Monday, July 30, 2012

Meet Our Artists: RENAUD DOUCET, Stage Director and Choreographer

Time now to hear from Renaud Doucet (right), the brilliant young director and choreographer who is making his Seattle Opera debut with this Turandot, jointly envisioned and created by Doucet and his partner André Barbe (left), our Set and Costume Designer. The world first saw this extraordinary co-production last year, in Pittsburgh; jointly owned by opera companies in Pittsburgh, Seattle, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and Utah (Salt Lake City), the production will eventually entertain and delight opera-goers all over America. We’ll check in with André soon; first, let’s find out a little about Renaud’s approach to theater as discovery, how he avoids having to make artistic compromises, and his unique entry into the world of Wagner.

Renaud, you’re making your debut here as a director, but this isn’t the first time you’ve worked with Seattle Opera! Can you remind us of your previous association with our company?
Yes, I had the pleasure to come to Seattle to assist Bernard Uzan, and to choreograph, the production of Rusalka in 2001.

Renaud Doucet in rehearsal
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Since then, you’ve done your own Rusalka.
Yes, I love that opera. We did a new production for the Volksoper in Vienna 2010. It played last spring and it’s going to play again in the fall. It’s a great show; we developed a new technology for playing video on fabric with a German firm. It’s very interesting.

Barbe & Doucet's Volksoper Rusalka
(Stefan Liewehr/Art for Art photo)

You say “we,” and I know you’re referring to yourself and André Barbe, because the two of you work together exclusively as a director/designer team, offering opera companies complete packages with every detail worked out carefully in advance. Tell us a little about how your unique partnership—which is both personal and professional—got started.
It began at Opéra de Montréal, with Bernard Uzan, who was the head of the company at that time. He introduced us to each other. In fact André was asked to do a production of Kat’a Kabanova with Bernard, and I had seen the drawings and thought they were fabulous. And André said, “The story of Kat’a reminds me of Pélleas et Mélisande.” And Bernard said, “ you like Pélleas?” And André said, “I love it!” So he took him to my office—I was Assistant Stage Director at the time—and he told me “Renaud, here is your designer for Pélleas et Mélisande.” But at the time, Bernard hadn’t yet told me I was directing Pélleas!

So Pélleas was the first opera you collaborated on?
No, actually. That was the first offer, but we ended up doing another opera first, in Wexford, in Ireland, Si j’étais roi by Adolphe Adam. That was our first official production, in 2000. It’s an absolutely fantastic opera, very beautiful, and we did it with Joseph Calleja and a wonderful cast.

And then Pélleas for Montréal.
Yes. I think we’re now at show number 30, or something. I don’t remember exactly how many productions we’ve done together.

How long does it take you jointly to envision a production?
It depends on the show, and on what else we are doing at the time. We never work on only one show at a time. At the moment, we have six operas in mind that we are designing. Sometimes we talk about an opera for a year and a half before André even raises his pencil. Since we’ve been in Seattle we created—in 24 hours—a new production of Massenet’s Thérèse, for Wexford. We’re very lucky to be in the luxurious position, with Wexford Festival Opera, of the General Director trusting us enough to say, “Which opera would you like to do?” Wexford is specializing in rare repertoire and next season we're doing Massenet’s Thérèse and La Navarraise for the festival, where we also created a new production of Pénélope by Fauré there, a gorgeous opera.

Plus the Adam Si j’étais roi, your debut. Lots of offbeat titles!
Yes. Really, we have not been offered much of the standard repertoire. We’ve done one Traviata, one Barber, one Carmen, as against seven productions of Thaïs and four Rape of Lucretias. I’d love to do some more standard rep: an Aida, a Butterfly. I’ve been offered Così , but I turned it down because I did not think that the solution that I had at the time, the dramaturgie, was interesting enough. Now I know how to do it.

Renaud Doucet stages a scene from Turandot with Peter Rose as Timur, Lina Tetriani as Liù, and Antonello Palombi as Calaf
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Going back to your partnership, when did that become exclusive?
Right away. Our goal is to be able to travel together, to create together, and to go further as a team with each new production. The goal is not to need to speak, because we are in each other’s brain. Also, we don’t make compromises. We don’t accept anything that’s mediocre. So we have to be better each time. It’s more and more difficult. If you have a success, then the next time you have to have an even bigger success. The mountain you’re climbing gets higher each time.

But it’s must be easier in that you’ve worked out a shorthand, learning how each other thinks.
Yes, but then we also know what each other is capable of doing. Which means that there is zero compromise on quality. Neither of us allows compromise from the other. To arrive at the right idea...either you get it right on the first drawing, as with Pénélope, or you do eight models and throw them all in the garbage and start again because it’s not satisfactory.

Barbe & Doucet's Pénélope at Wexford
(Clive Bardas, photo)

So the point is the commitment. If you’re committed to it...
Committed, yes. We both need to value what the other contributes; it’s important that we appreciate it, and that it’s good.

Do you find yourselves swapping roles? You’re the director and he’s the designer, but do you ever make design suggestions? Or does he come up with suggestions for staging and movement?
Of course. The design is the result of a dramatic idea, and the staging is a result of the design. I am as much the designer as André is the director.

And Guy Simard?
Our lighting designer, yes, he is an exclusive part of our team. Sometimes, for example, at a summer festival the company may need to use the same lighting designer for all the productions. But for us, Guy Simard is absolutely part of the team. He was working with us in Montréal, and we’ve done all our productions abroad with him. The lighting is an essential aspect of a good stage presentation.

Renaud Doucet in rehearsal, with Seattle Opera's Assistant Director Fenlon Lamb
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Now, you first designed Turandot for the Volksoper in Vienna, with a production that looks amazing (I’ve only seen pictures) set in the world of insects. How did you manage to find a completely different approach for this American Turandot?
With André we have four other Turandot productions ready to go.

Barbe & Doucet's Volksoper Turandot
(Dimo Dimov, photo)

In your brain.
And on paper! There is not one way of doing things, there are a million ways. The thing is to choose an angle, to follow it and be consistent from beginning to end. But why not another angle? That’s why I like doing multiple productions of the same opera: you discover new sides to the work.

