Friday, February 8, 2013

Meet Our OUR EARTH Singers: Rachel DeShon, Alitsa/Salmon

Today, our fourth and final interview with the adults in our Heron and the Salmon Girl cast: Rachel DeShon, who plays Alitsa, the Salmon Girl of the opera's title. A Pacific Northwest native who really loves salmon--she's even shared her favorite salmon recipe with us!--DeShon remembers her days as a student with Seattle Youth Symphony, one of our partners for Our Earth, and lets us know what she's been doing more recently.

You’re new to Seattle Opera – welcome! Where did you grow up, and how did you first become involved with music?
I was born and raised in Seattle and graduated from Inglemoor High School. Even as a little girl, my life was an opera. Everything was a song, I would always sing, no matter what I was doing. My mom says that when I was about four years old I was playing in the laundry room and I climbed on the washing machine. I was always singing, so much of the time she didn't pay much attention, but this day I kept singing the same song over and over and it got progressively louder and louder. When she finally noticed the words, I was singing "I'M STUCK on the washing machine! Get me off the washing machine!" in a really big operatic voice.

I was also heavily involved in instrumental music growing up. I started playing Flute in elementary school and when I got to Junior High School I switched to French Horn and took part in the Seattle Youth Symphony's Endangered Instruments Program. It is a program that encourages music students to learn less commonly played instruments. It is exciting that things have come full circle and I am again involved with the Seattle Youth Symphony.

What do you like most about being a Seattleite?
I love the outdoors and going on adventures. If I could mix opera and camping, I'd be a happy camper! (No pun intended.)

What's a favorite experience you've had as a performer?
Two unique experiences have really molded me into the artist I am today:

When I was a senior in high school I competed in a won Marvin Hamlisch's Search for a Star Competition with the Seattle Symphony. What I took from that experience was so more important than any prize, I gained a true champion and mentor. Marvin Hamlisch helped guide my journey as an artist. He was a constant source of encouragement and I was so fortunate to work with him and be a guest artist on his national tour.

Rachel DeShon with Marvin Hamlisch
Michael Doucett, photo

Right after graduating from college and much to the dismay of my parents, I ran away with the circus! I am a recurring cast member with Teatro ZinZanni and have been nicknamed "Seattle's Littlest Diva". I have had the opportunity to collaborate with such a diverse group from contortionists and acrobats to Grammy Award winners Thelma Houston and Joan Baez, it is a place that is like none other. Teatro ZinZanni truly made me learn what it is to be a fearless performer. If anyone is looking for a roller-skating, flying opera singer - I'm your girl.

Rachel DeShon at Teatro ZinZanni
Michael Doucett, photo

Who is Alitsa, and what does she do in the opera?
Alitsa is vivacious young girl. Our characters' names come from the Lushootseed language, which is spoken by many tribes in the Puget Sound region. Alitsa is a girl that is always on the look out for an adventure. At the beginning of the opera she is tired of her surroundings and is seeking to find where she fits in. As the first act progresses she finds herself realizing the beauty that surrounds her and that she truly loves her home. She also has a magical power to transform into a Salmon. When Alitsa transforms she is able to embark on a new journey, one that will take her to an unfamiliar place. When she arrives she sees that her brother is greatly in need of her help.

What is your favorite part about the opera to sing?
While we are traveling on the boat I tell Tayil, the fisherman, of a time when "my brother and I sailed, we sailed for days on end". This is a turning point for Alitsa and she realizes how much she loves the sea and her home.

The costumes Rachel DeShon wears as Alitsa and Salmon are designed by Pete Rush

I am truly honored to be working with Seattle Opera; this has been a very unique and rewarding experience, thus far. Having the opportunity to share in the creation process with the youth of the Seattle community has brought unique life to this project. To see young people excited about creating a new work is truly gratifying. It is essential to find and establish new audiences, and this project is tailored to do just that. I hope by bringing opera to young people we will create a love for opera that will extend throughout their lives.

Are you fond of salmon? If so, what’s your favorite way to prepare them?
Being a true girl from the Northwest, I love salmon. Here's my favorite recipe:

"Salmon Girl Loves Salmon"

8 T Butter (one stick)
1/3 C Honey
1/3 C Brown Sugar
2 T Lemon Juice
1 t Liquid Smoke
3/4 t Red Pepper Flakes
1 center cut salmon fillet (about two pounds, skin on and in one piece)

1. Combine butter, honey, brown sugar, lemon juice, liquid smoke, and red pepper flakes in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until smooth, 5-7 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
2. Arrange the salmon in a dish just large enough to hold it. Poor the cooled marinade over it, and let it stand for 30 minutes, turning once.
3. Prepare the grill.
4. Oil the grill well and cook the salmon skin side up over medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Then turn it over and cook until the fish flakes easily, another 5-7 minutes.
5. Transfer the fish to a platter and serve immediately.

Our friends at The Nature Conservancy posted this photo of young salmon, also known as 'parr,' earlier this week
Bridget Besaw, photo

Has playing a salmon in this opera changed your attitude toward them?
All animals from the land and sea in the Pacific Northwest have seen such a dramatic change in habitat in the last 50 years; salmon are no exception. It is crucial that we preserve and help rebuild natural habitats in the Pacific Northwest so the beauty we are able to see today will be here for future generations.


Our Earth is produced by Seattle Opera in partnership with Seattle Youth Symphony and The Nature Conservancy. If you’d like to win tickets to Sunday’s performance, which also features former Seattle Opera Young Artist Adina Aaron singing Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, we’ll be giving away five pairs Friday afternoon.

Enter the drawing by heading over to Twitter and tweeting:

I want to win 2 tix to Heron & the Salmon Girl from @SeattleOpera & @Conserve_WA! #OurEarthOpera

You can tweet once each day for additional chances to win; the drawing will happen Friday 2/8 at 3 pm.

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