Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Meet Our Singers: SARAH COBURN, Marie

Sarah Coburn stars as Marie, the Daughter of the Regiment, in our fall production. A graduate of Seattle Opera’s Young Artists Program, Sarah has given us terrific mainstage performances as Adele in Die Fledermaus and Rosina in The Barber of Seville. But this role is an even greater challenge, and Sarah shared with me some of its difficulties—and some memories of her first Seattle Opera experiences, a dozen years ago!

Sarah Coburn singing "Il faut partir"

Sarah, have you ever sung so long and exhausting a role as this Marie?
Susanna, in Marriage of Figaro, is probably longer. But it doesn’t have Marie’s taxing tessitura; Susanna just sings a lot of recitative and duets and so forth. Lucia is long, but it’s nothing like this. And once you get to the end of the night in Lucia, the Mad Scene, it’s easy. Daughter of the Regiment is a marathon—especially Act Two. You’ve got lots of physical comedy, then right into an emotional, vulnerable cavatina, which has to be beautiful and has to have soft moments. And then into “Salut à la France!” And then into a funny trio. And it keeps going and keeps going. And her mood changes so quickly, especially after the lesson scene. I’d say this role is deceptively difficult. It’s not like Norina or Adina... vocally it’s more dramatic.

Sarah Coburn and Alexander Hajek (Sulpice) in rehearsal for Daughter of the Regiment
Alan Alabastro, photo

Marie is a tomboy, or perhaps ‘army brat’ is a better description, forced to become a lady. How do you relate to her journey, in terms of this boy/girl question?
I’ve always seen her as very boyish—completely unaware of her femininity and how it affects the guys around her. As far as she’s concerned, she’s one of the guys. So she’s uncomfortable and vulnerable once she’s out of that situation. We’re taking a slightly different twist with this production; here she’s less artless, she knows a little about how to use her feminine wiles to manipulate men. It’s a bit more modern, befitting our updated production.

Yes, it’s the Number One thing for me that seems to call out for ‘suspension of disbelief’—how realistic is it for there to be this sweet, innocent young ingenue who’s grown up her whole life around soldiers?
She’s innocent in that she’s unaware of her effect...but she’s crass. She swears when she is around the guys and doesn't necessarily sit like a lady.

Sarah Coburn in rehearsal
Alan Alabastro, photo

Now, the cussing we’re doing in our French dialogue here is still pretty G-rated, correct?
“Corbleu!” and “Sacre bleu!” That kind of thing. And we don’t really see the fruition of this quest to make her a lady, because the funny part is how uncomfortable she is in those constraints. If she’s all of a sudden comfortable as a little princess in a ballgown, it wouldn’t be funny.

Do you like singing in French? What was it like doing Lucie de Lammermoor in the French version?
I do enjoy singing in French, although it is a bit more difficult than singing in Italian. I think that the healthiest thing I can do as a singer is to approach French opera as if I were singing in Italian, meaning that I want to strive for purity of vowels and long legato lines. I would like to sing more French roles- maybe Manon in the future. I sang the French Lucia in 2005 and 2008 and I do love singing it, but it is an Italian opera, with French text sort of superimposed on top. The mad scene has a few rearrangements and is in a higher key, but the role was written for the Italian text, so it doesn't work as well as something that was composed for an original French text. Even the alternate aria in Act 1, "Que n'avons-nous des ailes" was originally from an Italian opera, Rosmonda d'Inghilterra. I do love the high f at the end of the French mad scene!

Sarah Coburn (Adele), Dana Johnson (Ida) and Patrick Carfizzi (Frank) in Die Fledermaus, 2006
Rozarii Lynch, photo

We’ve always seen you in comedies here. When do we get you in a tragedy?

How are comedy and tragedy different, from your point of view?
Comedy is so much harder. You have to pay so much more attention! There are so many teeny tiny moments. And it’s tricky, with comedy, to remount a production that was originally done for other performers. You might have ideas or inclinations about the show, but you have to wait, and figure out what they did last time, and then hopefully you can layer on top of that something creative, something you can bring to it yourself. Without overdoing it, or changing the style, or not melding with what your colleagues are doing. It’s challenging, because we’re not building something from scratch, we’re coming into something that’s already there.

Sarah Kleeman (Tisbe), Adriana Zabala (Cenerentola), and Sarah Coburn (Clorinda) in the 2002 Young Artists Program La Cenerentola
Chris Bennion, photo

We’re celebrating Seattle Opera’s 50th this year, and on our history site we have a funny photo of you as Clorinda in La Cenerentola. What memories do you have of being a Young Artist?
It feels like a century ago! It was stressful, I remember that—we were young, just starting out, learning to audition; Larry [Brownlee, who sings Tonio in Daughter of the Regiment] and I were just reminiscing about it the other day, how we did the Act 1 finale of Così and took it on the road, did concerts all over the state! I will never forget listening to Larry and Ryan Taylor sing the duet from The Pearl Fishers. It killed me every time.

What’s the most important thing you learned that year?
Getting more comfortable onstage. The outreach was fine—that year we were doing the first-ever Opera Goes To School show, Perry Lorenzo’s Magic Flute—but the concerts were fantastic, and that was most helpful to me in terms of getting out there and learning how to sing in front of people on a regular basis.

Sarah Coburn and Lawrence Brownlee in rehearsal for Daughter of the Regiment
Alan Alabastro, photo

Are you and Larry very different people now, do you think?
Oh yes! We’re both married and parents of two children! We’re a lot more tired! Larry’s career, or course, has skyrocketed, but I don’t know that he’s really very different. He is very much down to earth and a good friend, as he always has been. Seems like he used to be really into salsa, and now he’s into ping-pong, but you’ll have to ask him!

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