Tuesday, April 26, 2011

MEET OUR SINGERS: John Tessier and Jonathan Boyd (Tamino)

It's time for us to chat with our two Taminos, tenors John Tessier (Saturday/Wednesday performances) and Jonathan Boyd (Sunday/Friday performances). Both are making their Seattle Opera debuts in The Magic Flute, and both shared their insights into this production and the role of Tamino. (To the right, see a sketch of Tamino's costume, by costume designer Zandra Rhodes.)

Read on to find out what they think about this hero on a quest, as well as learn what else Tessier and Boyd have been up to lately. And, stay tuned for more Q&As with our cast in the coming weeks!

Tamino is a Luke Skywalker/Frodo-on-a-quest type of character. Do you worry about personalizing such an archetypal character?

John: I think it is exciting to play a character on a quest, especially this quest for good. Tamino is young and naive so he does not know real fear yet. This makes playing him fun because he feels, as most young people do, that he is invincible.
Jonathan: For me, Tamino is certainly on a quest—just as each of us have been, or perhaps are currently experiencing, in our own lives. I am honored that such modern-day iconic names as Frodo, Skywalker, and even Indiana Jones have been used to describe the young Tamino. Yes, these are fictional characters. However, we have all experienced true human emotions as Frodo carries the ring around his neck, Skywalker learns of his true family, and Jones uses his whip to get himself out of harm’s way. Tamino, too, will carry his own "ring" (the locket), be faced with honor and family (Queen or Sarastro?), and use his "whip" (the flute) to keep him from harm in the pit of snakes (which, for him, is the trials of fire and water).

John Tessier (Tamino) and Philip Cutlip (Papageno) in rehearsals for The Magic Flute, with the two of the Three Ladies visible in the background (Anya Matanovic and Marcy Stonikas; Lindsey Anderson is hidden from view in this photo by our Papageno!).
Photo by Alan Alabastro

As heroes go, Tamino isn’t very impressive at first. He fails to defeat the dragon and he is easily manipulated by the Queen. Is it fun to play this kind of a character that has a large growth arc in the story, or would you rather come in as a triumphant conquering hero from the get-go?

Jonathan: I respectfully disagree that our hero Tamino is unimpressive at first. We first see Tamino as he begins to explore a world that his father has told him is magical. I believe it takes great courage to set out solo to explore the unknown and dangerous. Imagine, if you will, having only the clothes on your back and a map, with nothing familiar around you. On your mark! Get set! Go! I hope you survive! When Tamino finds himself faced with a portal of darkness and unknown dangers, he actually enters inside only to be chased out by a being that is many times larger than he is physically, and yet Tamino attacks this obstacle with his bare hands. Since Tamino has only human qualities—i.e. no magical powers—he is thrown (quite literally) off his feet. As for the manipulation he experiences: I don't believe Tamino is manipulated by the Queen, but more by the human condition of love. It is this love that leads Tamino to say in the text, “das schwör’ich bei meiner liebe” (“I swear it by my love”). So, our hero Tamino starts out strong, but in a way similar to that of a teenager with a naïve feeling of being indestructible. He’s quickly humbled through the life lessons of responsibility and truth.
John: I think Tamino is only defeated by the dragon because he has no weapons and it's a big dragon! He does make an attempt to fight it heroically, so I think he is impressive. Yes, 'manipulated by the Queen' is an accurate description, but I think Tamino falls prey to her because of his sheltered upbringing and youthful gullibility.

In Chris Alexander’s production, Tamino won’t join the brotherhood at the end of The Magic Flute. Does that change how you play Tamino’s attitude toward Sarastro and his priests through the whole opera?

John: This is a different take on the ending and I think a great one. In this case, Tamino still has respect for the priests and Sarastro throughout the opera but chooses to take Pamina back to his own land, or maybe even to live a simple life with her in the forest.
Jonathan: Tamino's journey is always that of finding truth. So I have no need to "change" his attitude. He experiences true love and true friendship as well as true deceit. One makes life decisions only from knowledge. So Tamino, just as any adult must eventually do, uses the wisdom he has acquired to make his own decisions. Chris Alexander has created a brilliant platform for Tamino to discover true-to-life situations even in this magical world--wonderfully set up, I might add, by the use of some of the best theatrical technology available to us today. I play Tamino honestly, and any attitude that Tamino shows toward Sarastro and the priests stems from the overall experiences he has throughout his journey.

John, what can you tell us about Waiting for Monroe, a new opera you'll be doing with Netherlands Opera in 2012, in which you play the opera version of John F. Kennedy?

I really can tell you very little about the opera, as it is still being composed. I can mention that Robin de Raaff is a great composer and I am looking forward to singing his music. But I think playing such a historic character that was loved by so many will be exciting and challenging.

Have you ever been to Seattle before? Opera Canada has called you a “sports fanatic.” Now that the weather is getting nice, are you going to take advantage of the opportunity for outdoor recreation in this area?

I have sung with the Symphony here, and was able to enjoy the Washington Athletic Club pool. It looks like I’ll maybe able to swim there again, which is fantastic. I also have plans to see a baseball game and maybe rent a kayak, too. I think it might be too cold to seek out a windsurfing rental place, but there is a month left so you never know!

What about you, Jonathan? I heard that you enjoy sailing. Do you plan on going out on the water while you’re in town?

I was in Seattle once before, for about 48 hours. I do enjoy sailing, it’s true, and I’m currently working towards my Coast Guard captain’s license. My performance schedule has not allowed me to log as many hours on the water as I would like. However, I will take every opportunity possible as I need a few more logged hours before my Coast Guard exam. At the moment, I am certified for a 22-foot sailing vessel, which happens to be the size of my 1979 Buccaneer docked on the Hudson River back home in NYC.

Tell us about your upcoming engagement singing Moby Dick for San Diego.

Speaking of sailing...what an exciting opportunity--the ultimate in sailing stories! Though I was not able to see the actual premiere of Moby Dick live, I was fortunate enough to view an archival recording, sitting in the offices of Dallas Opera, while on the roster there singing in a production of Don Giovanni. (They allowed me to view the recording because they knew I would be performing it in San Diego.) The video I saw was from a fixed camera from the back of house, but it gave me a glimpse at what technology and the brilliant minds of our directors and musicians of today can create.

I truly believe my skills as a real-life sailor will come into play, since the set is made up of various ropes and rigging on which the cast climbs and hoists themselves, just as one does on a real ship. I was told by cast members in that production I should go out, climb on something, and try singing while hanging 20 feet in the air by the tips of my fingers—then I will be ready for the production. As with any production, the first step is to learn the music, and it was only recently the revised music score became available. After any premiere, there are bound to be some slight changes made—even Seattle Opera's version of The Magic Flute will have "new" text in it that was found in a score owned by his wife, scribbled in Mozart's hand. That said, like Magic Flute, I am certain there were not any major changes, but the details that have been re-examined will only make the presentation that much stronger.