Interviews Stage Spotlight

Q & A: Soprano Layla Claire On Her First ‘Alcina’ & Expanding Into More Baroque Repertoire

Layla Claire is recognized as one of the rising stars of the opera world, having performed at some of the most acclaimed theaters in the world.

A graduate of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Metropolitan Opera, Claire has specialized in the works of  Mozart and Handel and has also performed operas by Britten. She is also a noted interpreter of the character of Anne Trulove in “The Rake’s Progress,” an opera she has sung in Pittsburgh and the Metropolitan Opera.

This season, she makes her highly anticipated role debut as “Alcina,” one Handel’s most demanding and iconic roles, at the International Händel Festival in Karlsruhe. Performances will kick off on Feb. 16 with subsequent shows on the 18th, 21st, 24th, and 27th. She previously appeared at the Festival in 2016 to sing the role of Tusnelda in “Arminio.”

Claire spoke to OperaWire about her decision to sing the role, the challenges of the undertaking and her process of learning the music.

OperaWire: What are the unique vocal challenges of singing a role like Alcina? 

Layla Claire: The vocal challenges of Alcina are that she has six lengthy da capo arias which require stamina and a thoughtful pacing of energy.

OW: How do you view Alcina as a character? What is challenging about portraying her?

LC: I have always been fascinated by witches, their manipulative charms, and their underlying ugliness. “Witches” by Roald Dahl was my favorite book as a kid. I love the challenge of playing a character who at first wields tremendous power and beauty but then gradually loses it, and disintegrates into her true grotesqueness.

OW: How do you prepare such a massive role like Alcina? What is your process?

LC: I always start learning a role by reading and translating the entire libretto. I don’t want to start singing until I know exactly what I’m saying. Then with this role, I played around a lot with the tempi until I found something that fit both the music, the storytelling and my vocalism.

OW: How are you different and similar to Alcina?

LC: There was a time when I enjoyed indulging in the games and power plays of romance like Alcina. However, at the moment, I’m pretty far away from that as I’m in love with my beautiful young family.

OW: Do you have any favorite recordings? Do you have any favorite interpreters?

LC: When I started to learn the role last year I listened to the earliest recordings I could find and some of the most recent to hear how the tempi and ornamentation tastes have changed over the years, which is fascinating. But as I get closer to the performances I try not to listen to anyone else so that I can develop my own interpretation.

OW: Your repertoire also includes a lot of Mozart. How is Handel’s music similar and different to that of Mozart? Do you have a preference and what fits better for you vocally?

LC: They are similar vocally but I really love the creativity and personal stamp you get to put on Handel da capo arias with ornamentation and cadenzas. They were designed so that they could be tailored to fit the singer’s voice and show off strengths like acrobatic coloratura or mezzo di voce.

OW: What is the biggest challenge of singing baroque music?

LC: Adjusting to the lower pitch (A-415 Hz) can take a bit of concentration. While I love singing baroque repertoire in that pitch, it takes a moment to adjust my ear and the muscle memory, especially after singing a lot of classical repertoire.

OW: Are you interested in exploring more of Handel’s music? If so, what are some of the roles you would like to sing?

LC: I’d love to sing more Handel roles, certainly Rodelinda and Genevra. I also take my queue from Anna Maria Strada who in 1735 was the first Alcina. She was Handel’s Prima Donna for many years and sang Partenope, Atalanta, Angelica as well as Thusnelda in “Arminio” which was my first role here at The International Handel Festival in Karlsruhe.

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