Forum Opéra
LE MAGAZINE DE L'OPÉRA ET DU MONDE LYRIQUE

NOVEMBRE 2003

5 QUESTIONS:                          BERNARD SCHREUDERS

In the beginning, you started singing as a soprano.  At what point did you realize that
you were truly a mezzo?

I was studying at the time with Virginia Zeani at Indiana University, and had already graduated but was staying one more semester to prepare some arias for auditions.  It had always been very difficult for me as a soprano to find arias which fit my voice and my temperament, and I did not have the 5 or 6 arias one needs to present for company auditions or voice competitions.  I was having my lesson one day with Ms. Zeani, working on the aria "Come scoglio" from Così fan tutte which although a soprano aria has a lot of low notes as well.  I was really getting carried away on the low notes, having a great time, when she said, "But my dear, if you want to sing this way you must be a mezzo-soprano!" and I was horrified.  After all, I had invested so much time and effort preparing myself as a soprano, I had graduated, and now I had to start all over again as a mezzo? In addition, I was not at all aware of the mezzo repertoire.  As far as I knew there were only two mezzo-soprano roles:
Carmen, and Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and both of these could be sung by sopranos as well as mezzos.  I went immediately to the music library and went through the card-catalogues of opera scores and of recordings, writing down the names of all the mezzo roles I could find, as well as the names of all the mezzo-sopranos that had recorded the roles.  I found that Carmen and Rosina were definitely not the only roles written for mezzo-soprano, and that there were a good number of mezzo-sopranos out there singing the roles and having great careers with this repertoire! So, then I didn't sleep for about three days.  I thought about the choice I had to make, and a lot of things started to make sense.  I had played the

Harry Heleotis/Virgin Classics

violin for about nine years when I was in school, but had always really wanted to play the viola, which had a lower, darker sound. I liked singing in choirs, but always enjoyed singing the alto lines the best, rather than the high soprano parts.  And then, the character of the soprano roles had never really matched my personality.  The soprano was always the victim, always helpless, always the one who just sang about how much she was suffering because she didn't think the man she loved didn't love her, or her father wouldn't let her marry the man she loved, or something to that effect.  The mezzo, on the other hand, was more fun because she was the one putting these ideas into the soprano's head, telling her "Are you sure he really loves you? Because I just saw him off with so-and-so...." or some other mischief like that to make the soprano crazy.  Then the mezzo also gets to play the trouser-roles, which gives another dynamic altogether of being a catalyst in the plot.

You’ve just made your first recording for the Virgin Classics label with a recital devoted to Rossini and Donizetti.  How did you develop your program?

I had already recorded a lot of baroque music, but my repertoire is also largely based on the Rossini mezzo roles.  I wanted to show some of the repertoire that I am most often heard in in theaters today.

For Vivaldi’s Il Bajazet, in April 2004, you will be working not only with Fabio Biondi, but also with Anne-Sophie Von Otter et David Daniels.  How are you regarding these upcoming encounters?

I have just recently recorded La Santissma Trinità of Scarlatti with Fabio Biondi and it was a great experience working with him.  I really enjoy working with musicians who are at the forefront of rediscovering music which has not been performed for centuries, and Mo. Biondi is very enthusiastic and dedicated to this.  I am looking forward very much to working with Miss Von Otter as I am a huge fan of hers, as I am of David Daniels.  It will be my first time collaborating with both of these artists, and I am looking very much forward to it.

In the 18th Century, singers came up with their own ornamentations and could revise them from one performance to another.  For you, would this be a dream come true or a nightmare?

I don't write my own ornaments generally because when I hear a melody once, I remember it that way and have a very hard time extrapolating from it and developing any kind of really imaginative ornamentation.  I like working with people who know the style in which I am working and can give me examples of where and how to embellish the melodic line.  Once the melody is no longer etched in my brain only in its original form, then I can also start to embellish it myself, but I need someone else to break the ice, as it were.  That said, I think in this day and age ornamentation can only very rarely take an improvisatory form, and as a rule one has to predetermine the ornamentation that will be done in any work.  In the time at which this music was originally written and performed, it was the prevalent form of music, all performers were conversant with the rules and customs, so they knew what to expect of one another in improvisation.  Today this is not always the case, as both singers and instrumentalists are required to be at least moderately conversant with all styles of music between the 17th and 21st centuries.  When working in baroque music, every singer and every instrumentalist invariably has a different idea of what "authentic baroque practices" were, and it is nearly impossible to incorporate improvisation into a performance unless you are working with the same group of musicians over a prolonged period of time, so everyone is speaking the same musical language and understands one another.

This season you will be singing two parts for the first time, both trouser-roles – Bradamante (Alcina) and Orfeo (Gluck).  Do you like the ambiguity that portraying male characters provides you – are you inspired by it?

I do enjoy trouser-roles very much, although I have to give up my high-heeled shoes which I love dearly!  Bradamante will be my first experience playing a girl who is pretending to be a man, so that will be an added twist perhaps!  Orfeo is a role I have wanted to play for a long time now, and had only been waiting for the right opportunity.  I like the character very much, and of course Gluck's music is extraordinary. I am currently

Orfeo ed Euridice - L.A. Opera/ Robert Millard

preparing Gluck's first version of the opera, written for Vienna, but I am also curious to look at the version that was later revised by Berlioz for the singer Pauline Viardot.

The trouser-roles for me are a chance to be more direct in my actions.  In a female role, even though as I said earlier, the mezzo character is very dynamic, a catalyst to the action.  The female characters use techniques of manipulation, persuasion, and are more subtle in making the other characters react in the way they want them to. The trouser-roles that I play, on the other hand, are most often less devious and more straight-forward in their actions.  It's refreshing.  Although, I must say I am looking forward to playing a character like Polinesso inHandel's Ariodante who is a conniving, manipulative, snake-like person... and I think it must be very fun to play the bad-guy for once!

 

 

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