Are there operas where you feel you nailed it the first time, so much that you aren’t interested in doing it again?
No, I don’t think like that. I don’t ‘nail’ a production. For us it’s a discovery each time, really. Perhaps there are operas I do not need to do. Lucia, for example, I’ve done Lucia...but it’s not the type of repertoire I appreciate, particularly. I like the music. But for me, to direct a traditional Lucia, it’s pointless. To do a wild Lucia that will REALLY go into the dark side and total madness of the opera would be fascinating.

In rehearsal, Renaud Doucet demonstrates a gesture for "In questa reggia" to Lori Phillips (Turandot)
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Although there are some audiences that, maybe a traditional Lucia is all they could deal with.
Maybe, but then I think I am not the right director for that. We cannot do everything well. I need to know where I have something to contribute, and where I am in fact getting in the way.

What interests you the most about Turandot?
With all the characters, it’s about their personal growth, developing them from point A to point B. No one finishes this opera the way they began; and they all need each other to discover themselves. Each of them has an impact on the others. They each need all the others to grow. That’s the point of life, and of fairy-tales, each character planting seeds for the other characters. In the audience, we are part of that. That’s what’s fascinating.

Renaud Doucet shows ministers Ping (Patrick Carfizzi) and Pong (Joseph Hu) a move
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

You worked out the staging of this production long ago, even before Minnesota Opera built the sets and costumes to André’s designs, before you first gave it to singers in Pittsburgh. Has the staging continued to evolve, with our two casts?
Yes, because if you have two casts, you’ll have two totally different performances. The same story, the same action, but different people. Even from one night to the next you have a different show; each performance is unique. In terms of the different singers, their personalities are different, so they have different ways of filtering the information. Our two Turandots, for example, Lori and Marcy, are extremely different. It’s a role debut for Marcy, but Lori has sung the opera before. So they were starting from different places, even before we began rehearsing.

One last question: we’re all nuts for Wagner, here at Seattle Opera, and we hear that you’ve got an exciting new Wagner opportunity coming up! What’s all this about Die Feen in Leipzig and Bayreuth next year?
Yes, André and I are creating a new production of Wagner’s first opera, Die Feen, for the 200th anniversary celebrations, next February in Leipzig, where Wagner was born, and then in Bayreuth, at the summer festival he created. They are building the production right now. It’s interesting, they’re putting on the three operas of Wagner’s youth, Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot, and Rienzi. We’re very excited to be working with Christiane Libor, our Ada, who will come here to Seattle next to sing Fidelio for you.

Costume sketch by André Barbe for Ada, the heroine of Die Feen, which the team will create for Leipzig and Bayreuth next season

Die Feen (The Fairies) is based on another of Carlo Gozzi’s plays, La donna serpente (The Snake Woman). Does it have anything in common with Turandot?
It’s a fairy-tale, an encounter between the world of mortals and the world of fairies, and how do they cope with each other.

Renaud Doucet in rehearsal
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Well, I know you’ll make something fantastical and wondrous out of it. Although Wagner can be a tall order: are you ready for it?
We’re starting Wagner at the beginning! As a matter of fact we’ve been offered the Ring twice, but both times we said no, because we don’t consider ourselves Wagner specialists. So it was interesting to be asked to do these: how can you refuse to do your first Wagner opera in a Bayreuth & Leipzig co-production? There are some things you just can’t say no!

Renaud Doucet and André Barbe recently took us for a look behind the scenes of our Turandot production:

Friday, July 27, 2012

Meet Our Singers: PATRICK CARFIZZI, Ping

Seattle Opera audiences last saw bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi in 2010, when he sang Dr. Bartolo in The Barber of Seville. Now he's back as Ping in Turandot, a role which he's been wanting to take on for years. Today, we sit down with Carfizzi and find out why he's so drawn to this role, how Ping's comedy differs from Bartolo's, and why arts education is a cause so close to his heart.
Turandot opens in just over a week, on Saturday, August 4. For more information on this production, which runs through August 18, visit

We’ve heard Ping is a role you’ve been dying to do. What about it appeals to you so much?
I have dreamed of doing Ping for at least the last decade, because he is a fascinating and incredibly important character to the plot, but he also has such gorgeous music to sing. It’s a role I always felt would be well-suited to me, both in character and in vocalism. He’s a lot of fun. He’s just a little confined by his job—which may seem villainous, which may seem evil, but in truth it’s just his task. As much as anyone else, he would like this whole riddle thing to be over. He would like there to not be one more head. When he talks about going back to his “country house,” back to his home, he definitely wants to not just go and rest but he wants to be part of society again.

From left to right: Julius Ahn (Pang), Joseph Hu (Pong), and Patrick Carfizzi (Ping) rehearse for Turandot.
Photo by Alan Alabastro

We were recently talking with Doug Jones, who was here in May singing Goro in Madama Butterfly, and he said, “I honestly don’t think they would want to retire. They like being in the center of power too much.” So it doesn’t sound like you agree with that, at least in regards to Ping.
I think Ping at the very least wants vacation. Yes, I agree that he is imperious, that he does enjoy the power—but the pattern that’s been created with suitor after suitor being killed has, I think, exhausted him. He wants to go back to the normal level of being imperious, as opposed to “Welcome! You should go home. Really, you should not be here right now, trust me. OK, you’re the same idiot, like all the rest of the idiots. Fine, that’s fine. Go ahead, you want to die? Have at it. Feel free.” I think he’s sick of saying that. He’d much rather just be like, “Welcome to the kingdom, these are the rules, this is how you play by the rules, come on in, leave your tribute here, give me my 10%, thanks very much.”

From left to right: Julius Ahn (Pang), Patrick Carfizzi (Ping), and Joseph Hu (Pong) rehearse for Turandot.
Photo by Bill Mohn

What makes Ping stand out from Pang and Pong?
He definitely has a bit more to say than those other two. He is the Grand Poobah, the honcho. He enjoys his domain, and he also brings worldview into that trio. The other guys are very much regional/local level, in terms of character.

