chatting briefly before the show and during intermission with General Director and Principal Conductor of Piedmont Opera maestro James Allbritten, and General and Artistic Director of Asheville Lyric Opera Mr. David Craig Starkey, as well as Dr. Marilyn Taylor, voice chair at UNC School of the Arts and Fletcher Opera Institute. Even on stage we got to see a cameo by one of the most influential persons, banker/corporate executive and former Secretary of the NC Department of Cultural Resources Ms. Linda Carlisle who took upon the non-singing role of The Duchess of Krakenthorp, looking very regal and convincing!

    The polished event could be witnessed in details such as seeing the opera advertised in electronic billboards on the Interstate highway driving up to Greensboro, noticing a local restaurant with a dinner+opera pre-show program, transportation to the theater by specially chartered buses from different points of the metropolitan area, a post-show reception with the artists at the beautiful Weatherspoon Art Museum next door (which also provided a large lot for free parking for patrons), and a truly excellent free pre-show 45-minute lecture at the Taylor Theater also next door. Wow! Greensboro Opera is back in grand style, taking care of all aspects of a very satisfying opera evening.

    The lecture deserves some special mention. It was arguably the best such event we've attended in the last several years, anywhere. Musicologist, opera composer, and opera company director Dr. Basil Considine presented an in-depth look at the premiere in Paris in 1840, complete with interesting historical images in a slide show, and an analysis of the political and artistic environment that led to the commission of the work. While preparing to travel to Greensboro for the show, we were wondering if it would be worth leaving the headquarters one hour earlier to attend the lecture. Our thoughts were - "oh well, what else do we need to know about bel canto, Donizetti, and La Fille du Régiment? Most likely there will be no novelty." Thankfully we dropped this misguided piece of thinking and decided to attend anyway, because the talk was extremely interesting and as a matter of fact the full 45 minutes were rich in previously unknown facts about the composition and commission circumstances, given that they come from Dr. Considine's truly original research. We are pleased that the musicologist has accepted a future interview with Opera Lively to talk about his Donizetti studies. Stay tuned for what promises to be a piece as interesting as the one we did with Dr. Phillip Gossett on Rossini.

    So, from all of the above, it is clear that Greensboro Opera is not only back, but is poised to become once more a major player in the regional operatic environment. Congratulations!

    The René Barbera Show

    Now, let us focus on the artistic merits of the show. We've known René Barbera from the very first steps of his career. He got his musical education in neighboring Winston-Salem, NC, under the mentorship of Dr. Marilyn Taylor, who then nudged him to continue his training at the Ryan Center in Chicago. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions as a young singer in 2008 when he interned at the Merola Program in San Francisco, he went on to confirm his quality when he won Plácido Domingo's Operalia in 2011 in Moscow, accumulating for the first time in the history of that prestigious international competition all three major prizes (for Opera, for Zarzuela, and the Audience Prize). Shortly thereafter he granted to Opera Lively one of our early interviews [Opera Lively interview # 7; read it (here)], when he talked about that major triumph. Subsequently we saw him live in Santa Fe in La Donna del Lago, where he was excellent in the smaller role of Rodrigo, alongside Larry Brownlee and Joyce DiDonato. Last night's performance of the leading tenor role of Tonio in La Fille du Régiment was even more impressive, thus the subtitle we picked for this review. If we still needed any proof that this young man possesses the potential to achieve the same level of vocal quality of a Larry Brownlee and a Juan Diego Flórez, we got it! Based on what we heard yesterday, we predict for the young tenor a meteoric career, joining the two above mentioned stars in the very international elite of light lyric tenors in activity. Well, this is an easy "prediction" and maybe it doesn't deserve this word suggesting only future achievements, since his trajectory has started already with major roles in the Opéra National de Paris, Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Santa Fe, San Francisco, LA Opera, Seattle, and Chicago. René talked with Opera Lively again, in our interview # 153 which is being freshly published and reproduced below this review.

    The experience of listening to René with the excellent acoustics of the Aycock Auditorium was fulfilling. His diction in French is crystalline, his projection is extremely powerful, his phrasing is beautiful, and his pitch control is of the utmost precision. Of course the show stopper is "À mes amis... pour mon âme" with its famous nine high Cs drew very prolonged ovation from the public, but the entire vocal performance from opening line to last can't be classified in any other way than perfect. His acting was equally compelling and funny.

    While the stratospheric quality of our young tenor was undoubtedly the high point of the evening, his colleagues were not far behind. Ashley Emerson was another success in the title role of Marie. There was a sharp difference in her acting between first and second acts. She didn't seem very comfortable in terms of comedic timing in Act I and was rather unfunny at that point (especially because one tends to have in mind Ms. Dessay's iconic performance of the same role, as unfair as it is to hold the young singer to that standard). She however engaged in a thorough transformation when she portrayed the second act Marie with her sabotage of the Marquise's attempts to turn the tomboy into a proper high society young lady, and was the protagonist of several laughing-out-loud moments with her acting. While less gifted in French diction than René and with smaller projection, her voice is very well modulated. Ms. Emerson is another young artist on the rise: a recent graduate of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, she has already appeared in some significant roles at the Met, such as Papagena in Die Zauberflöte and Barbarina in the recent Nozze production by Richard Eyre that was broadcast live in HD, and has also appeared there in smaller roles in Two Boys, Die Frau ohne Schatten, The Enchanted Island, La Rondine, and Macbeth. Other major American companies took notice, and the young singer has been heard at Washington National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Seattle Opera, and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

    Acting was a major asset for mezzo Susan Nicely. Unlike her younger colleague, Ms. Nicely was a full blown comedienne from the very first scene, delighting the public with her characterization of the over-the-top Marquise of Berkenfield. Voice-wise she didn't disappoint either. Ms. Nicely has some good credits to her name, including international appearances in Strasbourg and Caracas, and roles in major US companies such as San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, and several performances for Dallas Opera which is her artistic home.

