Monday, July 2, 2012

ARIA READY: Q&A with NUCCIA FOCILE, our Voix Humaine

Our final production for the 2012/13 season will be a rare double-bill of two brief operas never before performed at Seattle Opera: La voix humaine, by Francis Poulenc, followed by Suor Angelica, by Puccini. Today we check in with the great Nuccia Focile, who will perform Poulenc's one-woman opera for us, under the baton of Gary Thor Wedow. (We'll hear from our Suor Angelica, Maria Gavrilova, later this week.)

Nuccia Focile needs no introduction to Seattle Opera; born in Sicily, discovered by Luciano Pavarotti, she sings all over the world and has performed a variety of repertory in Seattle, including operas in Russian, Italian, and French, from the 18th, 19th, and (now with Voix, composed in 1959) 20th centuries. The opera she'll be singing for us next spring is a 'monodrama,' Poulenc's setting of a one-woman play by Jean Cocteau, and as such is the biggest possible challenge in the world of arias. A nameless woman is on the telephone, speaking to a lover who has moved on to someone else, and the opera follows their difficult, emotional conversation.

Nuccia Focile as Mimì in La bohème at Seattle Opera, with Rosario LaSpina as Rodolfo
(Rozarii Lynch, photo)

You are the only person onstage during this opera, so you are, in a sense, singing one long aria. What is challenging about being onstage by yourself for 40 minutes?
You really have to carry the whole show on your shoulders. The entire story is based around this telephone, which connects this woman to everybody else involved in the story. I have to act my role, but I also have to act everybody else because the only way for the audience to understand and imagine what the other person is saying to me is through the expression on my face. The voice is really dictating everything, which is why there must be such a big understanding between the conductor, the director, and the singer. Sometimes, for example, the music cannot start until I do a particular movement or reaction, and that reaction happens in the silence. It doesn’t always take the same amount of time. Evenings can be shorter, some can be longer. I have to find courage to sustain those moments of silence. It really is more like a play than an opera.

Nuccia Focile as Iphigénie in Iphigénie en Tauride at Seattle Opera, with Brett Polegato as Oreste
(Bill Mohn, photo)

Have you actually scripted what the people on the other line are saying?
I have my phrases in my mind, so I know to react to it.

Nuccia Focile as Nedda/Columbina in Pagliacci at Seattle Opera
(Bill Mohn, photo)

Have you performed this role before?
I performed this role last year in Covent Garden in London in English. In Seattle, we will do it in French, so in a way it will be like doing it for the first time. When you sing it in French, it becomes more elegant, lighter. The language and the music are so perfect together.

Nuccia Focile as Violetta in La traviata at Seattle Opera
(Rozarii Lynch, photo)

You can find a few different Voix Humaines on YouTube, including a concert performance of the entire opera. The curious version embedded below is abridged, but does a good job capturing the feel of this mid-century masterpiece.

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