Ping, Pang, and Pong were originally figures from commedia dell’arte, much like Dr. Bartolo [in The Barber of Seville], the last character you portrayed for Seattle. Are there basic principles of comedy that apply in both cases? Or are these characters very different?
There’s one basic principle of comedy that always applies: comedy is about listening and about situation. So in that regard, there are always similarities when we have a character that has comic elements. I would not, however, consider Ping a comic character. Ping is a person that you laugh with. Ping gives commentary, and he has comic moments. I think he’s the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with. Bartolo, by contrast, is a man whose faults, failings, and blindness to the reality of what’s going on around him make him someone you laugh at.

Patrick Carfizzi as Dr. Bartolo in Seattle Opera's 2010 production of The Barber of Seville.
Photo by Rozarii Lynch

In this opera, you play one third of what could be called a “Three-headed character.” Have you ever done anything like this before?
I’ve done other ensemble type parts; Gianni Schicchi comes to mind. The family really is a multi-headed character, with all the various good and bad that humanity offers. That’s probably a good parallel to draw. So yes, I’ve had some experience and I love it. I love being part of a three-headed character. I just did Nixon in China, and the three secretaries of Mao are also definitely a three-headed character. They’re basically a Greek chorus, and there are elements of that in Ping, Pang, and Pong. This kind of ensemble is always a joy, because it has to be about how the three of you collaborate to tell a story. Actually, it’s about how the four of you collaborate, because you can’t play a three-headed character without a real director. You can make it work, but without that set of eyes, it’s hard to find the internal balance that makes the character appear sincere and play sincerely. I’d never worked with Renaud Doucet [stage director and choreographer for Turandot] and I love the level detail, the level of clarity. It’s fantastic.

Stage Director and Choreographer Renaud Doucet works with Patrick Carfizzi (Ping) and Julius Ahn (Pang) during a rehearsal for Turandot.
Photo by Alan Alabastro

How would you describe the relationship between Ping, Pang, and Pong?
We just work together.

So no happy hours for the three of you?
Oh, no, no, we do happy hours. We do happy ours in the office! No, we do everything. We work together, we perhaps share an apartment together. And yet we do have these other lives we refer to, but clearly we’ve had to put those lives on hold to come and do this job.

Joseph Hu (Pong) and Patrick Carfizzi (Ping) rehearse for Turandot.
Photo by Bill Mohn

We’ve heard that in addition to your busy opera career, you dedicate a lot of your time to charitable work. What are the causes you’re most passionate about?
It boils down to two main causes. One is education in the arts—and arts in education—and the other is a mix of gay-related causes, and HIV causes. There’s actually an organization that kind of combines those: Sing for Hope, which is based on the East Coast. They’re great. They do a gala in Houston that benefits Bering Omega, which is the big AIDS hospice in Houston.

But as far as the volunteer work I’ve done, it’s been things like doing master classes, going to universities and teaching, and also going as often as possible to high schools and middle schools, and talking to local choirs and that type of thing. For me, it’s really important that we educate the next generation and the current generation, and that we invite them to the art form not simply as audience members but as community members, and as participants in the broader community of the arts, so that they feel they can take part in all the many facets that make up our process. And opera has the great advantage of being the art form that encompasses and embraces so many other art forms.

We know that music and the arts influence lives, helps young people, gives people some direction, some discipline. The arts are an essential part of humanity, and the human element is an essential part of the arts. All of us—on the stage or in the office or backstage or in the pit or up front of house—can help people experience that. That’s something that we’re all obligated to do, I feel. And it can be the next Pavarotti that you run into in a young artists program, or it can be a young girl who is playing violin because mommy and daddy want her to play, and one day she’s going to grow up and be a lawyer, but she’s still going to want to see a performance every now and again. It doesn’t matter the level of involvement. However I can help, I’m there. Sign me up. I’m ready.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Meet Our Singers: ANTONELLO PALOMBI, Calaf

Today we check in with our Calaf, Antonello Palombi, the Italian tenor who thrilled us as Foresto in our first-ever Attila earlier this year. Originally a policeman in northern Italy, Palombi, who nowadays sings the great tenor roles all over the world, made his U.S. debut in Seattle in 2004—a few years before his notorious La Scala debut, singing (most of) Act One of Aida in his street clothes, before finishing the opera in costume. (The New York Times had the story.) His first role in Seattle was Ramirrez aka Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West, and he has returned for Radames, Canio, Manrico (audio clip HERE), Foresto, and now Calaf. I spoke with him about playing a fairy-tale prince in a realistic, verismo opera, about our unusual staging of Alfano’s concluding love duet—she kisses him as much as he kisses her—and, of course, about singing the most famous tune in all opera.

Let’s start with “Nessun dorma.” Do you remember the first time you heard this aria?
No. I really don’t remember when I heard it for the first time. Of course, I have Pavarotti singing it in my ears, like everybody else. To be honest, it makes this role not necessarily my favorite, because everybody is just waiting for “Nessun dorma.” The rest of the opera: yes, yes—but they’re all just waiting for “Nessun dorma.” Someday I want to do Turandot without “Nessun dorma!”

Antonello Palombi in Turandot rehearsal
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

So when those sacred three minutes arrive, and you’re finally singing the aria, is it somehow different? Are you thinking, “Oh, I’d better step it up now because they all know how this goes?”
Normally when I’m singing I’m not thinking about it. I’m just trying to sustain the mood, to keep the story going. Cavaradossi in Tosca is the same, he sings his big aria at the beginning of Act Three, after intermission, so you have to rebuild the mood. Maybe it would be interesting in Turandot if Act Two finished with “Nessun dorma.”

Well, it does. I mean, you sing the tune. It’s so beautiful, that passage when you ask her to figure out your name, “Il mio nome non sai,” and the orchestra introduces the tune of “Nessun dorma”...
But at that point what I sing is “E all’alba morirò” (And I will die at dawn). In the real “Nessun dorma” I say “E all’alba vincerò” (And I will triumph at dawn). It’s a completely different mood.

Antonello Palombi had to create a mood immediately when he opened an opera with the aria "Celeste Aida" at Seattle Opera in 2008
(Rozarii Lynch, photo)

Now, my big question in terms of your character: what does Calaf feel about Liù?
We were just talking about that in rehearsal.