    Donald Hartmann as Sulpice is a veteran performer in US regional opera companies nationwide spanning three decades, and a favorite of North Carolina stages. He currently serves on the voice faculty at UNC-Greensboro. We've heard Mr. Hartmann multiple times, always with solid acting (he is what we'd call a character singer) and very good voice. Yesterday's performance was one of the best among the ones we've seen. He was a major force for the success of the evening, given that Sulpice is a comedic make-it-or-brake-it role for this opera, and he delivered. It is interesting to notice that his operatic debut was exactly with Greensboro Opera, 31 years ago.

    Scott MacLeod and Derek Gracey were both very good comprimarios - Scott also very funny as Hortensius, and Derek with a beautiful baritone instrument.

    As Dr. Considine underlined in his lecture, this opera has two title roles - the daughter... and the regiment. One should not forget that the chorus in this piece is also a title role, and a good one is essential to a good rendition of this work. The Greensboro Opera Chorus passed with flying colors, especially the sixteen male choristers who portrayed the soldiers with great acting and singing. They were actually one of the best surprises of the evening.

    The conductor clearly did his best and kept things lively and well paced, but the young orchestra assembled for the occasion wasn't thrilling, with some rough edges in transitions and a couple of less than ideal occasions of instrumental playing. It wasn't terrible either, and it didn't sink the ship. Hopefully with the opera company emerging from the tough economic times in style, more stability and fine-tuning will be achieved in the pit.

    Sets were serviceable, of the traditional, generic kind: not especially attractive, but they didn't get in the way. Costumes on the other hand were several notches above the visual quality of the sets, especially the female gowns in second act.

    Stage direction was very accomplished, especially given the less than imaginative sets Mr. Holley had to work with. This could be seen in the general good acting he was able to extract from his soloists, comprimarios, and choristers, and the nice blocking, with some genial touches such as Tonio chasing after the soldiers with high Cs, with them walking backward as if pushed by the sheer force of the sound. Also, updates in the English text were very funny, and the evening was undoubtedly a big comedic hit from the theatrical standpoint.

    Lighting and technical aspects were correct, but one wonders if instead of getting these rather bland sets from another opera company (the curtain calls picture below will give the readers an idea of the visuals), a solution to keep budgets under control while providing a more striking visual experience might rely more on minimalistic sets coupled with digital projections. These can be expensive on their own, but effects such as those achieved by sister companies Piedmont Opera in their Flying Dutchman or Opera Carolina in their Pearl Fishers with extremely beautiful projections were more compelling. Given how polished this Greensboro Opera come-back was, maybe in the future they'll evolve in this direction for even better shows.

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    Time for the verdict:

    Singing by soloists: A++ for Mr. Barbera, A for Ms. Emerson, A+ for Mr. Hartmann, A- for Ms. Nicely, A- for Mr. Gracey, B+ for Mr. MacLeod. Overall, A+
    Chorus: A+ in both singing and acting
    Acting by soloists: A for Mr. Barbera, B+ for Ms. Emerson, A+ for Mr. Hartmann, A++ for Ms. Nicely, A- for Mr. MacLeod, B- for Mr. Gracey. Overall, A-
    Conducting - A
    Orchestral playing - B-
    Stage Direction and blocking - A+
    Lighting and Technical Direction - B+
    Sets - B-
    Costumes - B+
    Pre-show lecture - A++
    Overall company effort (publicity, parking, ease of ticket sales, reception, venue/sitting space/acoustics, etc.) - A+

    Overall score, A, recommended show with strong musical values and some high production points but some areas to improve. In any case, the areas to improve are few and understandable under the circumstances, and this had a very surprising high quality for being the first show after the company's return to staged productions. Bravo! We now have another great professional company in our state!
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 11th, 2015 at 08:13 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    The Exclusive (and second) Opera Lively Interview with tenor René Barbera

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    Headshot from the singer's website, credit unknown, fair promotional use

    This is Opera Lively interview # 153. It will have its own article with artistic biography and clips, but it is reproduced here ahead of its final publication, to go along with the above review. Copyright by Opera Lively; not to be reproduced without authorization (use the Contact Us form). Conducted over online video call in early December 2014.

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Hi, René. Where are you right now?

    René Barbera – I’m in my parents’ house.

    OL – Where is that?

    RB – In San Antonio, Texas.

    OL – Oh, nice. Good weather there?

    RG – It’s OK, it was very foggy this morning but otherwise it’s OK.

