Monday, June 29, 2020

Songs of Summer continues with Margaret Gawrysiak

Margaret Gawrysiak 

Seattle Opera's Songs of Summer series continues at 7 p.m. June 30 with American mezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak. Familiar to Seattle Opera for scene-stealing turns as Berta in The Barber of Seville (2017) and Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro (2016), Gawrysiak made her McCaw Hall debut in The Consul (2014), and was featured most recently as Madame Larina in Eugene Onegin (2020). Gawrysiak was also a proud member of our Young Artist Program from 2007 to 2009. Gawrysiak fills her program Quarantine Cabaret with great music (by Francis Poulenc, Vaughan Williams, Kurt Weill, Lori Laitman, Errolyn Wallen, and Stephen Sondheim) and plenty of personality.

What is your Favorite Seattle Opera Memory? 
My favorite Seattle Opera memory as an audience member was in 2009. I saw the double bill of Erwartung and Bluebeard's Castle while I was a member of the Young Artist Program. Bluebeard's Castle was unlike any music I had heard before, and the Robert LePage staging was captivating and very wetthere was a pool on stage! I remember seeing as may performances as possible!

My favorite memory as a performer has to be dancing with Marc Kenison a.k.a. Waxy Moon for The Barber of Seville finale during the 2017 Lindy Hume production. Marc, a Julliard-trained professional dancer and actor, rehearsed the dance with me before every performance. He was the most generous, kind, and hilarious scene partner. We looked absolutely gorgeous in those matching neon pink flamenco costumes. Every night, the entire chorus was in sync with us, confetti flew from the sky, the audience cheered. It was so much fun.

Margaret Gawrysiak and Marc Kenison in The Barber of Seville. Production photo by Jacob Lucas
But the winning memory was in 2016. I had been on four or five dates with this guy when he attended the Marriage of Figaro's opening night. Handsomely dressed in a bow tie, he brought me flowers backstage to the dressing room after the performance, and together we attended the opening-night gala. The stage was dressed beautifully in twinkling lights. A jazz band played. We had our first picture taken together by a professional photographer. That opening night is my favorite personal Seattle Opera memory because it was the first time my husband Sean saw me perform.

Gawrysiak and husband Sean Sandys

Tell me a bit about your Songs of Summer recital and why you chose these songs?
Before I tell you about my recital program, I have to tell you about my collaborative pianist Jeremy Reger. Jeremy and I met during a production of HMS Pinafore at Virginia Opera. I've traveled to coach new roles with Jeremy. He's written me amazing arrangements of songs and crazy opera cadenzas. He knows my personality and strengths well. After we decided on a theme and story line together, Jeremy chose the repertoire for our recital. I made some minor changes, but I have Jeremy to thank for such a great program.

You might notice Jeremy making jokes in the dialogue underscoring, cracking a laugh, and looking into the camera. We wanted our personalities to show. We knew we had zero control over sound quality and the way our viewers would listen and experience the program. I knew I would never be fully satisfied with a recording made in my living room with an iPhone during a national crisis. So our focus was on the things we could control like storytelling and charm.

Never a dull moment with Gawrysiak and her pal/collaborator pianist Jeremy Reger.
About (some of) the songs:

We chose the song from "Little Shop of Horrors" because it's something I've been singing to my herb garden. My basil plant Don Basilio is thriving, while several others have sadly been less successful, so we featured Don in this number. Jeremy was clever to make a mashup of Bernstein's "Make our Garden Grow" and "Grow For Me," and I had a nice caprese salad snack while making the videos.

"Worst Pies in London" is the most fun a mezzo can have and one should take every opportunity to sing it. Thank you, Sondheim. And thanks to Sean for letting me take over the kitchen for a few messy days. We made several pizzas from leftover prop pie dough.

Gawrysiak backstage during Eugene Onegin with her cast mates, Marina Costa-Jackson, Meredith Arwady, and Melody Wilson. 

"What You Wanted" is a song, or a scena, by composer Lori Laitman. I premiered Lori's stunning opera Scarlet Letter in 2016 at Opera Colorado and fell in love with her music. It's so fun to sing Lori's vocal lines, and this song fits into our cabaret story line perfectly.

The final song by Errollyn Wallen is my favorite piece in the whole program. Jeremy remembered playing this song once long ago, and at the last minute, we changed our program to include this gem. When I first read the lyrics, also written by Ms. Wallen, I felt they so perfectly captured the spectrum of heartache that many of us feel right now. I contacted Ms. Wallen for her blessing to perform her song, and she mentioned that the sea is her inspiration. In the song, the lyrics mention that "the sea has been emptied," which I take to mean she was depleted of artistic inspiration or purpose. Dang, I can relate to that. Yet her music was so joyful and positive despite this sadness. Ms. Wallen is from Belize, and I hear the sounds of the Caribbean in her music. My mother-in-law Violet, who passed away from COVID-19 in April, was also from the Caribbean. The spirit of optimism through challenges, joy through heartache, is one Violet embodied. The selection of "What Shall I sing?" to end our cabaret became an opportunity to honor Violet through a song that I know she would love.

Gawrysiak (and husband Sean) with late mother-in-law Violet. 
How will this moment in time change opera and the arts?
In regards to the isolation and quarantine due to COVID-19: This moment in time will remind us how desperately we need live theater to share stories and connect communities. Although everyone is exploring solo music-making at home to create digital content, it will never be the same as experiencing live theater and music. Hopefully, we are missed, and this moment in time will change the arts for the better.

Because of heightened awareness of the inequities in our society due to the Black Lives Matter movement, opera and the arts must respond with their own reckoning and change. We have to consider the stories we are sharing and who we engage to share them. We must make sure that the artists onstage are as diverse as the communities they are singing for. And we need more women and People of Color in every rehearsal room in production roles, in administration, and in leadership.

What motivates you to keep singing during these challenging times?
Making this cabaret for the Songs of Summer series reminded me of how collaborative our art form is and how completely dependent I am on the other artists we work with in opera. I needed a stage manager to keep me organized and on schedule. Desperately. Hair and makeup, wardrobe, lighting, props master, directors, the coaches⁠—I wanted all their help and input. I wanted to sing with a pianist in the same room instead of in my earbud. In reality, creating this cabaret was a mostly solitary experience. I called my director friend Alison Moritz, and character tenor friend Alex Mansoori to brainstorm ideas. And obviously, Jeremy, who is so brilliant, for feedback. But mostly during this process, I missed being in the same room, feeding off the same energy as other artists. Right now, my motivation to keep singing and keep my voice in shape is so that I am ready for the time it is safe for us all to be together in the rehearsal room again. Until then...

Gawrysiak getting makeup done by Shelby Richardson
To watch Margaret Gawrysiak's Songs of Summer concert, tune in to Seattle Opera's Facebook page (or our YouTube page or website, at 7 p.m. on June 30 to enjoy this online recital. Recitals in this series are available for two weeks after the premiere date.