Interview: The ‘Vicenza in Lirica’ Cast On Taking On Purcell’s ‘King Arthur’ & Love For Baroque Music

By Alan Neilson

One of the events at this year’s “Vicenza in Lirica” was a production of Henry Purcell’s semi-opera “King Arthur,” in collaboration with the Conservatory “A. Pedrollo” of Vicenza, which provided a marvellous opportunity for its students to perform in front of the paying public in the magnificent surroundings of the Teatro Olimpico, the oldest indoor theatre in Europe. OperaWire was kindly given permission to talk with the students before and after the performance, allowing an insight into the thoughts of the young singers, who are are about to embark on a career in the world of opera.

Unfortunately, owing to rehearsals going on longer than scheduled, the pre-performance interview was severely curtailed, limited to brief introductions and descriptions of their experiences to date. Yet what emerged, was not just the enthusiasm they had for this project, which was to be expected, but the high level of seriousness and professionalism they brought with them. This was a group of well-focused, committed and enterprising young singers, with wide range of musical backgrounds.

Love for the Baroque

The soprano, Irene Brigitte, has a folk music background, both as a performer and songwriter, and went on to explain, “this is my first experience of singing in an opera. I actually specialize in contemporary folk music… but, there are a lot of examples of composers who have taken folk music and turned it into high art music, such as in the case of the dance music and refrains in Purcell.”

Michele Fracasso has a more traditional background. He started singing early, joining a local church choir, before eventually entering the conservatory, and has already picked up experience singing recitals and roles in romantic operas, but found that, “baroque opera, such as Monteverdi and Vivaldi, is more suitable for my voice, and I feel at home with this type of music.”

The Japanese soprano, Naoka Ohbayashi, also has substantial experience, having been singing since she “was two years old.” She has sung in the choir and in solo roles and admits to preferring “baroque and rock music.” Claudia Graziadei also started singing when she was a small child. In 2013, she started to perform opera, and has accumulated a diverse range of experience, having sung in “contemporary operas, as well as in Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo” here in last year.”

Teodora Tommasi had the good fortune to sing in the children’s choir at her local theatre in Trieste, where she obviously picked up her enthusiasm for opera, and has “decided to specialize in baroque opera” and said that she was “very excited to be able to sing in the amazing Teatro Olimpico.”

Alfredo Peretti added that “he is very nervous” as this was the first time he will be singing as a soloist, having been at the conservatory for only a year. Not everyone is, however, is embarking on their first career.

Lucie Anna Oberhollenzer, who graduated from the conservatory, before taking up a job as a music teacher, has now taken a new direction and returned to follow “her dream” as a singer.

Non-Singing Roles Made Easier

Purcell’s opera was presented as a semi-staged production. The stage was divided into two parts: on the right side of the stage, the orchestra, singers and chorus, whilst on the left, the non-singing, fully costumed actors, played out their parts. It was successful presentation, which created a nice balance between the musical and non-musical parts. Three young actors played the non-singing roles; Simone Dal Ponte played Oswald and Philidel, Eleonora Monteleone played Emmeline and Grimbald, and Marco Faccin played King Arthur and Osmond. They acted out their parts with a great deal of flair and skill, and managed to elevate the dramatic aspects, so that it became more than just a simple semi-staged presentation. They also had interesting thoughts on how their non-singing roles interacted with the musical side of the production. Marco drew attention to certain difficulties; “you have to pay more attention to the timing, and you must respect the roles of the singers, and of course, they must respect us.”

Eleonar agreed, “it is necessary to find a compromise with the singers. It is also important to find a connection so that we can relate to each other.”

Simone made a very interesting point, explaining that “the music can actually help you, since when you listen to the singers it is easier to enter into your own roles.” The dialogue was adapted by Marco, who also acted as the director. He did an excellent job on both counts, and given that he is only 18 years old, it is very likely that we shall a lot more of him in the future.

Vocal Challenges

It would, of course, have been unreasonable to expect the same standards from the conservatory singers as from a full-time professional cast of experienced singers, but it was certainly an excellent opportunity to view their potential, and it is fair to say that none of them disappointed, and many performances were very promising indeed. In the post-performance interview the singers were encouraged to talk about the challenges they faced singing their roles, and to discuss their thoughts on how they had performed.