    OL – All right. This is your second interview with us. The first one was our interview #7. This one is #153 – a bunch of water went under the bridge both for you and for us, since that time. We talked with you at the time when you won all three prizes at the Operalia in Moscow in 2011. Ever since you’ve been very active – you graduated from the Ryan Opera Center and I counted 20 operas in these three years, which is quite remarkable, all over the place, including six international appearances – Stanislavsky Theater in Moscow, Opéra National de Paris, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Canadian Opera in Toronto, and Vancouver Opera. You’ve also debuted or are about to debut with many American companies that have national pedigree, such as Santa Fe Opera (I was there and saw you in La Donna del Lago), San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Your career is definitely taking off. You are also a recently married man to a very, very lovely wife! Congratulations on all this professional and personal success. Here is the first question: psychologically, how are you dealing with it all?

    RB – Thank you. Very kind of you. You know, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been enjoyable. Psychologically I’ve been pretty fine; it’s just a matter of learning to deal with stress on the road. It’s interesting because when you’re traveling, you don’t have all the comforts that you normally have at home and that can give you kind of a relief from some of the stress of the job. For me most of the stress is from traveling. Never being home is the most stressful thing about this job. Now thankfully my wife travels with me and that keeps me kind of grounded and that helps me keep myself a little sane. I’d go crazy if I had to work alone.

    OL – How many months per year or percentage of the year you are away?

    RB – I would say ten months out of the year.

    OL – Wow. So, two months at home. That’s got to be tough.

    RB – Yes, sometimes less.

    OL – Is your wife musical as well?

    RB – Yes, she got a Masters in Vocal Performance at Northwestern University in Chicago.

    OL – So, she sings as well.

    RB – Correct.

    OL – Nice. Any plans to perform with her?

    RB – Oh no, she sings at home, now. She doesn't sing professionally. Now she is a jewelry designer, and she also is my administrative assistant.

    OL – Oh, OK, so she is handling your career.

    RB – Not exactly, but she is keeping hands on and helping me with many different administrative duties; keeping track of receipts, budgets, making copies and such.

    OL – Fabulous, good for you. So, a critic said of you: “he’s lost weight and gained assurance.” Tell me about it. What’s the role of fitness in a singer’s career?

    RB – Fitness is very important, these days. The business has taken a very big turn towards physical appearance. I didn’t personally lose weight for the job. I had some health issues in the past. When I was 22 I had surgery for diverticulitis. In May of 2013 I had another flare of diverticulitis and it scared me. I decided that instead of waiting around for me to get sick again, I had to change my diet and completely change my lifestyle. And I did! Thanks to my wife helping – she took over and started cooking everything and helping me stay on track; this is very difficult – I lost 65 pounds in about seven months. I didn’t go to the gym a single time; it just all came out just from changing my diet.

    OL – Fantastic! I have to ask my wife to talk to yours because I’m not managing my weight very well… [laughs]

    RB – [laughs] I understand that.

    OL – So, critics have said of you that you are sweet, sympathetic, and lovable on stage. I agree. I know it might feel awkward to toot your own horn, but please tell me - other than your outstanding voice, what do you think are your biggest assets as an actor?

    RB – I try to be as honest as possible on stage with how I would react to a situation or what was being said to me. It took me a long time to learn how to react to people on stage. Because of all the comedic stuff that I’ve been doing, I learned to do that quite a bit, because it’s all about timing and that sort of thing; it’s all about playing off of each other. I guess I learned how to play well with others in that respect, and I’m just trying to be as honest as I can to the character and to myself to find out how to react in these situations.

    OL – I hear that to do good comedy you can’t try to be funny, right?

    RB – That’s exactly right. You have to look as serious as you possibly can to actually be funny.

    OL – So, another critic from Opera Today listening to your Nemorino in Saint Louis, called you the next Pavarotti. How do you feel about this kind of assertion? Is it a burden, or is it helpful to be seen this way?

    RB – I can’t imagine that it would be a burden. I guess if you hear that and you take upon yourself to try and make that to be true, then that can be a burden, but I don’t see it that way. I take it as a compliment. Ultimately there will never be another Pavarotti, and there will never be another Plácido Domingo; there will never be another anybody. Every performer is unique, every singer is unique. Everybody has their own challenges and their own talents and what not. Things are easy for some and are hard for others. It’s a very nice statement and it is absolutely flattering, without question. But it’s not a burden to me. I suppose the words can be helpful, because then people will listen a little more, but personally it is not terribly important to hear it one way or another, I suppose.

    OL – Nice answer. That Nemorino in Saint Louis was sung in English translation. “Una furtive lagrima” becomes “a furtive tear.” I confess I have a problem with that. The open vowels in lagrima are absent from the English word tear. I personally think that opera in translation, with a few exceptions, often robs the musical line of its musicality intended by the composer. What do you think of this practice? I don’t mean to specifically put down what Opera Theatre of St Louis did – and Kelley Rourke is actually quite good at this; I saw her King for a Day, the English translation of Un Giorno di Regno, and mostly it worked - and I do understand the reasons to present opera sometimes in the public’s native language, but I just want to collect your impression of the practice, in general, from the singer’s standpoint.