Lina Tetriani as Liù and Antonello Palmobi as Calaf in rehearsal
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

When you first meet, this humble slave girl tells you she has remained devoted and dedicated to your father, all for the sake of a smile you once gave her...but you don’t respond.
Well, okay, but be careful. Turandot is a tale, a fairy-story. Once you start analyzing it, you never stop. Assuming normal life-relationships, certainly Liù is taking care of Timur because she is in love with Calaf. Timur understands this; he is a wise old blind man. He even asks Liù to talk sense to Calaf, when Calaf becomes obsessed with Turandot: “Liù, parlagli tu!” He wouldn’t ask her to speak to him, a servant to relate to a prince, if he didn’t think she might have the key to change the prince’s mind.

Peter Rose as Timur and Antonello Palmobi as Calaf in rehearsal
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Also, in the torture scene in Act Three, when Turandot asks “Qui posa tanta forza nel tuo cuore?” (What gives your heart such strength?) and Liù answers “Principessa, l’amore” (Princess, love) Calaf hears that: he’s standing right there, listening, and he is not dumb! Renaud [Doucet, stage director] asked me a good question: Why doesn’t Calaf intervene and save Timur and Liù in that scene? But there’s nothing he can do. If he gives up on the riddle, and tells them his name, that still won’t save them. They would kill them anyway.

That’s interesting, you’re right, they’d be killed as enemies of the state.
Yes, we learn that at the beginning, when Calaf says to his father, “Be quiet, the usurper of your throne is still looking for us.” How do you say asilo politico?

Political asylum.
Ecco. They cannot ask for this—they are beggars, refugees.

Antonello Palombi (Manrico) and Malgorzata Walewska (as his mother, Azucena) played outcast gypsies in Seattle Opera's 2010 production of Il trovatore
(Rozarii Lynch, photo)

I’ve always found Calaf a peculiar character. On the one hand, he’s stubborn and single-minded. On the other hand, he’s so sensitive, with Turandot...he gets her, he understands what she needs in order to grow.
Well, for all that it is a fairy-tale, Turandot is still a verismo opera. The psychology of the characters is real.

Antonello Palombi as Foresto in Attila this January
(Elise Bakketun, photo)

As opposed to Attila, for example?
Oh, God! Nothing to do with verismo. But compare Turandot instead with the last two operas of Verdi, Otello and Falstaff. The same passion that is in Otello. There is no love in this opera. Calaf is not in love with Turandot. There is no time to build a feeling like love, a relationship. This is what the French call a coup de foudre [stroke of lightning], colpo di fulmine, we say in Italian.

Love at first sight?
Exactly. It comes from very deep inside our brains, from animal instinct. Ab ovo, they say in Latin—from the egg, the origin, the beginning. It is chemical. And entirely in the skin.

Antonello Palombi discussing Turandot in rehearsal with Maestro Asher Fisch and General Director Speight Jenkins
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

Superficial, skin-deep.
When he first sees her, with all the people bowing before her, and the power she is showing, in killing the Prince of Persia, at this moment Calaf, who is also a prince, between these two titans—this is the spark. There’s a click in his brain that cuts off everything with Liù and his father. Timur cannot even speak with him: “He is not listening to me! Please, Liù, do something.” But it doesn’t help: “Father, can’t you smell her perfume in the air?” He is crazy, impassioned. It’s not a question of love. You can talk about whether this couple will stay together, after the end. I was telling Speight the other day, I don’t think so. They have very different cultures, and this woman doesn’t want to lose herself. So when their bodies are satisfied, which means after two or three days, I think their personalities will come out, and they’ll start...[sound of bickering]. I think Turandot will kill Calaf. Like a mantide religioso (praying mantis).

I noticed, at the staging rehearsal the other day, you all have an unusual approach to the climactic kiss, in the Alfano ending. Normally, in the stage directions, Calaf grabs Turandot and kisses her into quiet, docile submission. But here it looks like she comes to you, as much as you come to her.
Yes. The duet here is always problematic, and we have a new way to read it, in terms of the feelings. Calaf starts by blaming her for the death of Liù, and she admits he is right. And with that everything changes—I want to fight, but she takes away my weapons: “I am wrong, you are right.” So what comes out is the passion. She shows her vulnerability, and it makes me feel like comforting her. Then the rest follows naturally, all the tenderness. The problem is to get there through the beginning.

Yes, because you’re both so aggressive, at first.
The music is strong, the words are strong. But following our director’s point of view, this is all also a normal human reaction. You can’t keep fighting after you admit that you’re in the wrong.

I see...that allows them the chance to come together. If they start by throwing lightning-bolts at each other, and then all of a sudden they’re kissing, it doesn’t make much sense.
Well, our staging I think makes sense—with a little bit of intelligence you can adjust things a bit and make everything more believable. This duet has created problems ever since it was written. Alfano’s first version was longer, and maybe it developed the two characters better, but it’s exhausting to sing. Whoa.

Have you done it?
Once only. It is too much. And it’s completely different; like starting fresh on another opera. You feel Puccini’s music finish, at the death of Liù, and your brain says, “Okay, that’s done.” Like when you’re full, after lunch.

But we need to get the story to the end.
In Italy—in Venice and Naples I’ve often done this opera ending with the death of Liù. The staging is different—after the funeral music for Liù, only Timur, Calaf, and Turandot are onstage. Timur rejects Calaf, who has ignored him and caused Liù’s death; Turandot was deeply moved by Liù’s suicide, and during the funeral music, she became like someone who is going to become a nun. And Calaf moves and looks at the sword that Liù used, and when the light goes out you don’t know what will happen. It’s left to the imagination of the audience.

Hmm. I don’t think anyone would like that, in America. We want our happy endings!
Well, life doesn’t always have a happy ending! This is verismo, real life. This is one of the stories that is showing the strength of passion, and how it can destroy people.

Verismo passion destroyed Antonello Palombi's character when he sang Canio in Seattle Opera's Pagliacci in 2008
(Bill Mohn, photo)

Now, have you worked with any of the singers in our cast before?
Only Joseph Hu, who sings Pong. We did Pagliacci together in Dallas, he was Beppe/Arlecchino and I sang Canio. I never sang with Lori Phillips, but I did with her twin sister Mary, we did Il trovatore together here in Seattle.

