Monday, April 26, 2010

A Chat with our Amelias

Throughout the course of Amelia, we see the title character both as a young girl (sung by Ashley Emerson) and as an adult (sung by Kate Lindsey). They may be playing the same character, but they agree that their Amelias are vastly different.

“My scene as Amelia is before her father, Dodge, goes missing, and this event is such a huge catalyst for grown-up Amelia’s tensions,” says Emerson (right). Lindsey agrees that the character “changes entirely” when she learns of Dodge’s disappearance. “I feel as though the childlike dreams of flying that Young Amelia has are completely crushed when she loses her father to the sky,” Lindsey says. “Thus, the older Amelia you see later has become disconnected from the child inside of her.”

One commonality between both Amelias, Emerson says, is that they idolize their father. “This sets the groundwork for the glimpses the audience has of Amelia and Dodge interacting (in my scenes), and also makes the fear that cripples Kate’s Amelia so believable.” (Below, Lindsey rehearses a scene with William Burden, who plays her father, Dodge.)

The character is based on librettist Gardner McFall, though the story is not 100% biographical. To prepare for their roles, both singers read McFall’s poetry and have talked with her extensively, but they’re not trying to make their portrayals of Amelia an impersonation of McFall. “I’m being careful to take what she says, and piece it together in the separate psyche of Amelia,” Lindsey says. “I would never want the essence of Amelia to come down to an imitation of Gardner.”

In addition to learning about McFall, both Emerson and Lindsey have done additional research for their characters. Because she’s playing a 10-year-old girl, Emerson has been reviewing videos of her grade school musicals and dance recitals. “Watching those has certainly helped remind me of my physical nature at that age.”

Lindsey has been reading up on the Vietnam War to understand the situation during Dodge’s second call to duty. She’s also been working with composer Daron Aric Hagen over the past few years to tailor some of her music to her voice, which she says “made all the difference in my ability to really sing into the music and try to get the words as clear as possible.”

Both singers have a history with director Stephen Wadsworth (shown at right working with Lindsey in a staging rehearsal), after training with him in the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and they’re happy to be reuniting with him for this world premiere. “He allows you to follow your instincts,” Lindsey says of working with Wadsworth. “He cares very deeply that we, as the performers, are fully dedicated to the set intentions of the words or phrases.” Also, says Emerson, “Stephen really, really understands people. That’s part of why his storytelling is so clear and so moving.”

Staging rehearsal photos © Bill Mohn.

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