Q & A: Soprano Julie Fuchs On Her Current Role As La Comtesse Adèle At The Rossini Opera FestivalBy Alan Neilson
(Photo: Olivier Metzger)
One of the many stars appearing at this summer’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro is the French soprano Julie Fuchs, who is making her festival debut as La Comtesse Adèle in “Le Comte Ory.”
Known for her dazzling singing, versatile acting and innate musicality she has wowed audiences in both concert halls and theaters across Europe in a variety of comic and straight roles, ranging from the early baroque to contemporary opera.
OperaWire’s review from the 2021 Aix-en-Provence festival, in which she starred as Susanna In “Le Nozze di Figaro” and had the audience laughing out loud with her comical presentation, noted her “playfulness and mock shock, all done with a degree of exaggeration to force home the humor of the situation,” predicated on “her confident, intelligent and sensitive” singing.
Although by no means restricted to comedy parts, La Comtesse Adèle happens to be another role requiring Fuch’s comedic talents, which she successfully allied to an emotionally sensitive understanding of the character to produce a wonderfully detailed and engaging portrait.
“Le Comte Ory” is scheduled for four performances, running until August 19. She was kind enough to interrupt her busy schedule for this interview with OperaWire.
OperaWire: You are currently starring in “Le Comte Ory” at the Rossini Opera Festival. The director Hugo De Ana uses Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights” as the setting for the production. What are thoughts about the production?
Julie Fuchs: In my opinion, “The Garden of Earthly Delights” defines the spirit of the production. It is a surrealistic representation, not a literal one. In any case, I don’t think Hell and Paradise will be that different. As an actress, it was all quite natural, it all made sense, everything developed in a logical way, and the scenery and costumes are fantastic, they are so beautiful.
OW: How do you see your character La Comtesse Adèle?
JF: Inside herself she’s crazy, confused. She doesn’t really know what to do. On the one hand she’s very prudish, but in the end she is super-attracted to Isolier, but it could have been anybody. She is very impulsive, and this is something that comes across in Rossini’s music: you have these big, long lines, then all of a sudden it becomes short and quick and with passages of coloratura. I love the freedom it gives me as a singer to interpret the music, and to display Adèle’s personality, her desires and impulsivity. It is absolutely not all about technique, and this is very important to me.
I don’t see Adèle as being corrupted in any way, she is just looking to see who is there, and it happens to be Isolier, so she thinks, ah ha ok, this is fine! As I say, she is a little bit crazy, but not in a psychological way. The opera is not about that.
I love playing the character a lot, its quite organic and the music suits my body and I enjoy it. It is also interesting singing bel canto in a role which is not particularly a romantic one.
OW: What are the challenges of the role?
JF: Firstly, It is a very long role, and requires so much from the singer; it has passages for high and low registers, and a lot of coloratura, long coloraturas with no space to breathe. In the aria “En proie à la tristesse” for example you have to produce many light lines, but then the role also requires a lot of quick-fire delivery, with lots of things to say and sing. It also has its lyrical passages, such as in the storm scene, which is challenging to sing, as there is a large chorus and the orchestra is loud. It is all very dramatic. Then there is the trio, there are long lines which then changes, requiring a militaresque type of singing, which is actually quite tiring.
OW: I am surprised you said tiring because you always seem so energetic and fresh on stage. Do you get actually tired on stage?
JF: It makes me very happy to hear that. I think it’s all down to my technique and acting skills.
Although to be honest, I was more tired at the intermission than at the end of the performance. I think this is because I still haven’t had time to adjust emotionally to the situation, and I find that the longer I am on stage the less tired I feel.
OW: Where does Rossini rank as a composer for you as a singer?
JF: At the top! But then I have about 10 composers at the top of my list.
Seriously though, there is Rossini and Mozart and one or two baroque composes which are up there for me. Then, of course, there is Debussy and Poulenc. I am not trying to include everybody here, for example, I still haven’t yet come to terms with Verdi, or Puccini, but in the latter case there are not many roles I would be able to sing.
Rossini is definitely in my top three. He is not just about joy and fun, there is also depth in his music and there is a craziness about his music I love. He also tells stories in a very entertaining way, and this is what we need sometimes.
OW: I have seen you perform twice now, both of which included a lot of comedy. Sitting in the audience, it is something for which you appear to have a real gift. Do you work on it, or is a natural talent?
JF: It is a difficult question for me to answer. I think It is quite natural.
What I do know is that I have always been attracted to the stage. I’m amazed by the idea of theatre, that it was developed so early on, and that even then, humans understood that they could go on stage and say things, things which would help humanity.
OW: Is this what moved you towards opera?
JF: I played the violin when I was young, and studied literature and theatre as well as enjoying opera, so in a way it was almost natural I should gravitate towards singing. Then when I discovered that I actually had a voice, it all came to together, and I moved onto the stage. It felt like a natural thing to do. I feel happy on the stage.
OW: You are performing alongside an excellent cast, including Juan Diego Flórez with whom you seem to have a natural rapport.
JF: Yes, we have a super-natural rapport, but also too with Maria Kataeva, who is playing Isolier. Acting and singing together with them feels so natural.
I am also very jealous of Diego because he has the funniest scene in the opera, which he sings with a chorus of nuns. It is brilliantly done, so funny, so well choreographed. When I leave the stage and watch them all go on, I want to go on as well. It is great, and Diego performs the part so well.
You know, sometimes we think too much about technique. I receive a lot of questions from young singers asking how they can improve. My answer is that singing is about pleasure. Pleasure can lead you in the right direction. Pleasure gives you the confidence and a natural sense of what you should be doing on stage. It sounds easy, but it’s not, you still have to work a lot, and you still need the technique. I think someone on stage who is enjoying what they’re doing, enjoying working with others, enjoying telling the story is in a good place. Their singing flows from this. This is the situation I find myself in now with this cast. I feel pleasure singing with them.
OW: You have a very versatile voice, which you use for so many different types of performance. Do you have any preferences, for example, concert hall or theatre, comic or straight roles, contemporary or baroque opera, or do you just like singing?
JF: I need everything. I love doing whatever I’m doing at that moment. So when I’m doing an opera I love the energy of being with other people, telling a story, performing in front of a large audience. However when I’m doing a recital, I start to think how much I have missed the intimacy of a small audience. It also allows me to choose my partner, and the details I want to work on, which is also quite nice. I also like the fact there’s nowhere to hide. It’s good for an artist to be In a situation where they have to be honest, where they cannot fake what they’re doing. Obviously, it can be quite a challenge, but this is just another aspect I like.
I also need variety in the operas I perform. I always like to do at least one baroque opera each year, one bel canto work, and, of course, plenty of Mozart. I feel blessed that I am in a situation in which I have the option to do this every year. I am artistically fulfilled, and this is how I define success.
OW: You are releasing a new CD this November. What is the theme of the disk?
JF: It will be a CD of pieces by Mozart called “Amadè” recorded with Thomas Hengelbrock and the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble. It is a mix of known and not so well known pieces, two of which will actually be world premiere recordings. Yes, it is possible! One is a special version of an aria for the Contessa he wrote for Caterina Cavalieri, and the other is a cantata he wrote for Nancy Storace. The idea of the CD is to a follow the aging process of a woman, so it includes arias by Barbarina, Susanna, the Contessa, along with many other characters.