I want to see Lori and Mary sing Fiordiligi and Dorabella in Così together.
Oh, can you imagine? Mamma mia.

From Turandot rehearsal: Julius Ahn (Pang), Patrick Carfizzi (Ping), Joseph Hu (Pong), Lina Tetriani (Liù), Peter Rose (Timur), and Antonello Palombi (Calaf)
(Alan Alabastro, photo)

And I believe this is your first time working with Maestro Asher Fisch.
Yes. We met before, when we were doing Aida here and he came to conduct the International Wagner Competition. But this is our first time working together, and already I feel there is a good connection, that we are going to make very good music together. We look at each other at all the right moments. When I need him, I see that he is looking at me!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Meet Our Singers: PETER ROSE, Timur

Last time Seattle Opera saw bass Peter Rose, he was front and center as Falstaff in 2010. This time around, we have the privilege of hearing him in the supporting role of Timur in Turandot.

In today's Q&A, we chat with Rose about this character, look back to some of his all-time favorite roles, and learn what's up next on his busy schedule.

For more on Turandot, which opens Saturday, August 4, and runs for 8 performances through August 18, visit


The last couple times you’ve appeared in Seattle, we’ve heard you sing big roles (Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier and Falstaff). Is it nice to get a change of pace and sing a supporting role?
As you say, I often do very big roles, so it’s nice to do a role where you don’t feel that you have to carry the show, or you’re one of the most important cogs. It’s actually quite a nice relief to now and again do a role like Timur, or like Gremin, with just an aria at the end of Onegin. Nonetheless they’re important roles.

How many times have you sung Timur in the past?
Not many times. I’ve done it twice, in Berlin and in Covent Garden.

Stage Director and Choreographer Renaud Doucet (left) works with Peter Rose (right) during rehearsals for Turandot.
Photo by Alan Alabastro

Stage Director Renaud Doucet mentioned how pleased he was to have you as Timur in this production, because this role is sometimes downplayed.
Well, yes, sometimes secondary roles like this are under-cast. But you get a better show, overall, if you cast every role strongly. I think that’s probably what he meant. The small amount of music I’ve got is very beautiful music, so it’s quite an opportunity even if I’m not singing all evening. There are some nice, beautiful, lyrical lines.

Let’s think about what happens in Turandot’s world after the opera finishes. What do you think happens to Timur?
Well, he’s very old—so I imagine he doesn’t go off into the sunset. He doesn’t last much longer. He’s obviously been either tortured or beaten to try and get the name of Calaf, and Liù, who has helped him, is dead. So I think he’s probably quite a broken man, I would imagine. I don’t get the impression he’s living happily ever after, even though his son might.

Peter Rose (Timur) and Antonello Palombi (Calaf) rehearse the father/son reunion in Turandot.
Photo by Alan Alabastro

What’s Timur’s relationship with his son? One would think his son, now in power, would try to help his father.
I think his son is independent. But I think he loves his father and there’s a genuine and good father-son relationship there. When Timur meets him in the beginning of the opera, he really thought Calaf was dead. He’s surprised and grateful that he’s not.

What about Timur’s relationship with Liù? She’s his slave, but there seems to be a genuine affection there.
Well, look how the mighty have fallen. He was the emperor and he’s been reduced to being a beggar. And this slave girl says “I’ll be your guide. I’ll be your eyes. I’ll help you.” And of course that’s a very generous thing and I think on a human level he appreciates that.

Renaud Doucet, Lina Tetriani (Liù), and Peter Rose in staging rehearsals for Turandot.
Photo by Alan Alabastro

After you wrap up this role in Seattle, where do you head to next?
After this, I go to Paris and do La Roche, which is a big role, in Capriccio by Strauss. So that’ll be very nice, and it’ll only be my second time. I did it for the first time last year at the Met. And then after that I have some concerts of Tristan und Isolde, and then I’m doing Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier with Simon Rattle in Berlin. That takes me up until Christmas, and then the whole thing starts again next year.

Looking back on your career, can you identify a favorite role you’ve sung?
I think Ochs is one of my favorite roles, and I was lucky enough to do that here in 2006. It’s just a fantastic role. It’s great music and it’s a great opportunity for the stage because he’s such a complex character. Within the space of a phrase or a bar, he can change to being annoying or loveable or irritating. You can be wincing at how gauche he is and in the next moment be thinking, “Oh, how sweet,” and then feel sorry for him. There’s a lot of opportunity for the dramatic.

Peter Rose as Baron Ochs, with Julianne Gearhart as Sophie von Faninal, in Seattle Opera's 2006 production of Der Rosenkavalier.
Photo by Wah Lui

What about a favorite composer?
Richard Strauss I have an affinity with because I do so many Rosenkavaliers and am beginning to do more Cappricios. Wagner, of course. I love Verdi, I adore Mozart. And while I think Puccini writes the most exquisite music, there are no real great bass roles in any of his operas, which is a shame because I absolutely love Puccini. Somebody will probably correct me, but I can’t think of any. Sopranos, tenors, and baritones get the lion’s share of Puccini’s music.

But you have sung a few of those smaller Puccini bass roles.
Yes, but I haven’t done that much. Timur is one, I’ve done Colline in La bohème, Simone in Gianni Schicchi, and the Bonze in Madama Butterfly when I was much younger. Verdi was the Italian who wrote great roles for bass.

Peter Rose as Falstaff at Seattle Opera in 2010.
Photo by Rozarii Lynch

You get the chance to listen to a lot of great music in Turandot. Do you have a favorite moment in this opera?
Well, of course, the most famous moment is “Nessun dorma,” which everybody knows unless they’ve been living on another planet. And of course it’s beautiful. But there are other exquisite moments: Liu’s aria in Act 1, then the music that comes out from Calaf right after that, and then the big ensemble. There are fantastic moments, so I wouldn’t want to say there’s one I particularly like because Turandot is full of great ones.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Turandot: Creative Team Chat

In our latest behind-the-scenes video for Turandot, French-Canadian production team Barbe & Doucet discuss the very human story at the heart of this colorful spectacle and explain what opera has in common with haute couture. Includes footage of cast members in rehearsal.

