The Prague Summer Nights Festival, presented by Classical Movements, continues this weekend in Salzburg.
One of the artists performing this week includes Kristine Overman, a 21-year-old soprano who is currently studying at the University of Michigan and who is singing her second major opera role. Having performed with the Michigan Opera Theater as a young child, Overman has always been exposed to opera and with the Prague Summer Nights Festival, she is making her dreams come true.
OperaWire spoke to Overman about her work with the festival and the challenges of singing Mozart.
OperaWire: How did you first hear about Prague Summer Nights?
Kristine Overman: I’m an alumna of this program so when I was in school at the University of Michigan I saw a poster for Prague and I previously studied in Italy and I thought it could be a change of scenery. So I decided to audition for this, I got in so I decided to go. And it became one of the best experiences ever and that made me come back.
OW: What was so great about the first time you were here?
KO: When I came here I was at first pretty intimidated because I am a younger singer in the program and you have headliners like Sherrill Milnes and Maria Zouves being involved so you think this is going to be really intense so I need to bring A game and I did. And everyone was so supportive and so kind. By the end of that first year, we were really a family. It was so beautiful and I had never experienced anything like that. The teachers are incredible and they help you with your vocal technique and your style. And if you come to them with a problem about your career they give you advice and it is really a wholesome program.
OW: Last year when you came to the program you were in the chorus. Now you have a leading role. How has the experience been different from last year?
KO: Last year I was in the chorus and I did all the opera scenes and the jazz. The opera scenes is a very involved program and that is one difference because when you’re in the thick of the program it gets very busy. When you’re doing opera and scenes, you’re managing all of this music and that was really interesting last year. I got to learn how to memorize quickly and I learned to work with different styles of music very quickly. This year is more delving into a role and what to you need to do to develop it but still, keep me in the character. So it’s not less busy it’s just more specific work.
OW: : Tell me about learning the Countess and what you did to develop it?
KO: I think the Countess has been a dream role ever since I was introduced to her six months ago. I’m still in my undergrad and I did “Porgi Amor” for a scene which my teacher showed me. and I started looking at it and the text and the surroundings and I thought this woman is incredible and amazing. I’m all about trying to make opera really relevant and I don’t know a woman that hasn’t felt some of the feelings that she goes through. And at the same time really enjoy how she is going through a lot but she is such a good woman. She sings about faithfulness and having this enduring love for her husband and hoping that he will come back. And she is kind of firey sometimes and that is evident that that Rosina from the “Barber of Seville” is still there.
OW: What was it like to work with Sherrill Milnes and Maria Zouves?
KO: Maria and Sherrill were very adamant about going back to the Beaumarchais and reading that and having that translate into the opera and it does very easily. Sometimes it translates word for word and it’s very interesting. And I personally translated the entire opera and I would write down emotions and every time the countess was mentioned or somebody was talking to me, I would write down how that would make me feel and then once I had more context about how that would make the countess feel, Maria and Sherrill were helpful with taking all the research that I had done and taking all the research that they have under their belt, we kind of melded it together. Movement was the thing I struggled with and I am still trying to get a handle fo everything because we don’t concentrate on movement as much when you’re so young. We concentrate on it later. So what I did was concentrate on how she might address someone on stage, how she might look at the count, how she might act in her home. So things were really interesting to study and that helped me so much with facial expressions. It’s very to come at this role just be sad all the time. But to create different colors for scenes, they were really helpful.
OW: What has it been like to work with some of the more experienced singers in this program?
KO: I’m only 21 so this is actually only my second role in an opera. And it’s been fun because in my cast both the Susanna and one of the Figaros John Holland were here last year so we are all very good friends. I came in knowing that most of the cast was going to be older and more experienced than me. The only experience that I can bring is whatever I did in musical theater so I some movement. But my count is wonderful at helping me move in such a way that I will sing out. Sometimes there is an emphasis on talking to the person and I believe that you should make eye contact with the people you’re on stage with and some people don’t do that and it’s kind of something the audience can feel. So when you do that as a young performer you close yourself off and the sound doesn’t go the direction you want it to. and he is always trying to help me. It’s lovely.
OW: What has the experience been like to work in Prague and Tabor?
KO: The Prague audience knows so much and you be surrounded by the history and all these operas and works, there is always a lot of pressure when your audience knows almost as much as you do. Since they have seen so much theater, a lot of audience members are very receptive to new things. But at the same time, they are very analytical and sometimes there is not as much laughter if you do something funny. It’s very cool because they will always be very kind to you.
OW: How do you think performing here will affect you when you go back to school?
KO: I think when I go to Michigan, I hope that all my professors will say wow you look so great on stage. But ultimately my goal is to get as many tools as I possibly can to better myself in this stage of my artistry. I think when I come back I will have better knowledge of how to interact with people on stage and to how to just move around on stage and express myself in an intelligent way while I am singing. and also my song has come more forward because it’s not tiny and there is always a risk of it falling back. They are so great about focusing the sound because when you are singing the type of repertoire stamina is everything. I came in very nervous and I asked my teacher, “Can I actually do this?” And she said, “you’ll have to sing a couple of arias and I think you should take it.” And I accepted and with every lesson and staging it became easier and it came to a place that sounds good.
OW: How do you maintain the voice when you’re singing every day?
KO: For most people, we don’t sing full voice every day and that would be almost dangerous to sing full voice in opera everyday for a month. For most of the staging you mark or you don’t sing the high notes and there are many times in the finale when my part is equivalent to an alto part and I can do that mid-range all day. I’m not taking every single A or G every single day. Last year when I was in the chorus I could out with friends after every show and that was part of the experience. This year I really can’t and it’s not because I’m limited. It’s just because I am signing a lot. I talk less and I talk in a different place. And I only have one coffee a day and I don’t go out with friends for a beer. And I have to get sleep and you have to focus on taking care of your body. That is what you are using to perform. That is a great exercise in self-control.
OW: What is next after this program?
KO: I will be going back for my senior year at the University of Michigan and we will be doing a production of “Dinner at Eight” by William Bolcom. And then in the winter, we will be doing “Le Nozze di Figaro” and I will be auditioning and I think it will be really fun because I already have this role under my belt.