    RB – From the singer’s standpoint? Let’s see… What I think personally of this practice… I think it has a lot of merits and I understand the reasons for doing it, especially historically speaking. Operas used to performed, often, in whatever the local language was regardless of the original language. That was the tradition, and it can be it still, at times. So it’s not unusual to see an opera done in a different language. It’s quite a different thing. Some things can be lost in translation, and it can get really difficult at times finding a compromise between what that character was really trying to say, the overall mood of one of those statements, and keeping things in the right structure in English and still have some sort of lyricism to it. It’s a huge challenge, and I can only imagine how difficult it is to actually make the translation work. From the singer standpoint, at least from mine, it can be very difficult to make that transition, because singing in Italian is incredibly different from singing in English. I personally think that singing in English is far harder, especially in some parts where things get higher up in the voice and the vowels are too closed or too open. It can really cause a problem, especially as a native English speaker because we have our own bad habits in the language we speak, so that can be kind of complicated for the singer to do. We American singers usually train for all the other languages and don’t do a terribly good job training how to sing in our own which can be complicated. Otherwise I think the practice has a lot of merit. It certainly has a huge following in Saint Louis and in another companies around the world as well like the ENO, and it seems to be very popular.

    OL - In your resume, you've sung in two environments that maybe represent a challenge for the singer: the Termas di Caracalla in Rome which are entirely open air, and the high attitude, dry weather, semi-open air theater at Santa Fe Opera. Any comments on how to navigate these environments? Is it necessary to change your technique?

    RB – It was interesting. It was difficult in Rome because there were a couple of nights when we weren’t sure we would get to perform because the weather got really bad during the day, and you kind of sit and wait, “OK, is the phone going to ring? Is someone going to call me and tell me that we are cancelling and what’s happening?” But the weather agreed with us, and it was very nice. There was a little bit of a challenge because it got a little cooler in the evenings, and that changes how you feel on stage, and when you perform outside sometimes it is a little drier. The other challenge is, sometimes there are allergens. You can be really allergic to maybe some pollen in the air and what not. I got lucky. I didn’t have too much of a hassle and it went well. There were a couple of moments when I was sneezing a lot, but I was OK once I got on stage, really. Regarding a change in the technique, I didn’t make much of a change. At Caracalla they had us miked. It’s completely outdoor, there is just no way the voice will carry far enough, so they had us miked, which is a challenge. It’s an interesting thing, because you have a mike sitting here [points to the side of his face] and depending on where it is positioned sometimes you can barely see it sticking out right here, and you go “what is this? Oh, right, that’s my mike.” Getting used to that, and when you work with the colleagues and you’ve been practicing for weeks without a mike, you get really close to somebody and you sing, and you realize “oh, I’m actually singing into their mike” and that can be kind of loud. [laughs] It can be interesting. But it was a lot of fun doing that.

    Santa Fe was a little different. The attitude really, really made a difference out there. I was drinking unbelievable amounts of water and I was still dry. It is such a dry area, and that was really a challenge. Not so much to change the technique; in fact it means you have to be far more technical. You can’t let loose too much because it’s possible that you might overdo it; in such a dry climate you can shoot yourself in the foot, you know what I mean? So it’s just a matter of knowing your limits and keeping within a certain range while you are dealing with the dryness and the climate and stuff. In Santa Fe it was also interesting because there were a couple of times when I entered while there was lightning striking in the background which is really of cool; it’s a great entrance. “There is lightning behind me; I feel powerful right now!” [laughs]

    OL – That’s right. It’s fabulous; I love that theater. I’m curious about your performance of Count Almaviva at the Stanislavsky Theater in Moscow. Here we hear about the Mariinski and the Bolshoi all the time but should pay more attention to the Stanislavsky, which is about to complete a centenary of existence and was created with the explicit intention of promoting new aesthetics and for theatrical and musical experimentation. It’s talked about as daring and always seeking new horizons. They do ballet but also boast a full-blown opera company. Tell me more about them, about the working environment, and how the performance went.

    RB – I did the Operalia competition at the Stanislavsky Theater as well. It was my second time going there, and my first time working directly with the company. I honestly can’t speak too much about the company. I was there for only about fourteen days, and the first five days I was really jet-lagged and nothing was happening. [laughs] The people there are very nice. It is a beautiful theater. It is very large, actually, the building itself; the theater is rather small. But it was very interesting. They had some very interesting special effects. When I went on stage for The Barber of Seville, I was riding in the back of a Vespa, they dropped me out and it was snowing on stage. So there were little bits of paper coming down. It was pretty impressive. I imagine the sight was really, really impressive from the audience; unfortunately I never got to see that for myself. Unfortunately it was also a challenge, because you take a deep breath and there is little bits of paper flying in front of you there is always a chance that you will inhale some paper, and it will make for some really unfortunate events.

    OL – [laughs]

    RB – I got lucky, it didn’t happen, but I was genuinely scared. But it was a very interesting production, very modern, with a different take. It wasn’t super modern but with a different take on the show. I think it is a wonderful theater. I can’t remember if we did two or three performances, but it was a fun time. The theater was very nice and the people were very, very kind. It is a very good company.

    OL - Some singers have been mentioning to me that singing in Italy these days has been quite the experience, with the budget crisis in the opera houses over there – a singer even mentioned that he had to hire a lawyer to get paid. You recently sang at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Have you had any problem there? How is the environment looking? How do your Italian colleagues over there feel about it all?

