Tuesday, November 15, 2011

BLO Exposed, continued

During last Wednesday's performance of Macbeth, we held our first ever BLO Exposed: An intermission conversation bringing you closer to the opera. We featured BLO Music Director David Angus in conversation with artists from Macbeth live from the stage. We took questions from the audience, who tweeted us their questions. (@BostLyricOpera)

We didn't get to all the questions, so we've answered more of them here! Join us at a Wednesday performance during intermission for the next installment of BLO Exposed.

To David Angus:
How do you think Macbeth compares to Otello and Falstaff?
Those other two are his final works and are in a much more developed style of writing, where the orchestra plays much more complex music and everything is much more dramatic and continuous. Macbeth is an early work, in the older style of separate "tunes" for each character to say how they feel.  I love both styles--the simple and attractive one that makes us all smile with pleasure, and the richer one which is more exciting and real.

What is your favorite part of the performance?
In most operas my favourite bits are the big ensembles, when everyone is singing together about their own feelings. It is so complex and overwhelming. If they really all sing the same things together, like the ends of Act 1 and Act 2 of Macbeth, the emotional power of the music blows me away! There are also fantastic arias (solos) and duets which I also love. 

Can you tell us about how unusual it was in Verdi's time to have three trombones in opera? And can you tell us about the Cimbasso?
It was quite normal to have 3 trombones and either a bass trombone or a Cimbasso which is just a giant member of the trombone family. What they didn't have was a modern tuba, which makes a much fatter sound and doesn't fit so well with the trombones in this sort of music, although the tuba has been used instead for the last 100 years. I am very glad that we are going back to bass trombone and cimbasso, to get a harder brighter and clearer sound.

Was that the Italian anthem when the king arrived?
Absolutely not!  It is a very light-hearted bit of music.  However, the unofficial Italian "Anthem" is a very famous chorus by Verdi from his opera Nabucco (Va pensiero) which everyone here would recognise but in Italy everyone would sing along with the correct words. It was written before Macbeth, and those big ensembles that I talked about above are in the same style--a big unison melody (without any harmony) sung mostly very quietly by a large chorus, accompanied by a simple pattern--like a waltz--in the orchestra. It is very beautiful and moving.

How true to Shakespeare is Verdi's Macbeth?
Very true to the spirit and story, but not the actual words, because they were translated.  Verdi simplified the story greatly (it would have been much much too long if he had set it all to music) but kept the characters and the relationships the same. He added a few bits, such as the wonderful chorus of the Scottish Refugees, probably to please his political audience.

What goes into preparation for conducting Macbeth?
About a year of study--on and off--listening to very many recordings, studying the vocal score at the piano, studying and marking the full orchestral score at my desk for weeks, reading all about it in reference books, and then working with the singers and orchestra for 4 weeks solidly before we perform it.

To Carter Scott:
What is your dream role?
I have is Minnie in Puccini's La fanciulla del West, which I will be singing with Knoxville Opera for the first time, the second is Bruennhilde in The Ring Cycle by Wagner.

To Daniel Sutin:
Is it hard to sing while lying down?
I do not mind it is a challenge to see how close you can get to the Director"s vision.

Is this part a dream role for you? How does it feel? What's it like to portray a villain?
This part is truly a dream role for me that I waited for twenty years to sing. It is one of the greatest Verdi roles for the baritone. I am glad I debuted this role at BLO; working with a great team of David Angus and David Schweitzer. Boston is a town that really appreciates opera. Villains in opera have much more music to sink their teeth into, that for the most part are the most interesting of the baritone roles and everyone can enjoy watching them. Of all the roles I have sung Scarpia, Iago, Paolo,and Tonio, Macbeth is one of the greatest musical challenges.

To the witches (answered by Marie McCarville):
It seems like you carry the opera. Is that a lot of pressure?
Rather than carry the opera as if it were a large weight, I see the chorus of witches as an integral force of controlled energy and sound that push the main characters to their limits of depravity and nobleness. Instead of pressure, I feel challenged in the best sense of the word.  Every chance I have to be on stage, to create the witch persona, to literally vibrate with sound singularly or in unanimity with my fellow choristers is absolute exhilaration. It is also absolutely exhausting!!!

About the production:
How many singers and orchestra members and directors are involved with this production?

36 choristers
1 conductor
54 orchestra members
8 principal singers
7 supers
2 directors (Stage and Assistant)
1 movement director
1 fight director

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