Friday, January 22, 2010
A Chat with Mary Elizabeth Williams
Meet Mary Elizabeth Williams. The young singer is currently making her Seattle Opera debut as Leonora in Il Trovatore (Sundays/Fridays), though you may also remember her from the 2000/01 Young Artists Program. Here she tells us a bit about why she loves singing Leonora, how she prepares for a performance, and how she's been spending her free time in Seattle.
You were a Young Artist here, but this is your mainstage debut at Seattle Opera. How did it feel to take the stage at McCaw Hall?
It has been fabulous so far! I'm looking forward to the next two performances of the silver cast Trovatore at McCaw. The acoustics are very fun to sing in, and I love the expansive feeling of the hall. It's a huge honor for me to have been asked to perform in a principal role at Seattle Opera, and I am enjoying every minute of the process.
How did the Young Artists Program benefit you as an artist?
The Seattle Opera YAP was the first young artist program I was chosen for, and it helped me begin my journey as a student artist. The years immediately following school are so important, especially for larger, slower-to-mature voices like mine. I needed a place to learn and grow with positive guidance and opportunities to hone my stagecraft—all while keeping in mind that I was only 23 and had a great deal of growing up to do, musically, artistically, and vocally—and that's exactly what I got from Seattle Opera.
How many times have you sung Leonora?
This is my third time singing the role, and my fourth time being involved in a production. My first experience with Il Trovatore was covering Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora when I was a young artist at the Opéra National de Paris. Every time I am involved in the production of this opera, I marvel at the beauty and the power of this music. Verdi has given us something new to discover every time we open the score.
Why is Leonora a role you enjoy?
Well, I think the primary reason I enjoy singing Leonora has to be the aforementioned genius of the composer. I just love this music, and I feel transported to a different realm when I sing it. I also enjoy the difficulty level of this opera—it's just difficult enough to sing that it keeps me on my toes all the time, but it's not impossible! It's like taking a hard test on a subject that you have loved studying.
How do you make it your own?
Over the six years that I have been studying and performing this role on and off, I have enjoyed learning the intricacies of the score—the dialogue (even in the scenes that I'm not in!), the colors of the orchestra, the dynamic markings...the list is endless. The more I know it and sing it, the more I absorb it organically. It's that organic understanding that allows me, finally, to put aside all that I have studied and trust myself, in the moment, to react to the other characters and musicians around me. That, I think, is when it really gets fun—both for me and for the audience.
How have performances gone so far?
I can't complain! Luckily, I am not a perfectionist. My goal, each night, is to give the best performance I can that day. So far, I think I've done that. I, of course, find things I'd like to do differently, and that's why I'm so grateful that singing Leonora will be a career-long adventure. I have time to experiment.
Do you have any opening night or pre-performance rituals?
Well, I try not to have any hard and fast rules because I've found that when I do, the cosmos invariably breaks my rules for me! In general, I like to have a good, centering work-out, which wakes up my body. I like to eat food that will give me lots of energy, like protein and salad. I drink lots of fluids. I warm up my voice slowly and generously. Right before I go onstage, I think about my Daddy, who passed in 2001 and never really got to see me perform at this level. I like to think that he is in the hall with me, listening and smiling.
What do you like to do in Seattle when you’re not performing?
When I'm working away from home, I have a tendency to go to many movies because it makes me happy to sit in the dark with popcorn and get lost in a story. I have done a little sightseeing here in Seattle; my mother came for Christmas, and we went up in the Space Needle. She's coming back for the last show and I'm planning a ferry ride for us. I have also done a little dating, believe it or not!
What’s coming up next for you?
I am heading to Atlanta right after this production ends to do my first Aida with the Atlanta Opera. To be honest, I'm a little nervous—but it's comforting to know that Antonello Palombi [currently performing as Manrico in Trovatore] is my Radames. Besides the fact that I admire enormously his talent onstage, we are good friends offstage, too! I know we'll have great fun.
Photos © Rozarii Lynch