Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Songs Of Summer Continues With Tess Altiveros

Tess Altiveros photo by Pinehurst Photography
Seattle Opera's recital seriesSongs of Summercontinues with Tess Altiveros. Equally at home in repertoire ranging from the 17th century to the 21st, the American soprano is best known to Seattle Opera audiences for her bold and affecting work in our three groundbreaking chamber productions: The Combat (2017), O+E (2018), and The Falling and the Rising (2019). A native Seattleite, her “pure gold” (Opera Magazine) voice has charmed audiences from the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts to Carnegie Hall. Framing her recital with selections from Poulenc’s Tel jour telle nuit song cycle, Altiveros and pianist Elisabeth Ellis take us from morning to evening with pieces that trace daily thoughts and rituals. Highlights include three shorts songs from Emerson Eads’s “Love Is” cycle using poetry by children responding to the question is “What is love?”

What’s been helping you to get through this very challenging time for all of us? 
There are a number of comforts I've leaned on recently: Zoom reunions. Wine. Trying to keep my comparatively low-key quarantine problems in perspective. Unexpected opportunities to create beauty with others are high up on that list, but the most significant comfort is my daughter. In "normal times" I am on the road often, so I have been relishing all the time we now spend together. I've learned so much about this little 9-year-old these past weeks, and I am just in awe of her resilience and maturity despite the sadness of missing friends and grandparents and teachers and her regular activities. I often feel that she is far more adept at finding acceptance and peace than her mother, and that strength surprises and inspires me every day.

Altiveros and her daughter. 

Can you give us some insight into the selection of the pieces you chose for your recital?
I'll try! We used the first and last movements of Poulenc's Tel jour, telle nuit song cycle as bookends that take us from morning to night. Within that framework, we filled the middle of the program with pieces that shape the passing of a day. These works speak to the journey of my head and heart within the course of a day now, as an artist sheltering in place. There are a number of references to children and parenthood, as well as morning and evening rituals. There are other pieces that speak more to the moments in a day when my thoughts darken into an aching for the human connection of creating and experiencing art with others. To that end, it seemed only appropriate that I invite a couple friends to participate. You will hear longtime collaborators and dear friends: Elisabeth Ellis on piano, the music of Emerson Eads, Stephen Stubbs on baroque guitar, and baritone Andy Wilkowske on his guitar for "An die Musik." The music in this program, and the artists involved, all have particular significance in my own artistic story. Sharing this recital with them and with you, the viewer, was a way for me to feel connected once more to my craft and community. Here, I express the waves of gratitude and grief that are currently a part of my every day.

Altiveros with collaborator Elisabeth Ellis. 

Last time Seattle Opera audiences saw you, it was as The Soldier in The Falling and the Rising. By the end of this chamber opera, there was hardly a dry eye in the house. As a mom—and knowing that you also have a young daughter—I became very emotional watching you in the beginning scene, where you’re sending a video message to your daughter. What was it like being a part of this production? 
Being a part of The Falling and the Rising was an extraordinary experience for so many reasons. I think often of a conversation I had with our conductor Michael Sakir just after joining the artistic team. Michael is a dear friend, and I had called him to ask for his insight into this work since he had performed it before. Michael is not a person prone to exaggeration, and he said very frankly without hesitating: "This piece will change your life." And he was right. To be sure, as an artist it stretched and challenged me; the music was a joy to sing and the character gave me so much to sink my teeth into as an actress. But more than that, it changed my worldview and laid bare my own ignorance about those who serve and how they serve. It was humbling and eyeopening, and I am changed because of it.

Tess Altiveros performing in The Falling and the Rising. Philip Newton photos 

In addition to your beautiful singing, your powerful ability as an actor always catches the attention of press and audience members alike. Is this element of the art form important to you? How do you approach the craft of opera as a performer/musician? 
That is very kind of you to say! Yes, I have always loved the part of the craft that is acting and storytelling. In opera I get to use this extraordinary music and text to try and crawl inside a character's heart and situation, to understand and relate to them; and then project what I've found in an honest and genuine way so that the audience can feel or experience it in their own way. For me, that process is deeply satisfying. When I was a very young singer, I remember watching the late great Bob Orth in Argento's one-man opera, Water Bird Talk. I was so enthralled by his performance that I forgot he was singing at all. That isn't to say that it wasn't memorable singing, but every facet of his performance so effectively served the intentions of the score and the text that it didn't draw attention to itself. The result was that I was no longer in a theater watching one guy sing, but rather I was immersed in music and story, the one endlessly serving the other. And I knew then that that was the sort of singer I wanted to strive to be, because that was the sort of experience I wanted my audiences to have.

Altiveros (Susanna) in Kentucky Opera's The Marriage of Figaro. 
Tune in to Seattle Opera's Facebook page (or our YouTube page or website, at 7 p.m. on July 2 to enjoy Tess Altiveros' Songs of Summer recital. Recitals in this series are available for two weeks after the premiere date.