    RB – Nobody feels good about it. Nobody likes what is happening out there right now; it’s very difficult. It’s not the companies’ fault. It’s the way the government works with the companies, and it can be very political. It’s ultimately a matter of the government making the payments to the opera company in time, for the opera companies to make the payments to the singers. The economic situation in Italy is not so good; obviously the companies are suffering. I had less problems than most people that I’ve heard of so far, but that is not to say that I haven’t had any problems. I’m still waiting on payments from a couple of companies in Italy. Supposedly they should be coming within the next month or two which will be great, but it’s a little difficult. As a singer it’s hard to walk away from singing in Italy for a number of reasons; number one, it’s the birthplace of opera. Everybody loves Italian opera; I think, anyway. Also, I love Italy. The country is just beautiful and the people are wonderful. Usually my Italian colleagues are absolutely a blast to hang out with and spend time with. It’s a different culture, entirely, and it is a lot of fun. I really hope that things bounce back for Italy and the companies start being able to do the things that they’d like to do, because I know that nobody likes the situation there, not the companies, and certainly not the singers, or any of the performers for that matter – the orchestra, the chorus; it’s all difficult for everybody.

    OL – Yep. Tell us about this La Fille du Régiment with Greensboro Opera. The company is experiencing a rebirth with this production. What can we expect from this show?

    RB – Honestly, it’s a question I don’t think I’ll be able to answer until we start rehearsing. I don’t know much about what the plan is for the production. I’m very much looking forward to it, this will be my second time singing La Fille du Régiment and my first time in French, and it will be my second time performing with Ashley Emerson who is a wonderful actress and singer. It should be a whole lot of fun.

    OL - Everybody makes a big deal of the nine high Cs in “Pour mon âme.” Tell us, is it really difficult to sing this aria, or do these high Cs in rapid succession just come naturally? You did pick the aria for your winning presentation at the Operalia. Was it a daring move, to do so?

    RB – I’ve been singing that aria for a very long time. Honestly it’s the easiest aria for me in that opera. The second aria “Pour me rapprocher de Marie” is much more difficult in terms of legato, and just being exposed. It’s really easy for “Pour mon âme” because completely, the entire time, it’s just being excited and happy and essentially just throwing a very happy heart out. With this aria, you either have the high Cs or you don’t. That’s kind of the way it is. You won’t sing this aria if you don’t have them; if you do, it’s because you have them. So, for me the high Cs came naturally, so I have no problem singing them; I always enjoy doing high Cs. Was it a daring move for me? It’s something I’ve done a lot; in most of my auditions as a young artist I always started with “À mes amis” – so that was something I did often until someone told me not to, and then I changed my aria. I had sung it so many times at that point that there was no concern. I felt at home, I thought “this is what I do; this is what I’m good at, so I’ll very well do it.”

    OL – Someone told you not to in an audition? Why so?

    RB – Oh, just because everybody by that point had heard me sing it “À mes amis”; they knew I could do it, there was no point in me singing it again. It was always in the list; whether or not people fast forwarded it was another story.

    OL - In a light comedy like La Fille du Régiment, maybe there isn’t much to explore about the psychology of the character Tonio, one of your signature roles – the point of this opera is not deep psychological conflict, of course, but rather light humor (and it is very successful at that). But let’s try anyway: tell me about your views and your take on the character Tonio.

    RB – Firstly it’s funny you say it’s one of my signature roles; it’s actually not, I’ve only done it one other time. I’d love to do it more. Right now my signature role I guess would have to be Almaviva and Don Ramiro; those are the two that I’ve done absolutely the most.

    OL – Hey, your agent calls it your signature role on your website! You might want to tell him or her to change it.

    RB – Who said that?

    OL – It is on your website.

    RB – Really?

    OL – It is!

    RB – I’ll have to change that! [laughs] I had no idea! Either way, he is an interesting character; he is very typical of a young guy. In Donizetti’s operas in general there is always a young guy absolutely floridly in love with somebody; in this case somebody he’s just met, and he really takes a chance in going out and finding her in this camp of essentially enemies. He kind of puts himself in the line and he doesn’t give up. He joins the regiment, much like another Donizetti opera, to get closer to her, ultimately. The whole time he wears his heart in his sleeve; most of the time he is very excited and happy, and of course in “Pour me rapprocher de Marie” he bares his soul and lets it all out. There really isn’t much to him, aside from the fact that he is focused; absolutely, completely stricken by this woman and he is not going to turn away until he succeeds. He knows that she loves him. There is no question there, but there are some other obstacles that come along, but he is not willing to back down no matter what the obstacle is.

    OL – We have the spectacular performance of this role by Juan Diego Flórez available on DVD. Do you look up your predecessors when you are preparing, or do you prefer to immerse in the role by yourself and do your own thing?

    RB – I do a little bit of both. I can’t say that I looked at the Juan Diego version. I try not to look at anybody who is around right now because I don’t want to emulate somebody who is currently doing it because then I’d be just another one of them. I do look at some things. Mostly, I listen. If I’m having trouble with a certain part I will look online and see all kinds of things on YouTube, see if other performances have had ideas, and then maybe I can get some inspiration and just do what I can do on my own, but I really try to make my performance as unique to me as possible.