Learn more about Turandot on the Seattle Opera Website

Friday, July 20, 2012

Meet Our Singers: LORI PHILLIPS, Turandot

Soprano Lori Phillips was last at Seattle Opera in 2007, when she covered the role of Senta in The Flying Dutchman, and we're excited to have her back--this time to star as our opening night Turandot. (Phillips will sing every performance except for the Sunday matinees on August 5 and 12, when the role will feature former Seattle Opera Young Artist Marcy Stonikas). We recently sat down with Phillips to chat about Turandot, a character she feels is often inaccurately portrayed as a "cardboard cutout." We asked Phillips about the nuances she tries to bring out in Turandot and also learned more about her family background and her passion for baseball.

Welcome! It’s nice to have you back in Seattle. Can you remind us of some of your previous experiences at Seattle Opera?
Well, last time I was here was for The Flying Dutchman in 2007, where I was actually standing by and covering for Jane Eaglen. That was a wonderful experience, and I sang an orchestra rehearsal on stage. Before that, I had done Un ballo in maschera in 2002, which was a great production; the orchestra here is so fabulous, and the conductors Seattle hires are always wonderful. The quality is so high here, and everyone also makes you feel so at home. My first time here was for the Ring in 2001, and I was pregnant with my son that summer. Everybody was super nice and so considerate and concerned. I was singing Gerhilde, one of the Valkyries, and I had to climb to the top of the set, basically, and wave. So they gave me a harness to protect me and make sure I was comfortable, because I was with child.

Your twin sister, Mary Phillips, is no stranger to Seattle Opera, either.
Yes, she was here a couple years ago for Il trovatore.

Have you two had many opportunities to perform together?
It happens fairly often. We certainly have plenty of time when we’re on our separate jobs, but we had our first production together in 1999, when I sang Fiordiligi and she sang Dorabella in Così fan tutte. We sang together here in Seattle, too, in the 2001 Ring. She was one of the Valkyries, as well. Then we did Die Walküre in Dallas together, and then in Hawaii in 2010. We were also just there for Aida, actually. We’re always running into each other at the Met, too.

Lori Phillips as Amelia in Seattle Opera’s 2002 Ballo in maschera.
Photo by Gary Smith

Did you both develop your passions for opera at the same time, or did it happen independently of each other?
Actually, I developed it first. Mary was more interested in straight theater (and also music). We were both instrumentalists throughout junior high school, high school, and college, and I was the one who majored in music first. I think she was trying to be practical; we had a little pressure from our parents not to do something so crazy as go into music. So Mary actually started out as a chemistry major in college, but we always did musicals together in community theater and things like that. We were basically together, but I suppose I was the one who definitely set on to pursue this as a career first.

Obviously, it worked out for the both of you—so your parents must have been pleased!
Oh, yes. Our parents, oh my gosh, they have just been so thrilled—and shocked. Not that they ever doubted we had talent, but my mother was a secretary, my father was a machinist, and we’re from a blue collar background. Nobody ever did this as a profession before. My father, who passed away a few years ago, had a natural talent. He had a booming voice that usually came out when he was yelling at us. [Laughs] I also have three brothers, so there were five kids in the house, and there was a lot of disciplining that needed to happen! But he also sang when he was a younger man, and had this baritone voice that people noticed. He was actually encouraged to move to New York when he was young to pursue a singing career, but he never did. He couldn't imagine you could actually make a living doing that.

You’ve sung Turandot many times over the years. How has your approach toward her changed since the first time you sang the role?
I think she’s become more human for me over the years. When I first sang Turandot, it was a co-production with Opera Memphis and Nashville Opera, and the director there was a wonderful man named John Hoomes and we were always talking about Turandot’s psychological background. It’s so interesting to do that with all operatic characters; they’re really so multi-dimensional. For Turandot to, usually, be played as this one-dimensional ice princess is unfortunate. When I’m playing a part, I always want to make it personal. I want to make it something that I can relate to and that an audience is going to relate to. I want to bring out her humanity, rather than play Turandot as a cardboard cutout of this one-dimensional wench who just likes to see men die and makes Liù kill herself.

Lori Phillips in rehearsal for Turandot.
Photo by Alan Alabastro

Yes, the audience does tend to sympathize with Liù more than Turandot!
I’ve talked with a few Turandots who wanted to stop doing the role because they felt underappreciated at the end of the night. It is a very difficult role to sing, so you want to be appreciated. But I haven’t had that feeling.

What would you say motivates Turandot? What is she looking for?
Well, the thing that she’s looking for is true love. She wants to be validated through love, like most of us. I was just talking with my Calaf, Antonello Palombi, at lunch and he doesn’t think it’s about true love. Maybe for Calaf, it’s not. Maybe he just wants to overcome and get power. That’s his choice, I suppose. For me, as Turandot, I want to find true love, and redemption, forgiveness, and salvation through this love.

How does your desire to bring a warmth to Turandot affect your vocal technique?
I’ve been told my voice has a warm, dark quality to it—but it’s hard to know what your own voice really sounds like. After the first music rehearsal, Speight Jenkins said to me that he wanted somebody who could sing Turandot with a warm quality all the way through and not a screechy, screaming quality. I sang the role for the first time in 2001, and over the years I’ve had to keep tabs on the technical aspects of it so I can keep that warmth and not get into a space where I’m screaming it out. The biggest thing is keeping the breath lower in the body, and using all of the sounding chambers that I can. I need to keep those open, and I think that’s, vocally, one of the hardest things in a role like this. Our sinuses, face, and chest should remain open and vibrant so the sound can resonate, but sometimes if your character has to be closed off in that “Leave me alone, don’t touch me” kind of way, it can hinder your sound. I’ve had to watch that.

Moving away from the opera stage, you sang the national anthem at last Saturday’s Mariners game! Are you a big baseball fan?
Yes, I am, and my family is. I have a little boy, Luke, who is 10 years old and loves baseball. I’m constantly being quizzed on baseball trivia.

