Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Chat with William Burden

With only a few days left before Lucia di Lammermoor opens at McCaw Hall, we spoke to our opening night Edgardo, tenor William Burden, and found out how he prepares for roles, what he thinks about his character, and how he's evolved since his Seattle Opera debut 10 years ago.

Seattle audiences last saw you creating a role in Amelia, and now you’re back in Seattle for Lucia. That’s a big shift, from premiering an opera to performing one that is so well known!

You'd think that there would be a significant difference between the preparation for a newly composed role and one that has long existed in the canon of operatic literature, but actually, as both roles were new to me, my preparation was virtually the same. The one difference is that there is plenty of reference (by way of recordings) for study when preparing a role from the standard rep. As I was originating the role of Dodge in Amelia, I had the privilege of creating the reference! That being said, since both Dodge and Edgardo were new roles for me, my initial preparation was the same: start with the rhythm and text, then the notes, then slowly put it all together with the help of my teacher and some great coaches (who help with musical style and accuracy). Once in Seattle, the process takes on new layers when I get to work with the director and my singing colleagues.

William Burden in Amelia

On a related note, how do you make a familiar character like Edgardo your own? Do you try to personalize the role?
Any time I'm taking on a new character, I have to find the ways that I can relate to him within the context of the story. I'm not sure that "personalizing" is what I'm after, but the character must seem real to me. The fun part is working with a director, conductor, and other singers to make sure we are telling a clear and exciting story.

In the Director’s Talk video for Lucia, we see a clip of you rehearsing with Aleksandra Kurzak. The two of you are in an embrace, and there is so much emotion in your face and in the movement of your body. How emotionally invested do you get in the characters you portray?
Okay - true confessions time. Performing is therapy for me. I can work out all sorts of stuff when I'm on stage playing someone other than myself! That being said, emotions like deep love and passion are easy. We all have experienced these, and in the hands of a gifted composer, the soundtrack just makes the playing even easier! When you develop trust with your colleagues through the rehearsal process, exploring the emotions of the characters is safe and thrilling and should be a window for the audience into the narrative.

One of the most dramatic moments in Lucia is when Edgardo becomes furious because he believes Lucia has betrayed him, and doesn’t give her much of an opportunity to explain. [Friday/Sunday Edgardo] Scott Piper said that moment shows that “Edgardo can be selfish, moody, and impetuous.” What do you think?
I would like to believe that I would react differently in the same situation, but one never knows. It is completely believable to me that Edgardo would behave exactly as he does. We have all acted before thinking (I do it daily, I fear), and the degree of hurt and humiliation he is experiencing (even if it's somewhat self-imposed) could make anyone lash out. Bottom line: it makes for good opera!

William Burden in Seattle Opera's 2000 Lakmé

This is your seventh production with Seattle Opera, going back to 2000 when you performed the role of Gerald in Lakmé. How have you felt your voice and your performance style evolving in the years and productions since then?
I'd like to think I have continued to grow with each production. I'm so grateful to Speight for taking the risks he has taken and for giving me the wonderful opportunities he has over these years. It is his confidence in me that has allowed me to do whatever growing I can lay claim to. Each role has posed new challenges and opportunities to explore my instrument and my stage craft, and the great colleagues at Seattle Opera have encouraged me to "up my game" with every outing!

What else do you have lined up for this season?
I have a bunch of new music to learn this year, some new opera and some concert works, along with some challenging twentieth-century opera by Britten and Henze. I’m grateful that it's a full year with lots to look forward to.

Photos by Rozarii Lynch and (Lakmé) Gary Smith.