Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Requiem for an Opera

You found out Pam Armstrong likes mystery novels. You learned Gaétan Laperrière was an aspiring baseball player. This week I got some time with Julian Gavin (seen here as Don José in our 2005 Carmen), who plays the title role in The Tales of Hoffmann. Unlike Pam and Gaétan, Julian sings the same character throughout the whole opera. And I do mean the WHOLE opera – it is a title role, after all. Fortunately, Julian is a giving soul who found some time to give me the scoop on some little-known factoids. Read on…

What is your favorite part about being in Denver?
I love the city itself, particularly its proximity to the mountains. That tantalising and breathtaking view is always there as I walk around the city, often catching me by surprise as I turn around a corner. Downtown is compact and very easy to get around. There are some wonderful shops and places to eat. There are a couple of restaurants which are among my all-time favourites and I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with their fine food and great service. I love the Tattered Cover, a great place to browse and to have a coffee while perusing a good book or magazine. I love hiring a car and heading into the mountains. In fact, this time I am looking forward to heading up to Loveland or A Basin after the last performance of Hoffmann in order to find some early snow. I enjoy working out at the Denver Athletic Club, particularly the yoga classes. They have some great teachers there who are very patient with my lack of flexibility! I couldn't talk about my favourite things without mentioning catching up with my dear friends, the Kafadars, for some lively conversation, great food and a few good laughs as we catch up on family, music and computers and a host of other subjects.

What is the biggest misconception that people have about you?
I would say that there are a number of clichés about tenors! One is that I must have a big head or that I am unavoidably stupid! I often hear someone say, "Oh, he can't help it because he is a tenor!" Before I became a tenor, I studied and worked as a conductor. My Romanian conducting teacher also conducted me in my first opera. When I made a silly musical error, he said in despair, "He was one of my most promising conducting students. He becomes a tenor and look what happens to him!' As for the big head, perhaps it is in actual physical size, in order to accommodate those ringing high notes! I am actually highly critical of myself but I also passionately believe in collegiality.

Do you have any quirky habits?
I am not sure if this qualifies as a quirky habit but I am addicted to cryptic crosswords. Recently at a sitzprobe for Fidelio, as Beethoven's extraordinary music surged around me, a colleague incredulously asked, "How can you do a crossword with all that racket going on?" Ignoring the fact that I would never describe Beethoven's music as racket, I said that it helped me to concentrate!

That's all from Julian for now - see you next week!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dial "O" For Opera

Last week you learned a few facts about Pam Armstrong, the spectacular soprano who performs all four female roles from The Tales of Hoffmann (I'm out of breath just thinking about it.) This week I got some time with Gaétan Laperrière, the baritone who continually foils Hoffmann's chances at love (seen here in Boston Lyric Opera's production of the opera). Like Pam, Gaétan portrays four different roles: Coppelius, Dr. Miracle, Dapertutto and Lindorf. He also has four costume changes and has to convince the audience that while this is the same actor, the characters are still somewhat separate. Despite all these challenges and a busy schedule, Gaétan shared some trivia about himself with me that I now share with you…

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was young, I always wanted to be a singer just like my uncle, who was an opera singer all through his life. Actually, that's too easy. I really wanted to be a pitcher in the major leagues. I played baseball for ten years. I also played hockey for ten years and would have loved to be a hockey player, too.

What was your worst subject in school?

If you could spend a day living in a TV show or movie, which one would it be?
I would enjoy being in the TV series "Monk." I find the presence of Tony Shaloub very entertaining and I love every actor in the show. My wife and I actually just bought the DVDs of seasons 3 through 5 and 7.

What's your comfort food on a really bad day?
On a bad day, I would probably eat a hamburger and onion rings with a Diet Coke.

That's all from Gaétan - don't forget to head to the Tattered Cover on October 28 for our Meet the Artists panel. I'll be there - come say hi!

See you next week!