So who do you root for?
Well, my son’s team is the New York Yankees. My son and my husband and my stepson are going to get to go to the Yankees game on the 23rd. I won’t be able to go, but Speight was so great and got them tickets. I’m from New England, originally, so I’m actually a Red Sox fan, actually. But I’ve done the proper motherly thing and have stepped aside a little on that. I try not to get too crazy for the Red Sox anymore.

That’s incredibly big of you!
Thank you. [Laughs] I allowed my son to be a Yankee fan, because he was born in New York City. So where you’re born, I figure that’s where you have your allegiances. My husband is from Cleveland, so he’s technically an Indians fan.

That’s great that your family gets to join you in Seattle!
Yes, we travel together. My husband is basically a stay-at-home dad, and he teaches our son. We home-school our son so that we can travel together and be together for those long periods. (Usually an opera job is at least a month or five weeks). I’ve been lucky.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to Pronounce It;
and, Other Riddles of Turandot

As we gear up for this summer’s exciting blockbuster production of Puccini’s incredible swansong, let’s unravel some of the mystery surrounding the names of the wonderful characters in this opera. (CLICK HERE for an overview of the plot.) I’ll ask and (attempt to) answer a few enigmas of nomenclature here today; and keep your eyes on our Facebook page, where we plan on posting some riddles we found in Turandot’s secret riddle-cache and letting you all answer them in the weeks to come. And you don’t even have to risk your head!

How do you pronounce “Turandot”?
No one knows, although people have passionate opinions about it! For a recent learned dispute on the subject, see THIS blog post. Speight Jenkins, in a recent Seattle Opera video, is quite clear that it needs a long ‘o’ and an audible ‘t’: “too-rahn-DOTE,” as in “If only the Princess would DOTE upon these brave princes, instead of murdering them all.” If you listen to lots of recordings of the opera, that’s what you usually hear, although some tenors don’t always bother with the final ‘t’—particularly if they’re hurling a beautiful high note at the audience. When you say the name, you don’t have to make a big deal out of the ‘t’—although if you’re saying the name of the play that inspired the opera, Gozzi’s Turandotte, you do, because a double t makes a big difference in Italian. Pronounce the name of the play “too-rahn-DOH-tay.” According to Wikimedia, the name is Persian in origin; “Turan” refers to an ancient nomadic population in what is now Iran, and the “Dot” was originally part of a word meaning “Daughter.”

Rosa Raisa created the role of Turandot in 1926

What’s the religion of the Unknown Prince?
Although the real answer is “None, this opera is a fairy-tale, it doesn’t take place on Planet Earth and isn’t set in historical time,” there are nevertheless several clues indicating that Calaf is a Muslim. His name—one of the big secrets of the opera’s plot—is related to the word “Caliph,” the traditional successor to Muhammad and ruler of the Islamic world. (Historically the most significant Caliphates have been the Umayyad, the Abbasid, the Fatimid, and the Ottoman.) Furthermore, we find out in the opera that the Prince’s father, Timur, is the dethroned king of Tartary; further research (into Gozzi’s play) reveals that when he was king he ruled from the city of Astrakhan. “Timur the Lame” was a famous Muslim warlord, the self-described “Sword of Islam,” familiar to theater-goers from Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great or Georg Frederic Handel’s Tamerlano; the dynasty he founded, “the Timurids,” dominated much of central Asia in the 15th Century and gave rise to the Muslim Mughal Empire that controlled northern India before the advent of the British. The “Tatars,” also spelled “Tartars,” are a central Asian people, currently living in many parts of the world, primarily followers of Sunni Islam (although some are Russian Orthodox). Although it’s unclear where the opera’s fictional “Tartary” would have been, Astrakhan is an important city in modern Russia, on the Volga near where it flows into the Caspian Sea, proud of its Russian Orthodox church, mosque, Roman Catholic church, and Buddhist temple.

Frank Poretta, Cavaradossi at Seattle Opera in 2008, sang Calaf in the maiden voyage of our current Turandot production, by Barbe & Doucet, at Pittsburgh last year (David Bachman, photo)

What does Puccini’s Turandot have to do with Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten?
Both operas were written in the aftermath of World War I, and both fairy-tales are “Oriental fantasies”—works like Mozart’s Magic Flute, or Disney’s Aladdin, that use stereotypes of the East to entertain the West and to sidestep Western taboos. Also, for his Die Frau ohne Schatten libretto Hugo von Hofmansthal stole two names—Barak and Keikobad—not from Turandot but from Turandotte, Gozzi’s source play. Barak (spelled Barach by Gozzi) was Calaf’s former tutor, and King Keikobad (Cheicobad in Italian) was the father of Princess Adelma—who doesn’t appear in the opera.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Netherlands Opera, Gabriele Fontana as the Empress and Doris Soffel as the Nurse (Photos by Clärchen und Matthias Baus)

Where did Liù come from?
Liù isn’t in Gozzi’s play. Instead, there’s Princess Adelma—who fell in love with Calaf long before the opera began, then became Turandot’s slave, and then intrigues, over the course of the play, to win the prince and her own freedom. Adelma’s squabbling with Turandot made the plot too complicated for Puccini, so he asked his librettists to replace her with the more straightforward character of Liù. This beloved soprano bears a common Chinese name, accent added to aid pronunciation in Italian.

In her third act aria "Tanto amore segreto" Liù tells Turandot that she, too, will fall in love with the Unknown Prince (David Bachman, photo)

What’s the deal with Ping, Pang, and Pong?
In Gozzi’s play, these clowns’ names are Pantalone, Tartaglia, Brighella, and Truffaldino, names as familiar to an Italian audience of Puccini’s day as Bugs, Elmer, Porky, and Daffy would be to us. Gozzi loved the old masks of commedia dell’arte and always included them in his plays; even if they don’t play a very large role in the plot, they’re always entertaining. And after transforming them into Ping, Pang, and Pong Puccini wrote them some truly glorious music.

Ping, Pang, and Pong in Pittsburgh (David Bachman, photo)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Meet Our Singers: LINA TETRIANI, Liù

Turandot opens in just 18 days, so it's time to start getting to know our cast! First up, we chat with Georgian soprano Lina Tetriani, who makes her company and role debuts as the slave girl Liù. Tetriani will alternate in the role with Italian soprano Grazia Doronzio (also making her company debut), and sings on opening night, August 4, as well as the performances on August 11, 15, 17, and 18.