Claudia Graziadei, playing the roles of Cupid, Honour and a Shepherdess, showed great confidence and professionalism and dominated her roles. Her voice displayed a bright texture with a fine coloratura and she made an excellent impression in characterizing the role through the voice. Her own assessment was very interesting and very honest: “This was the first time I have sung such a high-lying part, and I was quite scared at the beginning. Cupid is quite a powerful character, so I had to be really strong and I used the energy of the character to help me. In the end I was quite happy with the performance, although I know I could have done better, but I am very satisfied, it was good!”

At Teatro Malibran in Venice last April, Naoka Ohbayashi played the role of Filidea in “Zenobia, Regina de’ Palmireni”, and did not appear comfortable in the role. In this production, playing the roles of Venus, Philidel and a Siren, she made a far better impression; her voice evinced a beautiful timbre, which she used with a greater degree of surety and strength, there was less fussiness and she delivered a more direct and convincing performance. Her assessment was short, but direct, “I always approach performances in a very positive manner, and although I was happy with my performance, I was particularly pleased by my portrayal of Philidel.”

Other Insights

Michele Fracasso who played the parts of British Warrior, the Second Priest and Camus made an excellent impression in all three roles. He has a well-rounded tenor, which he used with great intelligence to craft well-thought through phrases, and paid attention to dynamic inflections and coloring.

He weighed his reflections on his performance carefully, “I enjoyed the role of the Second Priest because it is close to my own character; he is very serious – like me. Although the tessitura is not perfect for me, I was happy with my performance. I found the British Warrior very difficult to identify with; he is a strong person, and I am not. I needed to study books about warriors to understand him, but I think I sang it well. The role of Camus was also difficult for me to understand. I do not drink alcohol, but I really I enjoyed playing the role and the drunken scene.” Michele was by far the most animated of the singers. Commenting on his use of gestures to animate the role he explained, “I researched singers’ use of gestures in the baroque theatre, and then attempted to adapt them to modern tastes.” Overall, he was happy with how his performance went, “I had expectations before the concert, and I think I met them. I was very happy with the evening.”

Teodora Tommasi in the roles of a Nereid and a Priestess was also happy with her performance, but identified other concerns: “The main difficulty for me was the that the roles were only short, so I did not have much opportunity to impress, and no second chances.” She need not have worried as her strong, clear soprano has an appealing quality, and she performed very well indeed. Teodora also added, “I liked the energy of the orchestra, the other singers and the audience; everyone was so well-focused and concentrated, it was very enjoyable.”

Lucie Anna Oberhollenzer was parted in the role of a Priestess, and like Teodora felt “it was a only short role, and difficult to make a full impression.” She sang well, crafting controlled and thoughtful phrases. However, Lucie pointed out that, “it was very difficult for me to find the right voice. I am a mezzo, and this is a part for a contralto, so I had to sing much lower than I am used to.” Nevertheless, it was a successful performance, one which she was “very happy with.”

For her first ever performance singing opera, Irene Brigitte made an excellent impression in the roles of a Shepherdess, She and a Siren. No doubt drawing on her experience as a folk singer/writer she produced strongly defined characters, through the use of subtle dynamic and accented variations. As she pointed out, “they are very different roles, each with their own specific difficulties. I needed to unify my approach and, at the same time, differentiate the characters through intonation.” When asked about her thoughts on her performance she was very critical of herself, “I think I did some things well, but I recognize that there were problems.” Maybe, but this was an eye-catching performance from someone making there debut on the opera stage.

Throughout the evening the singers were supported by excellent playing from the orchestra, Crescere in Musica Baroque, under the direction of Sergio Gasparella. Opting for brisk tempi they maintained an engaging momentum, and gave a vibrant reading of the score. The performance of the orchestra cannot be understated; for this was an orchestra which contained many young musicians, some as young as 16-years-old, and with limited experience, although this was never in evidence, such was the high standard they maintained throughout the evening.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Not only was the performance of Purcell’s semi-opera performed to a high standard, but the quality, attitude and intelligence of the singers was very pleasing to observe, and each of them provided evidence of the excellent work carried out by the Conservatory “A.Pedrollo” of Vicenza.


InterviewsStage Spotlight