Archive for the ‘the metropolitan opera’ Tag
Since I first sang the praises of my friend, soprano Heidi Melton on jcm, she has moved several steps closer to the exposure that her prodigious gifts hinted at. I’m very excited to share with you (Melton fans and newbies alike) my new e-interview with her: she, in Berlin, sidled up to her laptop with frosty brew-in-hand, and me, in San Francisco, eagerly awaiting her return to SFO, in 2011. Ah, it’s the next best thing to sitting down in-person at a pub!
It’s not surprising that, despite the 5,657 miles between us, her appeal, warmth, irrepressible sense of humor, and passion for her art still shine through. Enjoy this glimpse into her life, career and heart…
jcm: What is your very first memory of singing or performing?
HM: I suppose that my first memory of music would be of my grandma sitting next to me on the piano bench, teaching me how to play. It is how I spent the majority of my formative years, and was very gratifying.
jcm: Are you from a musical family? Or, were your gifts helped along in any way in your childhood home?
HM: My family has always loved music, although not necessarily opera. But, they have really started finding an appreciation for it — except for my sister, who still feels that opera sounds like someone is stepping on nails! My grandma went to college for piano performance, so that was always a part of my home, but I will admit to not really discovering opera until I was about 14 or 15.
jcm: Have you always been on track to be a performer, and when did your trajectory shift towards opera?
HM: When I first started applying to undergraduate schools, I did so under music performance and music education. I applied mostly to state schools in Washington, but I had my one “pie in the sky” school, which was the Eastman School of Music. I was accepted into Eastman, but only as a music education major. I wasn’t good enough to get into their performance program. Anyhow, I’ve never been good at accepting a “no,” so I worked hard and juried into performance, and haven’t looked back.
jcm: When did it become clear that your voice was that very special and true dramatic soprano, like one of your favorites, Régine Crespin, or perhaps even a Hochdramatische (“heroic”), like another favorite, Astrid Varnay? Is it a pressure, or instead empowering to know you hold this rare gift?
HM: It does seem to be heading in that direction, doesn’t it? I do consider it a gift, and with any gift comes responsibility, so I am just trying to do all that I can to ensure that I give “the beast” everything that it needs to be the best it can be. But to answer your question, it is both a pressure and empowering.
> “Violetta”, “Manon”, “The Countess”
> La Traviata, Manon, Capriccio
> Verdi, Massenet, Strauss
> Lacroix, Lagerfeld, Galliano
> Levine, Armiliato, Summers
ALL this and more:
The Metropolitan Opera Opening Night,
Starring Renée Fleming
San Francisco channel & airdate (check local listings):
Sun, Mar 22, 2009 — 1:00 pm
Although she is one of the favorite operatic punching bags of online opera-queens, she got where she did for a reason (sumptuous tone, undeniable beauty, and commitment to her craft), and has a lot to offer. No, she may not dig to the deepest levels of kunst-divadom, and has her jazzy and often unidiomatic way with phrases, but when I’ve seen her live she has always delivered… and then some. So, don’t miss out on this historic gala!
Here’s the promotional pitch:
“Renée Fleming, one of the world’s leading sopranos, headlines the opening night gala of the Met’s 125th anniversary season (recorded last September), featuring fully-staged excerpts from three of her favorite operas. Joined by tenor Ramon Vargas, baritones Thomas Hampson and Dwayne Croft, and bass Robert Lloyd, Fleming appears in the second act of Verdi’s La Traviata, the third act of Massenet’s Manon, and the final scene from Strauss’s Capriccio. Music Director James Levine and Maestros Marco Armiliato and Patrick Summers share the podium for this gala event.”
Although I’ve waxed poetic on my friend and diva-on-the-brink (of fame, that is) Heidi Melton elsewhere, this is my first time to share that GOSPEL in this forum.
San Francisco has been blessed with her presence, thanks to her status as a Merolini and Adler Fellow (shouldn’t it be “Fella”, in a divas’ case?) for the past 3 years. Her performances at multiple outdoor events here, including Opera in the Parks have been the unqualified treats, especially the rather rare “Ozean du Ungeheuer”, from Weber’s pre-Wagnerian Oberon last year.
My introduction to her art was at the 2006 Merola Grand Finals, where her presence and commitment alone made her a stand out, not to mention her voluminous tone and clear expressive gifts. I always eagerly attend that annual event, with a keen eye on who the next possible greats may be. She was clearly in that category. My next experience of her was her company debut as Diana in Iphigenie en Tauride, which REALLY left one wanting more, as she only graced about 3 minutes of music, sung ethereally from the Dress Circle balcony.
