Monday, 13 June 2016

Opera-Talk with Angela Meade

5th June

Being based in Berlin at the moment I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview American soprano Angela Meade who is currently doing the run of Il Trovatore at Deutsche Oper Berlin. Here is the result:

You are known for your Bel Canto and early Verdi roles. What is it that attracts you to this repertoire?
Verdi and the Bel Canto repertoire speak to my soul the way a lot of other composers don’t. I love the visceral aspect of the music. I love the emphasis on the meaning of the words via an extended musical thought. Many people have asked me about when I will take on Wagner and while I’m learning to appreciate it, it doesn’t give me the immediate emotional response Verdi, Donizetti, Rossini and Bellini do.
Most of your roles feature a lot of vocal acrobatics, which you master so easily. How do you prepare for these demands?
It takes a lot of practice. Singing coloratura, pianissimo high notes and maintaining excellent breath control throughout a role, takes practice. When I first started singing this repertoire, it obviously took more time because the trademark passagework was new and unfamiliar to me. The more I sing this repertoire though, the more easily it comes to me because the patterns and the style are the same. I remember when I was offered my first Rossini role (Semiramide), I thought to myself, “oh goodness, I don’t know if my voice will move that fast! There are SO many notes and how will I ever remember what comes next and what goes where” but of course it ended up being fine, it just took a lot of study to figure out what sorts of patterns Rossini uses and then to memorize those patterns. I sang a lot of Mozart throughout my schooling and the principles of singing all that Mozart translated into knowing how to sing Rossini as well as establishing my breath control for Bellini and Donizetti. Singing Verdi well comes out of the ability to sing Bel Canto well. All singing should be based on a good Bel Canto foundation. 
How do you start learning a new role?
I like to listen through many recordings with as many of my inspirational singers (Caballé, Sutherland, Margaret Price, Jessye Norman, Leontyne Price, Callas) as possible to get a flavour for the piece, with score in hand and see how it strikes me initially. I’ll research what the story is and if there is original source material to read, I’ll read it. Then I’ll start translating the score into my native tongue so that I can make more sense of the flow of the text. After that, I’ll take it to the piano and work through recitatives because they take the longest to inhabit your body. The sweeping melodies of arias and ensembles sink in fast, but the recitatives take longer to settle and are more reliant on others so that you have a flow of natural speech. Once I’ve worked on the music and text on my own for a while, I’ll take it to a coach.
What is you dream role? Have you sung it yet?
I don’t know that I have a dream role. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a dream role. I’m very fortunate that I adore the repertoire I sing, but I’m not certain there is one role over another that I would rather sing. I have already sung the vast majority of the standard (and some not so standard) Bel Canto and early Verdi repertoire. I have enjoyed all of it. There are many sections of various roles that I find move me more than others. For example: Act IV of Il Trovatore; Act IV of Ernani; the end of Act 1 of Anna Bolena and the final scena; the very end of Norma when she is pleading with her father; the final scena of Beatrice di Tenda; the duet with Jacopo in I Due Foscari; Parisina’s Act II aria into the sleeping scena; Com’è bello and the obscure inserted cabaletta of Lucrezia Borgia. I am an emotionally sensitive person, so situational drama in terms of death (of my own character or another) seem to move me the most.
What is the future bringing? Any new roles? More in Europe?
I am finding myself in Europe more and more. I will be doing concert versions of Rossini’s Ermione in Moscow, Lyon and Paris, all of which will be debuts for me, as well as Norma at Teatro Real in Madrid in October and Anna Bolena at Teatro de la Maestranza in Seville in December. The new year will bring with it a new role, that of Lina in Stiffelio at ABAO in Bilabo.
Do you have an idol /role model?
I would probably have to say overall it would be Montserrat Caballé.  I think I’m a pretty sensitive singer and I would say I learned how to float pianissimos from listening to her. I love the beauty and the sincerity she brings to her portrayals.
What made you want to be a singer?
I always dreamed of being a singer, although I had little to no knowledge about opera and classical singing as a child so I didn’t know that was an option as a career. I suppose I could say it found me. I was in community college thinking I was going to be a doctor. I was taking all sorts of pre-med classes but wasn’t fulfilled or engaged in what I was doing. As an elective, I was participating in the college choir and it was there that I felt part of something I loved to do. The director of the college choir approached me and pointed out that I was musical and had a lovely voice and wanted to know if I had interest in studying voice with a friend of hers. I was immediately in love with the idea. So I went to study with him and he introduced me to opera. He gave me a couple of operatic arias (Susanna’s Deh vieni, non tardar and Cleopatra’s V’adoro pupille”) and I instantly fell in love with the style of the music and the how natural this type of singing felt to me. I loved how I felt when I sang this type of music. It felt free to me. It felt like I was able to access deep emotions and express them through my voice. So I decided after about a year of study with him, I transferred to a four year university to pursue my bachelor’s degree in vocal performance and it all snowballed from there. I had become completely taken with this thing called opera. I was so curious about everything. I wanted to learn everything about it.
How would you describe your voice yourself?
What a hard question for a singer to answer about themselves because the way I perceive my voice I don’t think is necessarily how the audience perceives it.
I hear honey in my voice in the top when I sing pianissimos. I hear metal sometimes in the middle to upper passaggio when I sing Verdi and some of the more dramatic Bel Canto like Norma. I think my voice is loud and full of presence but not in a harsh way, but more in a round, warm, enveloping way.  I think my voice is full of overtones. I think it has the ability to be very colourful and to express different emotions.
You’re currently singing Leonora in Il Trovatore here in Berlin. What kind of woman is she for you and what vocal difficulties does the role have?
Leonora is a strong woman on the outside who is scared and delicate on the inside. She wants nothing more than to love and be loved by Manrico. When put in a situation she can’t handle emotionally, she goes to extremes. First when she thinks Manrico is dead, she commits her life to a convent and then when she thinks he is dead or going to be killed at the end of the opera, she takes her own life to save his or to be with him in death.  She can’t fathom life without him.
Vocally speaking, the demands on Leonora are immense. Verdi has given her every technical demand. She must sing long legato lines; soaring, floated high notes; she must ride over the ensemble in Act II; she must move from floating in the highest registers down into her middle and chest voice in just a page and she must have incredible stamina to move through D’amor, the Miserere and Tu Vedrai seamlessly. Act IV is the most intense for her because the singing demands are nonstop.
The production of Hans Neuenfels is quite progressive even though it is 20 years old. How do you experience it as someone who is involved?
When I first learned what the production was, I was a little taken back because I thought a lot of it had nothing to do with the text or even the story in general. It is hard to bring a character to life when your circumstances are counterintuitive to what you’re saying. The more I rehearsed though,  the more I was like “oh ok I guess I can sort of see how this might work”. You have to start to think about it in a different way. It has been a very interesting experience for me to think about her differently than I always have. Even though I’m a traditionalist in terms of productions, I can now see how this production explores and emphasizes the darker side of the story and of people and humanity in general.
What do you think about Berlin and the Deutsche Oper?
Berlin has really grown on me. I was just saying to my husband the other day that if we had to move Europe, that I could definitely see myself living in Berlin. Last time I was only here for a week or ten days so this time I’ve been able to settle into the lifestyle of the city. The vibe is relaxed and peaceful and I like that. Coming to sing at Deutsche Oper has been a pleasure both times. It’s a great house with lots of international artists, so you feel like you are at home, even though you aren’t. It’s very welcoming and inviting. 

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