Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Meet our singers: TICHINA VAUGHN, Antonia’s Mother

Not just any singer could steal the show in less than 10 minutes. But with a personality as big and a voice as astonishing as Tichina Vaughn’s, anything is possible. Normally, you’d find this American mezzo with a beautiful, dramatic sound, in Germany, where she’s created a home-base for her opera career. However, being able to travel to Seattle to do The Tales of Hoffmann is particularly meaningful to the artist, who got her first job in Seattle straight out of The Met Young Artist Development program in her 20s. As she tells it, Speight Jenkins was the first General Director to believe in her. She’s overjoyed to be here for his last performance with the company. 

You play a portrait of Antonia’s mother. That seems like an unusual role!
Initially, I didn't know what (Director Chris Alexander) was going to do with my character. In some productions, Antonia’s mother doesn't actually appear. She’s just a disembodied voice, and actually, that’s sort of how I approached the role (in the score, it just says “la voix,” or, “the voice”). I’m just an incarnation of Antonia’s mother that Dr. Miracle uses to seduce Antonia to her demise.

I hear you often play someone’s mother.
It’s funny because my daughter’s school is doing a play, and she’s playing the mother. I told her, “You’re following in my footsteps!”

How are you so awesome in this show in such a short amount of time?
All I can say is that God made me a ham. Also, I absolutely adore my job. I adore being onstage. I’ve done it my entire life, and I’ve never lost that sense of wonder. Every chance I get, I’m all in.

In this production, you’re supposed to exude “opera diva”…it doesn't seem like too far of a stretch for you, am I wrong?
(Laughs). When they told me that’s what they were going for, I said “I got it! I can definitely do that.”

I know you play a disembodied voice, but what do you know about Antonia’s mother?
The story is that Antonia’s mother was a famous opera singer, but she got sick (I suppose a heart illness or respiratory failure) and died from this illness. Unfortunately, she passes on both the gift of singing, as well as the illness, to her child.

From left: Norah Amsellem (Antonia), Tichina Vaughn (Antonia's Mother) and Nicolas Cavallier (Dr. Miracle).
Elise Bakketun photo
How does the Antonia scene relate to the larger The Tales of Hoffmann story?
It’s just like the other “tales” really: Guy meets girl. Guy loves girl. There’s an assumption of a happy ending. But it doesn't work out. Hoffmann’s first love, Olympia, is sort of a fashion trend. Antonia shows a different aspect of femininity: she’s delicate and vulnerable. Basically, Hoffmann can’t handle any type of lady. Antonia is seduced toward her own destruction, and Hoffmann has to witness all of that. There’s nothing he can do to save her.

Your roots here at Seattle Opera go way back. What do you remember about the 1992 Aida or the 1993 Don Carlos?
Both of those opportunities included roles (Amneris and Eboli, respectively) that I’ve now turned career roles. I’m just so grateful to Speight Jenkins because he was the first person who really believed in me, who took a chance on a young mezzo. This was my first real, substantial role. Auditioning for Speight was intimidating, (I knew he had that eye and that ear for great singers). At one of the Don Carlos rehearsals where i had been constantly marking a difficult aria, Speight came up to me and said, “Now look here, I know you’re nervous, but your voice is made for this, you can do it!”

Tichina Vaughnn as Amneris in the 1992 Aida. Matthew McVay photo. 

What’s it like being an American living in Germany?
I really love it. It’s not really being “An American living in Germany,” because in Europe, everything is so international. Practically every performance I’m in has people of different ethnicities. Honestly, the best part about living in Germany is that it’s in Europe. It’s where this art form originated. It’s like singing on holy ground.

What’s it been like for your daughter and son to grow up in Germany?
I coined a term to describe my kids: “Amereuopean.” They are completely culturally European, though. My son’s heart language is German. If he ever needs to say anything important to me, he always speaks in German. I’m originally from North Carolina, and recently, I took my kids to see where I grew up. We were on the highway, and they my son was like, “Mom, why are you going so slow?” The concept of a speed limit was shocking to my kids. In Germany, of course, on the Autobahn, we don’t have any limit.

What’s it like being a part of Speight’s last production?
It’s something that I’m going to reassure as a truly awesome moment in my life.

Tichina Vaughn (Antonia's Mother) in The Tales of Hoffmann. Elise Bakketun photo

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