Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Chat with Andrew Stenson

With only two performances of Don Giovanni left, let's check in with tenor Andrew Stenson, who will sing the role of Don Ottavio at Saturday night's performance. He talks about singing Mozart, his take on this curious character, and his exciting plans for next season.

Andrew, tell us a little about your background. Why are there so many fine Korean opera singers?
I was born outside Seoul, Korea and adopted by an American family. My biological father died before I was born and my mother gave up the children for adoption. I was immediately put into foster care until I was adopted by my parents December 13th 1986. I owe my musical foundation to my elementary music teacher, Dave Nasby, who got a group of 4th and 5th graders do the same exercises I learned in the first year of college Ear Training. When I picked music up again in high school it was like riding a bike. I received my musical training at Luther College and the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. I've held Apprenticeships/Young Artist positions at Cedar Rapids Opera, The Santa Fe Opera, and Glimmerglass before coming to Seattle Opera. I have no idea why there are so many fine Korean opera singers...maybe it’s genetics? I’d welcome any explanation!

Andrew Stenson as Don Ottavio (Rozarii Lynch, photo)

Don Ottavio might have come across as heroic two hundred years ago, but modern audiences tend to see him as a bit of a wimp. Do you play up his strengths, or his weakness?
What we have discovered about Ottavio over the course of rehearsals is that he is a man like you and I who wants to do right by his loved one. He loves Anna, he’s confused about the situation they’re all in, and he wants to make sense of everything before doing something rash. Anna can only talk of vengeance, and almost every time we see her on stage she is irate or stricken with guilt. I think by trying to beef up Ottavio, he could look ridiculous, because what rational person would immediately jump into the idea of violent revenge without knowing the full details? I remember during the final orchestra dress I noticed a big smudge of lipstick on Anna’s face (that was part of her makeup design), which got my thought process running: “What has she been doing?! What is she not telling me?!”

Stenson also had fiancee trouble when he made his mainstage debut last fall in Lucia di Lammermoor. Eric Neuville as Normanno, Andrew Stenson as Arturo, and Ljubomir Puskaric as Enrico (Rozarii Lynch, photo)

Beyond this Don Ottavio, are there other Mozart roles you sing? Can we consider you a Mozart tenor, or is it more that every great singer must be able to sing Mozart?
Mozart and high music are very good for me right now, but I’m not sure if I will specialize in them. I sang Tamino in English in undergrad and that fit like a glove. I feel like I could sing either Belmonte or Pedrillo in Abduction; I’d love to try my hand at Ferrando; and I would LOOOOVE to sing Mitridate somewhere down the line (if you haven’t seen it, check out Bruce Ford singing it on YouTube). I’m prepping Orphée for next season, and as high as it is, it’s fitting me very well. I also sing some bel canto, I could sing Nemorino for the rest of my life. I really enjoy singing in English, and I’d like to eventually sing some light Verdi, Edgardo, and at the heaviest, Rodolfo.

Andrew Stenson sang the high-maintenance German tenor is last fall's YAP Viva la Mamma! (Bill Mohn, photo)

What happens to Don Ottavio after the events of the opera?
As Ottavio himself says, his happiness depends on Anna’s. A whole number of things could happen. Giovanni and Anna could have been screwing around behind Ottavio’s back...and he could realize this and leave her. Maybe this will play out exactly as Anna wants them to, and after a year they finally marry and live happily ever after. Perhaps Ottavio, being a practical (although unromantic) person, pushes Anna to marry sooner because nine months after her encounter with Giovanni it would look good for them to have been married that whole time.

Stenson as Loge in Siegfried and the Ring of Fire (Bill Mohn, photo)

Next year you’ll be busy with Seattle Opera. Tell us about some of your plans. Which of these pieces are you most looking forward to?
I am thrilled for next season because it allows me to sing a very broad range of rep. I’ll be doing three French shows: Remendado in Carmen, Werther, and covering William Burden in Orphée. Fortunately I’m covering Remendado this summer at Glimmerglass so I’ll have it ready well in advance. I’ve never done a role as heavy or as dramatically challenging as Werther before, and I’m very excited to embrace the tragedy! I’m delighted to have the opportunity to cover Bill next season. He was such a fine artist and pleasure to work with during Lucia , and I can’t wait to see him in Orphée. The role is wickedly high (it can be just as high and higher than Daughter of the Regiment). I’ve always been able to live in the stratosphere, and now I’m finally getting a chance to really dig into it and stretch myself. I think the music is absolutely gorgeous and the text is both beautiful and heartbreaking.

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