Below, we ask Tetriani about her Georgian background, what kind of roles she loves to perform, and what makes Liù so special.


First, welcome to Seattle! Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you started singing?
I’m from the country of Georgia, which is a part of the former USSR. We immigrated to the United States about 17 years ago, to Brooklyn, and that’s where I still live. I started out as a pianist, and I’d also always had a passion for theater and music (I’m used to hearing singing in my family; music is very much a part of my culture). When I started singing, I auditioned for a pre-conservatory department for young kids at the conservatory in Georgia, and later I went to the Juilliard School. That’s how it all started.

Have you ever sung in a Georgian opera?
No, but I sang a lot of Georgian songs while growing up. There are lots of Georgian operas, and they’re gorgeous—big operas, with big choruses and many dancers. Paliashvili is one of the composers who wrote beautiful operas in Georgian. And they’re really well-written, but…they’re in Georgian! It’s a hard language to learn and sing, unless you speak it already. It’s hard enough when people have to sing in Czech. Georgian? Forget about it.

[For more on the Georgian opera scene, check out our Q&A with mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, who sang Carmen in 2011]

Lina Tetriani (Liù) in rehearsal for Turandot.
Photo by Alan Alabastro

So which roles do you tend to sing?
Mimì, definitely. I could do La bohème a million times and not get tired of it. I’ve done Musetta, too—actually, I sang both Mimì and Musetta in the same production, years ago, in Sweden.

You mean, you alternated between both roles in the same performance?
Yes! It was an interesting experience. It was very busy. But I loved it because the characters are so different and it was very interesting to tap into one side of your personality, and then the other. I love Puccini because he injects so much passion, and the stories are so complete. I think all the great operas have a powerful story behind them, and Puccini does that so well. I also love Gounod; I recently did Marguerite [in Faust]. I’ve also done Massenet, some Verdi, and Mozart.

What is it that draws you to particular roles? What’s the most important thing for you, as a performer?
It’s always very important for me to connect with a character (although I love a challenge). For me, really living the character on stage is extremely important and I feel like I cheat myself and the audience if I’m not completely singing the role and delivering in that sense. That’s the number one thing: I have to feel the role in my gut. That’s why I love Puccini. He’s so great at making that happen.

Lina Tetriani (Liù) in a Turandot staging rehearsal.
Photo by Alan Alabastro

This will be your role debut as Liù. How do you find yourself connecting with her?
I know women like Liù, for sure. I know women like her in my own life, so I connect with her. She’s done what she’s had to for the people around her, and someone as giving as Liù has to have an incredibly powerful soul and big heart. To me, that’s real strength. She’s capable of things others are not, and that’s because, as Renaud says, Liù is the strongest character in Turandot. [Renaud Doucet is Stage Director and Choreographer for this production of Turandot.]

Liù sings a lot of beautiful music in Turandot. Do you have a favorite moment?
I wouldn’t say I have a favorite aria. Why? Because everything she sings is like a little jewel, like a little diamond, in the way it was written. You can tell that Puccini put his heart into the character. Every phrase is meant to be there, there are no extra notes; it’s such a complete character. She’s also not one dimensional at all, and I think she has a wonderful combination of vulnerability and power. She’s very feminine and loving, and she’s brave because she’s not afraid to love.

Renaud Doucet (Stage Director and Choreographer) works with Lina Tetriani (Liù) and Peter Rose (Timur) in staging rehearsals for Turandot.
Photo by Alan Alabastro

How would you describe Liù’s relationship with Timur? She’s his slave, but there’s also a genuine affection there.
Yes. I think it’s important to portray that she is a slave, because so much of that culture is about knowing your role in society. But at the same time, their relationship has gone beyond that. She’s seen Timur in his most vulnerable state. In the beginning of the opera, he falls—he, a man who used to be a king—and Liù has to try and pick him up. She’s done all kinds of things for this man, and has taken care of him, and he’s constantly holding onto her shoulder. He knows her spirit so well, so that’s why it’s so painful for him when she dies. So I don’t think he sees a slave in her. I think he sees a beautiful spirit.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Turandot: Music with Maestro

Maestro Asher Fisch demonstrates how the music of Turandot expanded the European classical tradition. Discover how Puccini used exotic Chinese and Persian scales to infuse Turandot with color, drama, and excitement; while remaining true to western harmonies to convey its heartfelt emotion. Includes rehearsal footage of the Seattle Opera Chorus and Childrens’ Chorus.

Learn more about Turandot on the Seattle Opera Website

Monday, July 9, 2012

Martin Pakledinaz

Marty Pakledinaz passed away on Sunday morning. His costumes have graced Seattle Opera since his debut in Orpheus and Eurydice in 1988. He invariably found a special look that showed off the best attributes of every singer. Not just singers. Before we opened the first Rheingold in 2000, he was unhappy because my shoes lacked polish. He shined them himself. That was Marty.

He had many triumphs at Seattle Opera from Handel’s Xerxes and Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride to Barber’s Vanessa, with his most lasting and acclaimed success the Ring costumes created in 2000 and 2001 for our present cycle. His design always suited the dramatic needs not just of the piece but of the intent of the director.

Personally he was a close friend to all of us at Seattle Opera. We share the grief of his family.

-- General Director Speight Jenkins


Designs by Martin Pakledinaz at Seattle Opera

Orpheus and Eurydice, 1988.
Photo by Ron Scherl

Werther, 1997.
Photo by Gary Smith

Vanessa, 1999.
Photo by Gary Smith

Lohengrin, 2004.
Photo by Chris Bennion

Die Walküre, 2005.
Photo by Chris Bennion

La bohème, 2007.
Photo by Rozarii Lynch

La bohème, 2007.
Photo by Rozarii Lynch

Iphigénie en Tauride, 2007.
Photo by Bill Mohn

Das Rheingold, 2009.
Photo by Rozarii Lynch

Götterdämmerung, 2009.
Photo by Rozarii Lynch