Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Meet Our Singers: DANA PUNDT, Clorinda

Seattle Opera Young Artist Dana Pundt, fresh from her tour of Washington as the Marchesa del Poggio in the Young Artists Program production of Un giorno di regno, is now making her mainstage debut in La Cenerentola as Cinderella’s wicked older sister, Clorinda. We checked in recently about how she was first exposed to opera, in a small town in rural Texas, about singing different types of bel canto, and about participating in a fairy-tale for adults.

Congratulations on your mainstage debut, Dana! Since you’re new on our stage, we’d love to find out a little about your background. What is your hometown?
Kilgore, Texas. Or Liberty City.

That’s the major metropolitan area, in that part of Texas?
There are no major metropolitan areas in that part of Texas! It’s a bunch of small towns, and you say you’re from one or the other. Liberty City is technically the village where I lived. They had two stop signs.

Wow, yeah, that’s smaller than my hometown...we had a traffic light! Do you get back to Liberty City?
From time to time. My parents still live close to there, in Tyler, Texas. But no, I’m a young singer, so, no home, other than bouncing around between Cincinnati, where I went to school, and Chicago and Des Moines, before here.

That’s right, you were doing the Young Artists Program in Des Moines before joining ours. And others?
Glimmerglass, a few years ago. But I’ve been in Des Moines for the last two summers.

How did you become interested in opera as a career?
Good question!

Particularly growing up in such a remote area.
Well, I always sang, from about the time I was three years old. And my mom got me involved in church choir, and community musicals, that sort of thing. I was Brigitta in The Sound of Music when I was about 10. But believe it or not, in a town about 30 miles away, they started a little fledgling opera company, Opera East Texas. They were fairly successful for several years, starting when I was about 11 years old. They aren’t putting on shows right now. And I got to see Madama Butterfly, and that was it.

You were like, “OK, that’s what I’m doing.”
Done. Front row, bawling my eyes out the whole time, told my mom after the show “I’m gonna be better than that soprano!” And I got involved with them every summer after that, singing in the chorus...

And then you went to school with the intention of becoming a singer.
No question about it.

Can you tell us a little, now that rehearsals have begun, can you tell us more about your role of Clorinda?
Yes, she’s right up my alley...I love these kinds of characters. She is ridiculous, smart-assed...sometimes it’s fun to play these meaner characters.

As a soprano, so much of the time you play these goody-goody girls, who suffer and then die, but here...
Exactly. You don’t usually get to be bitchy or evil, as a soprano. Unless you’re Queen of the Night.

Dana Pundt in La Cenerentola rehearsal
Alan Alabastro, photo

Would you say Clorinda is a mean person?
To Cinderella. She’s just as spoiled brat, essentially. Over-the-top, you know, everything is exaggerated.

How do we tell the difference between Clorinda and Tisbe?
Clorinda is a little more the leader; she’s older. And I’m in a green dress.

Dana Pundt's Clorinda costume, for La Cenerentola

And is Clorinda a hard role to sing?
It is! It’s surprisingly difficult, more so than I expected. This is my first Rossini. I live in Bellini-Donizetti bel canto land, but I hadn’t sung Rossini before.

What’s the challenge?
All the patter. There’s basically zero legato singing, it’s all bouncy and choppy and light, pattery. Which is a whole different skill set. And sometimes the range for Clorinda is ridiculously high.

You’re the only soprano, so this is one of those, “Dana, you’ll have to sing all the high notes in our opera!” ensemble roles, isn’t it! You’re on top, reaching for the stars whenever everybody is onstage, chattering away together.
Yes, and I love that!

That’s true with Barber of Seville, too, with Berta, the maid, she sings those high notes so in the audience, our ears always go right there. So that will be you.
Especially in that first act finale, it’s crazy. I sing above the staff for the whole thing.

And that’s comfortable?
It can be. It’s not undoable...just more like, “Really, Rossini? Thanks.”