    OL – Who do you uphold as the best Tonios of the past?

    RB – The best Tonios… I haven’t listened to very many Tonios. I did much of my research when I was doing it in English, and I haven’t done much listening this time around, but Pavarotti singing this role, you just can’t beat him. It’s an unbelievable sound and it’s incredible.

    OL - I am thrilled to learn that you’ll be Iopas in Les Troyens in San Francisco, in the spectacular David McVicar production, which I saw in person in its inaugural run at the Royal Opera House. Your role includes the very beautiful “Ô blonde Cérès” – aren’t you excited? Tell me about this aria. Is it particularly difficult to have had just a few lines before, and then to launch into this rather high reaching aria, in terms of warming up or being exposed?

    RB – This will be my first time singing the role. I’ve sung the aria once for an audition about five years ago, so I don’t remember much about the aria, but I do remember that it is beautiful legato music and it does have a lovely high note towards the end. I’ve never been to that production so it will be interesting to see how it’s like. It’s a very, very long opera. I think the most difficult part will be showing up so late in the opera and having to sing that aria at that time with such little singing; that is absolutely very difficult, having very little time to warm up and get accustomed to the space, to the orchestra and how they are playing, if the air conditioning is a little cooler than the usual, that sort of thing. Anything like that can have some sort of an effect, so there is definitely some challenge there. And it’s very much exposed, because everything comes to a screeching halt and it’s like “oh, time for me to sing.” It will be interesting. I look forward to it. It will be a lot of fun. And of course, I’ll be going back to San Francisco, which I absolutely love, which is where we got married, actually.

    OL – Oh, nice. I’m dying to go out there and watch it again, but I travelled all the way to London to see it, and published a guidebook on it. Maybe I’ll be there, we’ll see, but I need to budget my opera coverage all over the place and this one I’ve done in London already so I don’t know. Being on stage with the great Susan Graham, and just watching the equally great Anna Caterina Antonnacci in acts I and II -- although your character only comes up in act III when she is gone -- must be quite the experience. What are your expectations for this run of this great opera in San Francisco?

    RB – It’s going to be a wonderful show and production, with incredible singing. This will be my first time working with Susan Graham. I’ve met her repeatedly in the past, so this will be interesting for sure. My expectations are just to go out and have a good time. It’s a very simple part for me to come on; it’s a cameo. It will be my first time doing a cameo, so I don’t know what to expect, entirely. I think I’m going to have a lot of free time in San Francisco. [laughs]

    OL – Once you get that aria down pat, there isn’t much more to worry about, right?

    RB – Exactly! It will be a fun time, working with Susan Graham for a change.

    OL – She is so much fun, I’ll tell you.

    RB – I know!

    OL – Yes, she is wonderful. So, you won the Met National Council Auditions but you haven’t had the opportunity to sing at the Met yet. Is this in the horizon, if you are at a liberty to say?

    RB – There is nothing currently in the cards right now, although there’s been a few offers here and there, but none of them I’ve been able to work out because there were other things in the schedule, so hopefully sometime soon, I want to go back and sing at the Met; I’ve only sung there for the final completion, which was a wonderful experience, and I’d like to test and see what is like to sing there again.

    OL - Being your voice very suited for the bel canto repertory, understandably Tamino so far has been your only role in German. Any plans to look closer at the German repertory in the future?

    RB – There really aren’t too many plans for that. Generally speaking, my planning goes as far as what people call me and ask me to sing, and at that point if it is something I’ve never done I call my voice teacher, I do some research on my end and see it is something that would be suited to my voice. I would love to sing a lot of that rep; it’s beautiful music, but I think most people would probably be more interested in hearing me sing Tonio or Nemorino and those types of roles rather than the German repertory. It is written very differently. It is usually not as high as the things that I sing.

    OL – You kind of answered this already but maybe you can elaborate more. Where do you see your career going, say, five years from now, then ten years from now? I’d like, if possible, to hear specific details on this. I know that singers tend to respond to this by saying they’ll go where their voices will take them, as long as it’s healthy, but I’d like to know if you have a specific game plan for the various stages of your career.

    RB – I don’t necessarily have any plans because unfortunately plans tend to never worked out as planned. [laughs] I have general ideas about what kind of repertoire I’d like to be singing during a certain part of my career. Right now I’m doing a lot of Rossini, and it’s a lot of fun; I hope I will always get to sing Rossini and always be able to. Vocally I want to be able to have the flexibility to be able to sing Rossini for my entire career. If I can wake up at 60 years old and sing Almaviva, then I’ve done a good job and I’ve taken care of my voice really well. That being said, I would like to sing more bel canto with things like Bellini’s I Puritani, Sonnambula, I want this to be more of the core of my work, because for whatever reason I feel that music better. It speaks to me kind of internally in a way that other music doesn’t, if that makes sense. Before I retire, I have to at some point sing Cavaradossi. Just once. I just want to try it once, maybe when I’m 55. [laughs] That’s a goal.

    OL – [laughs] Wow, that is a lot of advance planning. I was talking about five or ten years and you go to 55 and 60!

