Monday, January 20, 2014

Meet Our Singers: SARAH LARSEN, Maddalena

Mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen loves being the servant, the best friend, the supporting character: It’s certainly less stressful than being the soprano or the tenor who has to carry the entire show.  “I’m the one who says, ‘I’m going to help you, then I’m going away to regroup backstage,’" she says jokingly. But that doesn't mean Larsen doesn't stand out. Quite the contrary, the former Seattle Opera Young Artist seems to garner attention wherever she goes, making even smaller roles sparkle. For her role as Maddalena, the sister who helps her assassin brother by seducing the prey, she earned praise from The Seattle Times, who wrote that she “made a terrific Maddalena, rich-voiced and opulently sultry as she succumbed to the Duke." Catch this rising star singing next as The Secretary in the The Consul, a mid-century suspense story as a woman searches for a better life for her family. Performance dates are February 22 - March 7.    

What’s it like playing a naughty character like Maddalena versus a virtuous one (Suzuki in Madama Butterfly)?
Normally, as the supporting character, I help people. This is obviously different from Maddalena who’s a total firecracker. With blonde hair, usually I’m not everyone’s first choice for roles like this or like Carmen. This time, when I heard they were making Maddalena blonde I thought, ‘Maybe I’ve got something I can work with.’ I've discovered that when you’re playing a sexy character, you just have to be confident and make strong decisions.

What’s Maddalena’s costume like?
It’s awesome; I love it! It’s definitely different from how I am used to portraying Maddalena, who is usually in a gypsy skirt and no shoes. In this production I am wearing a long pencil skirt with a giant slit, silk seamed stockings and cute black heels. It’s definitely changed my physicality; I have to rely on my height and creating long lines; I can’t be grounded like I normally am when Maddalena’s barefoot. The costume is revealing but constructed so beautifully I always feel secure.   
Sarah Larsen as Maddalena.
Elise Bakketun photo
Why do you prefer the supporting character?
These roles tend to fit my voice really well. Plus, they are often more enjoyable for me and less stressful.  

Prior to Rigoletto, you just sang the role of Stéphano in Roméo et Juliette with Des Moines Metro Opera. Do you like playing a boy?
I love being a boy. It’s interesting because when I was singing a “trouser role” as an undergrad, I instantly felt my lower body adjust to proper singer alignment. It’s much easier to feel the floor, to feel centered and grounded. Boys in general take up a lot of space whereas women tend to be apologetic about the space they use. It's easy for me to find confidence in my body when I'm playing a boy.

What would be your dream role to sing?
As a mezzo, I’m supposed to say Carmen. I don’t know if I’ll ever really be ready for that role. Of course, I would jump at the chance for that part, but I think you really need to know yourself and your voice to portray that character well.  I’d definitely love to do a Suzuki or Charlotte again.

You’ve gone from the life of a traveling opera artist to one with a home base. What’s it like being a Seattleite?
I haven’t had a home in six years; everything I owned fit into my car. Now, I’m paying consistent rent for the first time. I really like living in one place and being able to do things like look at paint colors. Now, I hate having to leave my lovely little place! Living in Capitol Hill is so much fun, it kind of feels like a small, safe New York City. I also feel like I’m living in an episode of Portlandia sometimes. I love that I can walk to rehearsal or to Pike Place Market.

As an artist, how do you cope with an instrument (your voice) that changes over time? 
As a singer in my late 20s, I am now trying to become as technically solid as possible, so that I can have a solid foundation to rely on in my 30s, as my voice continues to mature. After pregnancy or going through menopause, many women experience a lot of vocal changes: voices often become richer or thinner and your vocal range can expand or decrease. It's important to be able to rely on a consistent vocal technique, so that I can face the challenges of getting older with a good "tool kit."

What composer do you love to sing the most?
I love Mozart. It’s never easy, but when you get it, it’s magic. I know that sounds cheesy, but it just works.

What should audiences pay attention to when they watch Maddalena and her brother Sparafucile (ak.a. you and bass Andrea Silvestrelli) in Rigoletto?
Pay attention to their relationship as brother and sister: Who thinks they’re in charge? Who’s actually in charge? Also, the Act 3 quartet in our production isn't you're typical "park and bark" staging, there are a lot of interesting dynamics being explored, both dramatically and musically.

From left: Marco Vratogna as Rigoletto, Nadine Sierra as Gilda, Francesco Demuro
as The Duke and Sarah Larsen as Maddalena.
Elise Bakketun photo

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