Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Meet Our Singers: ERIN WALL, Donna Anna

Vancouver native Erin Wall makes her Seattle Opera debut this fall as Donna Anna, the unhappy daughter of Don Giovanni’s stone guest. Vancouver opera-lovers saw her recently in this same role, but in a very different production from Seattle’s. The other day Wall told us a little about going to college in Washington, singing Donna Anna, and the perils of long-distance running in Seattle.

Erin Wall sings a passage from Donna Anna's Act Two aria, "Non mi dir"

Welcome to Seattle Opera! We’re excited about your debut. Tell us a little about your background.
Yes, I’m Canadian - I grew up in Vancouver, BC. I did my undergraduate degree at Western, in Bellingham. I wanted to be away from home, but still close enough to drive home on weekends. After that, I went to Rice University in Houston for two years of graduate school, and then I moved to Chicago, where I joined the Young Artists Program at Lyric Opera of Chicago. I lived in Chicago until I married my husband.

And where do you live now?

So you’re back to being Canadian! And let me ask you a question, as a family person—you have a husband, and children—the thing about Don Giovanni, to any of the characters in this opera have what it would take to be a decent wife, husband, mother, father, etc.?
Probably Ottavio does. He’s the only who seems to really want that.

That’s right. He’s very pushy with Anna about getting married.
Right?! He’s all, “Can we get married now? Your father’s dead body is still warm...but let’s go get married.”

Seems to me most of these characters have the maturity of teenagers. Leporello has a line in a recitative somewhere referring to his wife...but it’s hard think of him as being married.
Right! Like, where is she?! And what does she think about the fact that he’s never home, and that he’s constantly running around as Don Giovanni’s wing-man?

In terms of Anna, there are so many different ways to interpret her. The two basic frameworks you get are a) that everything that comes out of her mouth is true, that Don Giovanni did try to rape her, that she wasn’t into it, and that she just needs time to grieve for her father before she can get married with Don Ottavio. There’s a custom that you don’t get married while you’re in mourning, for a year. That’s why she says what she does, at the end. That’s the traditional approach to Donna Anna, and I think it makes sense. But then you also can have the Donna Anna who is lying about what happened with Giovanni, and maybe that lady is not ready to get with Ottavio.

Lawrence Brownlee as Don Ottavio and Erin Wall as Donna Anna
Elise Bakketun, photo

Tell us about the Don Giovanni you recently did in Vancouver.
Traditional, eighteenth-century. Lots of projections, in the production. Kelly Robinson was the director, and he believed what Anna says is the truth, and I had a nice, strong Ottavio, too. It worked fine.

Is the interpretation of the character slightly different in Seattle, then?
Yes , [Stage Director] Chris [Alexander]’s interpretation is that it’s not all so straightforward. You’ll see right from the beginning—this won’t be the same interpretation we did in Vancouver.

Photo by Tara McMullen, styled by Liz Anne Fumiko Parker, hair and makeup by Ivy Lam, dress by Rosemarie Umetsu

On your website we found a photo that shows you as a runner as well as a singer.
Oh, my publicity photo! Yes, most of those photographs come out being quite dull, you know, sitting there like this: [strikes a pose]. So we went outside with the photographer; I like to run, I’ve run in lots of races, and I had piles of running shoes and diva shoes, and we put a running bib over my gown. She wanted to show two sides of my personality.

Are you a sprinter?
No, I am a very slow runner. My favorite distances are the 10K and half-marathon. I haven’t done a full marathon yet. I’ve trained for two, but both times I became pregnant, and my doctors were strongly against marathon running while pregnant! But one of these days I will do one. I just did a half-marathon in Chicago, before coming here.

Are you going to run while you’re in Seattle?
Yes. In fact, I did a half-marathon here, in 2011, ending in disaster. It’s hilly here! It was very cold and wet, and I got hypothermia—I underdressed for the conditions and lived to regret it.

Erin Wall as Donna Anna
Elise Bakketun, photo

Tell us about your character’s journey over the course of the show.
Most of Donna Anna’s journey is Act One. It’s very exciting, from when you come onstage, then her father being killed, then finding out who did that. But from that point onward it’s less dynamic; you get this ambiguous situation at the end, where, Yay! Don Giovanni is dead, but she's still not ready to move on with her life and marry Ottavio.

And do you sing Donna Elvira?
No, I don’t think I can! I’ve tried in the practice room, fooled around with it, but it sits a little too low for me. And as for Zerlina, no, they would never cast anyone with my voice type. There must be some soprano who has sung all three.

If you were in the audience, as opposed to onstage, watching Don Giovanni, with which of the characters would you say: “Oh, that’s me.” Who would you identify with?
None of them. Maybe Leporello. Running around cleaning up other people’s messes—that’s what I do anyway, as a mother!

I love that! Leporello as Don Giovanni’s mother! Even keeping the scrapbook!
That’s right, he likes keeping track of things, statistics—I’m into that—now that’s going to go into print, and I’m going to be embarrassed!

Don Giovanni runs for seven performances from October 18 – November 1st. For more information, please visit


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