Never did I imagine I would attend a production of Der Rosenkavalier in which the Marianne Leitmetzerin (gotta love the surname) stole the show. In this 2007 SFO production Joyce Didonato was wonderful as Octavian, but perhaps a bit small-voiced for the role at this stage of her career. Heidi’s performance was for me the most memorable of that night. I’ve seen Don Joses steal the spotlight from Carmens, and Amnerises from Aidas, but this was an even bigger stretch. Thanks to Elza Van der Heever’s withdrawal, due to replacing another diva as Donna Anna, Heidi was able to step in to this role.
My own SFO stage debut as a “Super” (ie: Extra, aka SILENT!) was in Philip Glass’ World Premiere Appomattox. Heidi played the crazed Mary Todd Lincoln. I was thankful to connect with Heidi on a personal level during that production, to watch her weave her magic spell from the backstage wings, and to enjoy my “15 minutes” every night, as a looter who is shot and falls dramatically to his death in the flight from Fort Richmond scene.
I was able to enjoy a private preview of her Schwabacher Debut Recital in her accompanist John Parr’s home. The neighbors must have settled in to their couches and gone through a few bags of popcorn before that very special night was over. It was transcendent for me. (See my past musings on that recital here.) And, the recent Adler “The Future is Now” concert showcased Heidi in her stage debut in “Weh, ach wehe, dies zu dulden,” a scene from Tristan und Isolde (paired with the potent Brangane of Daveda Karenas). Heidi has stated that this excerpt may be one of the easiest things she’s ever sung. Clearly she was born to sing it, and although only performing a portion of a role that would require much more stamina, in a much longer night, she left one wanting nothing from the performance, other than the opportunity to experience ALL of it! She provides that thrill only a true dramatic soprano can provide, that rafter-shaking, fully supported, but still on-the-breath sound. But, she is more than just a big voice, she is a true developing artist, one who believes in and connects fully to her material and the character at hand, and loves her art.
On February 4th, I attended Heidi’s Salon at the Hotel Rex. It was a great opportunity to enjoy her talents in a very intimate setting. I hope that this salon series continues successfully, as they strip away the costumes, sets, and pomp of the opera house, and present an artist in an almost home-like setting, much like one would imagine in times of old.
Her recital included Purcell’s (arr: Britten) “The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation”, which provided some small opportunities for Heidi to show her flexibility, in vocal runs throughout. Next were Berg’s “Sieben frühe Lieder”, which were presented very idiomatically, as they are just a step away from Strauss, a composer to which Heidi’s talents are perhaps best suited, and whose work she is most passionate about.
Selections from Messiaen’s “Hawari” and Debussy’s “Trois Chansons de Bilitis” were next up. She embraced the sensuality of the Bilitis, and of the french language itself. She also shared engaging insights, with John Parr’s embellishment before each set to give the audience some background and context, including the inuendos of “La Flute de Pan”, which are hardly subtle! She ended with Bolcom’s “Toothbrush Time”, “Waitin'” and “George”. These latter more cabaret style songs showed Heidi’s comedic gifts.
I was deeply touched by “Waitin'”, which could very well be done by Alison Kraus, as its simplicity of melody and message felt almost bluegrass or folksong-like in style:
“Waitin, waitin, I’ve been waitin.Waitin, waitin, all my life. That light keeps on hiding from me. But is someday just might bless my sigh. Waitin.”
During a Q&A afterwards a member of the audience asked if we could expect to see any actual cabaret from Heidi. This might be the closest we get to “cabaret” for her, once she steps further into the dramatic operatic rep, but she’s surely capable of going down that path as well, should she wish to. I’m still dying to hear her do “Bill” from Showboat as an encore! When asked what role she would love to do that belonged to another vocal type, she responded “The Dutchman”. And, in response to inquiries about who her favorites were, she professed a love for Astrid Varnay, Regine Crespin, and Anna Moffo, among others. She also shared that it would be 10-15 years or so before we’d have the pleasure of experiencing her in the entire role of Isolde. I’m so very pleased she is doing things right and is going to take things in their right time.
As I shared with her after the recital, she was and is “Hochdramatische, Chanteuse, and a coloratura Blessed Virgin…all rolled into one.”
What’s upcoming for her, you ask? This Sunday, March 8 at 2:30, Heidi performs Messiaen’s complete hour-long epic Harawi song cycle (on the theme of Tristan and Isolde) at Old First Church, www.oldfirstconcert s.org. This spring, she returns to L’Opera de Bordeaux to sing her role debut of Elisabeth in Tannhäuser. This summer she understudies international dramatic soprano extraordinaire in Alceste, with Santa Fe Opera. And, the following season will understudy Voigt as Chrysothemis at the Met! What a crime that one can’t plan for understudy performances, or my tickets would be purchased for both debuts!