Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Chat with William Burden

In Amelia, the title character, on the verge of becoming a mother, is dealing with unanswered questions about her pilot father’s disappearance during the Vietnam War. Although it’s clear from the first scene that her father, Dodge, is already dead, he is an extremely prominent character in this story, appearing in flashbacks, memories, and dreams. Tenor William Burden (right), a familiar face at Seattle Opera, is creating this role and is here to share a little about the process of working on a world premiere.

When did you first hear about Amelia?
I first heard about Amelia several years ago when Speight started talking about a new commission to celebrate a particular anniversary in his tenure with the company. As a germ of an idea it was all rather mysterious and tantalizing. Then at the workshop two years ago I heard some of the music and the piece started to take real form in my imagination and my interest and excitement started to grow. I can't ever remember a time when I didn't want to be a part of this project—to participate in a production from its inception and to have the opportunity to sing a tailor-made role!

Burden as Nadir in The Pearl Fishers (2009)

You’ve performed in several world premieres. What do you enjoy about the process?
I have indeed performed a couple new pieces and the process is always interesting and exciting. To be a part of the original creative endeavor raises the stakes in ways that the creative process of more standard repertory doesn't. Direct interaction with the author, composer, and librettist allows for insight and inspiration that you just can't get from, say, Mozart and Da Ponte! There is also a wonderful sense of expectation that accompanies a world premiere—we are giving birth with this piece (in more ways than one!). The double-edged sword is, of course, that you can't ever really know what public reaction will be, so those raised stakes do keep you on your toes!

Burden as Lindoro in The Italian Girl in Algiers (2006)

Your character, Dodge, is a navy pilot who is lost during the Vietnam War. How did you build your portrayal of this character?
Though I have no personal connection to the Vietnam War or to the actual life of a pilot in the military, I draw on my experience as a father to connect to the character of Dodge. His love for his family is the strongest identifiable characteristic in each of the three powerful scenes he inhabits in the story. For our audience, the most challenging scene may be the flashback to Vietnam; but even there, though Dodge must maintain herculean focus on his duty as a soldier, his personal identification as a husband and father comes through. For me, the two incredible scenes with Amelia, both as a child and an adult, are the real payoffs. It is a personal indulgence to get to explore on stage the remarkable relationship that exists between a father and daughter—one that I will value forever!

Top photo © Rozarii Lynch. All other photos © Bill Mohn.

1 comment:

  1. I can hardly wait for both the new production's premier as well as for Burden's return to Seattle...he has a significant fan base here!