Can you compare it to the Queen of the Night?
No, it’s a totally different type of singing. With the Queen, you’re in middle voice and then you bounce around up high, then you’re done, whatever. But this, it stays up in between. Not as high as Queen, not as low as Queen, right in the middle all the time.

You mostly sing ensembles in this opera; you have to be paying really close attention to everybody else onstage with you.
Yes, it’s more about the acting, for Clorinda and Tisbe, than anything else. Even when it’s hard to sing. Keeping the whole ensemble together, when it’s syncopated, and all the patter...that’s the real challenge.

Dana Pundt as the Marchesa del Poggio in Un giorno di regno
Elise Bakketun, photo

Now, for some reason we’re doing lots of bel canto comedy at Seattle Opera this season. You’re now at work on Rossini’s La Cenerentola, and you just finished our Young Artists Program tour of Verdi’s Un giorno di regno. I guess those shows aren’t exactly from the same world of opera, there’s a couple decades in between them...
The comedy is very similar, I would say. I think La Cenerentola is funnier. But in terms of the music, the ensembles are actually pretty similar. The solo singing is extremely different.

What’s the difference between doing a show with the Young Artists Program and working on the mainstage?
In the Young Artists Program you get a lot more one-on-one attention, in terms of preparing the role. We had numerous coachings on everything, including the ensembles, before we ever started staging. But with this, you gotta be ready to go. That’s the way I like it, I show up ready to go and we don’t waste any time. But in a Young Artists Program you’re supposed to be going a little more slowly, because you’re learning things.

What are your favorite memories of that tour y’all did this fall, taking Un giorno di regno around Washington? Your schedule looked crazy, criss-crossing the mountains back and forth...
Well, the drive is beautiful, so I didn’t mind all the car rides. It’s really nothing compared to a program like Opera Iowa, which is the most brutal thing you’ve ever experienced. 3 or 4 performances a day, at different places. But let’s see...favorite experience...I found that Walla Walla was a really cool city. Lots to do. We were there for a couple of days, had a couple nice meals; they’re big on their wines, out there.

What was your favorite moment in Un giorno di regno?
Oh, definitely, the duet between myself and Belfiore, the fight scene. So much fun! I loved doing that over and over again! [laughs]

Dana Pundt as Clorinda, Daniela Pini as Cenerentola, and Sarah Larsen as Tisbe in La Cenerentola rehearsal
Alan Alabastro, photo

You love playing these nasty...”spiritose,” I guess you’d call them in Italian, feisty, these ladies who give the men such a hard time. Have you ever had to play the “Oh, my man has left me, I’m gonna suck poison out of my ring and die” type girls?
Yeah, I’ve done a lot of Gildas. It’s more of a challenge for me, to play young and innocent. I’m working on Juliette, so...exactly.

Speaking of “young and innocent,” what memories do you have, as a kid, of fairy-tales? Do you remember hearing Cinderella for the first time?
Disney movies, yeah.

Did you want to be a little Disney princess, when you were a girl?
Probably. Although I think I grew out of it quickly, thank God. Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty. Little Mermaid all the way.

You can’t sing Rusalka, can you?
I wish! I would kill to have the chance, but it’s a full lyric, it needs a bigger voice than mine.

Do you think La Cenerentola will appeal to kids? Or adults?
It’s not really geared for kids; I think it’s more of an adult version. I like the changes in the story from the more familiar version. Not having the fairy godmother, that kind of thing. I like the fact that she falls in love with the Prince when she thinks he’s poor. In the fairy-tale, there’s always that question, “Does she only love him because he’s rich?” In this it makes more sense, it’s a more mature relationship. I like the difference.

Is there a come-uppance at the end of this story, for you wicked sisters?
Not really. It’s too bad, we really don’t get punished. We listen to hear sing this beautiful aria at the end, where she forgives us...

Right, and the Prince is really angry with you, because you’ve all been such twerps.
Yes, but she won’t let him punish us. She wants forgiveness and love all around. So we all change our tune to: “She’s great! We love our sister!”

Dana Pundt in La Cenerentola rehearsal
Alan Alabastro, photo