    RB – [laughs] You got to have goals, right? I wish I could sing Cavaradossi in ten years but it is not going to happen, so…

    OL - On a more personal note, tell me about your new situation of a recently married man. Children might be in the horizon in a few years, which will further complicate matters in terms of balancing professional and private life.

    RB – Like I said my wife travels with me everywhere. In fact when I go to Greensboro for this Fille du Régiment she is not going to come with me; she’s had a herniated disk.

    OL – Sorry to hear that.

    RG – Yeah, we have no idea how she hurt herself, it just crept up on her. She is seeing a chiropractor and is sticking around here for a couple of months to take care of that and get herself healthy again before she starts traveling with me again. Regarding the balancing, really it’s just a matter of keeping reminding ourselves to go out sometimes and enjoy where we are, because a lot of times as a performer, at least for me I don’t get to go do a lot of tourism and enjoy new cities so much, because at a certain point I usually give myself fifteen to twenty days of doing nothing, basically, from that point forward, because the way I see it, there is an incubation period for any kind of virus you may get or infection, then when you get the infection you have to wait it out so I give myself all of two weeks to make sure there is nothing in my system before the show opens. It’s just a matter of being able to go out and enjoy it, and then when we are home, we enjoy home. It can be really tough to balance everything. Regarding children, there is no plan for that at the moment. We don’t know if this will ever going to be a thing; we’ll see. It’s just a matter of time to figure out what works for us, and whether or not having children is in our future.

    OL – Being stuck for two weeks in an apartment to avoid catching a bug is kind of boring, no?

    RB – That is so true! I’ve gone to see colleagues perform, and I hate to say, I’m in a theater watching a friend of mine perform, and someone next to me will cough, and as soon as I hear it I wait, if they cough again I start getting my things, if they cough a third time I get up and leave. I don’t mess around with that stuff. You just can’t afford it, both financially and emotionally. It is very difficult to be sick in a role. In fact I was sick quite a bit when I was in Rome and in Paris this past year. I had shingles, and multiple, two or three sinus infections. It was just crazy stuff. I had allergy problems, it was a very difficult European trip, this time. There were so many things affecting me for no apparent reason! Thankfully I finally recovered, but it was a very difficult time. It’s not fun, and it is very much not glamorous, at times.

    OL - Strangely enough, in your first interview with us we never asked for some information on the person René, rather than the artist, like we always do in our interviews. How do you define your personality and your take on life, in general? You seem to be a fun-loving, easy-going guy; I’m not sure if you agree.

    RB – I would definitely agree with that. I try to make sure that I’m having fun, whatever I do. This is a very difficult business to be in at times, and if I’m not enjoying it, I shouldn’t be doing it, you know what I mean? In general, I just don’t take things entirely too seriously. Someone asked me before the finals in the Operalia, how I was so calm. I said, you know, honestly, what happens if I go out there and make a fool of myself? The worst thing that can happen, literally, is that I make a full of myself. And I’m good at that, I’m actually quite good at that!

    OL – [laughs]

    RB – [laughs] I do it on a daily basis, so I have no problem with that. I’m not going out there and trying to cure cancer. There is no patient bleeding out on my table. I have nobody’s live in my hands. What I have is a little bit of pride. I could walk away blushing and ashamed, but other than that, nothing bad can happen. No one is going to die if I go out there and make a mistake. My career might die, but that is pretty unlikely. People make mistakes all the time. Things happen. The great Pavarotti cracked. He was booed off the stage once or twice. Things like that happen and they happen to everybody, so there is nothing to be scared of. It’s kind of how I see my life. I apply that to kind of everything, as much as I can.

    OL - What do you like to do, besides opera and spending time with your wife, family, and friends? What are some of your extra-operatic interests?

    RB - The other thing is that I love to ride motorcycles. That’s my other big thing.

    OL – Oh, that’s dangerous.

    RB – [laughs] It is a little bit dangerous but it is a lot of fun. It reduces all my stress. I came back from Paris and I was on prednisone. I was suffering with all kinds of anxiety problems because of the steroids, they were messing with me, and the only thing that could calm me down and take away any weird feelings that I was having was to put on my helmet and my jacket and hop on my scooter, actually – I have a motorcycle right now – and just drive around town. Within like a minute everything that was bothering me would go away. I had shoulder pain bothering me – I hopped on the bike, it went away.

    OL – Very nice, but as a parent, I have a son who is not much younger than you, and I worry a lot. He went on a trip one of these days and rented a motorcycle, and said “oh my God, I love this! I need to buy one of these” and I said “no, no, no; please no!”

    RB – [laughs] It’s dangerous.

    OL – Yeah, I’m a doctor in my day job, and I have worked in ERs and I have seen young people coming in after motorcycle accidents, so it freaks me out.

    RB – Yeah, it’s pretty brutal. But I use all my gear as much as I can and I take every precaution; I know it is not fool proof but I make it a point of being very, very careful all the time. I don’t trust anybody on the road.

    OL – And you have your wife on the back seat with you?

    RB – Sometimes. Lately no, because of her back.

    OL – Right. Any other interests?

    RB – I love playing board games and video games. Recently my wife and I went to take a class in archery which is kind of fun, shooting bow and arrow.

    OL – You like dangerous things!