[Photo credit: Jeffrey Dunn / Boston Lyric Opera]

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gone With the Opera

One of the perks of my job is getting to know the artists as people, not just as pretty faces/voices. This week I sat down with the prettiest face from The Tales of Hoffmann, soprano Pam Armstrong (seen here in our 2007 La traviata). She's got her work cut out for her, what with portraying all four of Hoffmann's loves: Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta and Stella. You thought it would be difficult playing one character – imagine four different characters, in four different vocal ranges, with four different costume changes, all in one opera. But Pam's a superstar AND a sweetheart and took time out of her busy schedule to answer some of my questions.

What's the most recent movie that you've seen?
The last movie I actually attended was Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian with Ben Stiller. I was joined by my 10 year old nephew for his first IMAX experience - it was so fun to see his reactions!

What actress would you want to play you in the movie of your life?
Kate Winslet.

What's your favorite ice cream flavor?
My favorite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip. When I was a little girl, my older brother's first job was at the local Baskin Robbin's – and since then, I've always loved it. Although coffee does come in as a close second.

What would you do with a free hour?
I'd most likely pick up my latest book and try to read. I'm really enjoying the Janet Evanovich series right now. They're light and funny with a long list of crazy characters!

That's all from Pam for now - check in next time for another artist interview. See you next week!

(Photo credit: Matthew Staver)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Happily Ever Opera

Have you ever wondered what an opera with a happy ending would look like? I look at the synopses of all the great works – Madama Butterfly, Tosca, La bohème – and more often than not, the main character is denied that "happily ever after."

Take The Tales of Hoffmann, for example. The whole opera is Hoffmann relating the tragic stories of his lost loves. Why didn't Offenbach give the guy a break and let him find a nice girl and settle down in the suburbs? Maybe it's because he thought great artists can't find lasting love. Maybe he knew that opera fans prefer sad endings to happy ones.

So in a fit of pity and creativity, I took a few liberties with Offenbach's work, played fairy godmother and rewrote the endings…all three of them. (Special thanks to Box Office guru Katie for coming up with the idea in between phone calls from ticket buyers!)

Hoffmann, inspired by his love for the robotic doll, finds a better spring-and-coil set to keep Olympia going through the golden years (or at least the rusty years). Hoffmann goes into business with Olympia's inventor, Spalanzani, and the couple settle down in a quiet neighborhood with a good school system. Through the miracle of robotics, the lovers soon find themselves proud parents of robotic triplet girls. Hoffmann is the doting father, helping them with their homework and visiting their school on Career Day. (He warns their classmates away from the dangers of alcohol.)

After a visit from a real doctor, Antonia and Hoffmann move to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a world-famous singer. With Hoffmann as her diligent manager, Antonia soon gets booked at the Élysée Montmartre and her career takes off. The pair goes on a whirlwind world tour where they become enchanted by Manhattan and eventually move to a high-rise penthouse on the Upper West Side. As Antonia's voice begins to fade, she and Hoffmann open a school for voice in Greenwich Village. In the evenings, they enjoy spending time with friends at a local karaoke bar and occasionally performing duets. Antonia recently scored a small part in a Woody Allen movie; look for a character wearing a bright green, feathered hat.

Think Pretty Woman in Italy. Hoffmann sings an impassioned aria that sways Giulietta to give up all of her men and go for the happily ever after. They move to a wealthy and exclusive neighborhood in Rome where Giulietta becomes a diamond dealer and makes enough money to support Hoffmann's dream of settling down to write an opera: the story of a composer who works night and day to write a tragically beautiful opera but dies before it's finished.

Hoffmann decides, "What the hey?" and attends her performance in Don Giovanni. He is so incredibly moved that he decides to give up drinking and make a fresh start. The pair move into a lovely apartment in Venice overlooking the canal and, despite the odd screaming match fueled by the artistic temperament, find a fulfilling life together.

So there are Hoffmann's happily-ever-afters…but none of them would make a very interesting opera. So I suppose it's a good thing Hoffmann never found true happiness. Otherwise, the audience would be snoozing in the aisles.

See you next week!