    RB – Eh, you know… I sing opera. My day job is going out and putting myself in front of thousands of people and singing. I can’t remember where I heard this, but there is a statistic and a poll taken, I don’t know how many people, but there are a lot of people who would rather burn to death than speak in front of people. More people are afraid of speaking in front of people than of burning by fire.

    OL – Wow.

    RB – That’s pretty telling. I’m one of those people. [laughs]

    OL – [laughs] You are?

    RB – [laughs] I cannot talk in front of people! I used to be very nervous about speaking in front of people, but I’ve gotten better about it.

    OL – You can sing in front of thousands of people.

    RB – I can sing in front of as many people as you put in front of me. Speaking, on the other hand, I get very nervous.

    OL – So, you like archery. You should aim at singing Rossini’s William Tell!

    RB – [laughs hard] That would be fun!

    OL – Do you like cooking?

    RB – I do, but my wife does 99% of the cooking because I’m usually too tired at the end of the day to do any of it. But I do like to cook; in fact the other day I made a my own humus, which is not quite cooking but more blending, but I enjoy messing with spices and flavors and seeing what works together and what doesn’t. It’s fun to experiment with those things. It’s why my wife does most of the cooking, because I experiment too much!

    OL – [laughs] Interesting! So, lovely interview, I thank you so much for being available! I hope your wife recovers soon, and I wish you a good time in Greensboro.

    RB – Thank you, and thanks for having me and interviewing me again, I really appreciate it.

    OL – You’re welcome.


    This is the singer's winning performance at the Operalia, in amateur filming and poor sound as it was recorded from the audience, but it is worth showing as it immortalises that triumphant moment in the young singer's life, and it features exactly the famous aria from La Fille du Régiment:


    Here is the singer's repertoire and roles already performed in reverse chronological order:

    Tonio in La Fille du Régiment at Greensboro Opera - 2015
    Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola at San Francisco Opera - 2014
    Conte Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Teatro Dell’Opera di Roma (Caracalla) – 2014
    Nemorino in The Elixir of Love at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis – 2014
    Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore at the Austin Lyric Opera – 2014
    Il Duca di Mantua in Rigoletto at Opera Colorado – 2014
    Conte Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Teatro San Carlo – 2014
    Arturo in I Puritani at the Opera National de Paris – 2013
    Rodrigo di Dhu in La Donna del Lago at the Santa Fe Opera – 2013
    Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Stanislavsky Theater – 2013
    Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola at the Los Angeles Opera – 2013
    Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola at the Palm Beach Opera – 2013
    Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola at the Seattle Opera – 2013
    Ernesto in Don Pasquale at the Lyric Opera of Chicago – 2012
    Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Michigan Opera Theater – 2012
    Elvino in La Sonnambula at the Washington Concert Opera – 2012
    Tamino in Die Zauberflöte at the Ravinia Music Festival – 2012
    Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi at the Canadian Opera Company – 2012
    Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Vancouver Opera – 2012
    Tamino in Die Zauberflöte at the Lyric Opera of Chicago – 2012
    Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Lyric Opera of Chicago – 2011
    Tonio in The Daughter of the Regiment at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis – 2011
    Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola at the Ryan Opera Center – 2010
    Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore at the Lyric Opera of Chicago – 2010
    Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni at the Ryan Opera Center – 2009
    Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Ryan Opera Center – 2009
    Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola at the Florida Grand Opera – 2009


    René will be featured next as Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with LA Opera, on February 28, and March 8, 11, 14, 19, and 22, 2015. For tickets click [here].

    His return to San Francisco Opera as Iopas in Les Troyens will happen in June 7, 12, 16, 20 and 25, and July 1st, 2015. For tickets click [here].


    If you came to this page through a link from another site, please consider exploring our exclusive interviews (Joyce DiDonato's, Anna Caterina Antonacci's, Luca Pisaroni's, Thomas Hampson's, Piotr Beczala's, scholar Dr. Philip Gossett's, Susan Graham's, Jay Hunter Morris', and stage director Thaddeus Strassberger's and many others are especially good, among by now 157 artists, scholars, conductors, stage directors, etc.), news, and articles by clicking on the Articles tab above and using our new clickable content index [here], or the Section Widget on the top left of the Home page; our very active discussion Forum (of course, by clicking on the Forum tab - and please notice that over there we also have an area with content in Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese).

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    You might consider the purchase of ours books "Opera Lively - The Interviews" volumes 1 and 2 - full announcement and links to sales points [here] for volume 1 and [here] for volume 2, just released. Also don't miss the very funny book by famed Met tenor Jay Hunter Morris, "Diary of a Redneck Opera Zinger" published by Opera Lively Press; click [here]. Also on sale, our guidebook to Berlioz's Les Troyens: click [here].

    Bookmark our site and come back for more - several new and exciting interviews are always coming to Opera Lively - recent ones have included Greek National Opera's principal conductor Myron Michailidis, the great mezzo Sarah Connolly, Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko, star tenor Juan Diego Flórez, British countertenor Tim Mead, and others.


    British baritone Christopher Maltman, American tenor Brandon Jovanovich, American soprano Alyson Cambridge, Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek (for the second time), American tenor Paul Appleby (for the second time), and American soprano Joélle Harvey, all of these already completed, pending revisions/approval.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 10th, 2015 at 09:08 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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