BWW Interview: Von Stade, Aldrich Sing Out on Heggie's 'Great Scott' - Part 1
Excitement reigns at San Diego Opera this week in anticipation of the May 7 west coast premiere of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally's Great Scott (http://www.sdopera.org/season/2015-16-season/great-scott), directed by Jack O'Brien. I caught up with stars Kate Aldrich and Frederica von Stade (as Arden Scott and Winnie Flato, respectively) during a rehearsal break at the SDO offices downtown.
EM: Flicka, I feel so honored and privileged to have performed with you in all of those amazing roles at the Met, from Cherubino to Melisande.
FVS: It was so much fun. It's great now, too, but back in the good old days it was different. It wasn't all bulletproof. It's changed. I was very lucky to be a part of it. I just treasure it. Mr. Bing. He was something else (Laughs).
EM: Kate, I left the Met before you sang there. I'm totally psyched to see and hear you in Great Scott. Would either of you like to venture a description of the opera?
KA: It's so elusive, because you think you know what the story is about. Then the next day after a staging rehearsal you realize, no, it's more about this theme. I think it isn't really about any one thing. It's about a lot of things in the life of an artist but also of people.
FVS: It's very "person" oriented. About getting older...
KA: Yes, within the context of what an opera singer's life is, but it's not restricted to opera.
FVS: Right. It could be anybody.
EM: So it's universal.
FVS: Yes, in the types of people. The baritone doesn't really represent baritones - he represents a man.
EM: Sounds fascinating and complex.
FVS: It is. What's marvelous about it, too, is that every character is portrayed with an enormous amount of affection. There's nothing damning, sarcastic. It doesn't have to go as far as forgiveness. It's great understanding and appreciation for what it takes to make up this particular world. Our world but also the world of the stage.
KA: Also love and admiration for human frailty and vulnerability. How when you allow yourself to go to that place, which in this opera happens to my character. She's pushed to her limits to the point of coming unraveled. She lets herself go inward to find out what's happening and rises out of the ashes as a result, which again is not exclusively for musicians or opera singers. It's life and we are all capable of going down to the dark place if pushed.
FVS: It also doesn't give you solutions. The piece is not like Law & Order, with a wrap-up at the end and you're either convicted or not. It's open ended. That's really how life is anyway. There's no resolution.
EM: That's very unique for an opera.
FVS: Yes. It's the resolution of, this might happen, that might happen. That's not the point.
KA: Right. It's irrelevant whether or not the baritone, Sid Taylor, and Arden end up together. That's not really what it's about but a means to tell the story.
EM: How do you think the audience will react to something without a clear-cut resolution?
FVS: They absolutely adored it (in Dallas). I don't think they were expecting to have such a good time. It's a lot of fun. They'll talk about it. Like when you go to certain movies - what did you think? What was that all about? You talk about it and even then you don't really come up with a period on the end of a sentence.
KA: But you've felt something you can't put words to. It's moving and touching and real. Jake as a composer is addicted to reality and portrays it beautifully, symphonically as well. Jack (O'Brien), the director, is the same.
EM: And Terrence McNally's words - a great deal of the structure comes from him.
FVS: Very much Terrence. He has incredible passion for opera, way before Master Class. Opera speaks to him. It seems to speak to men in a way it doesn't to women - in a very specific way, which I don't understand. I don't know whether it's the sport part of it.
KA: We're more comfortable with talking about emotion. In opera...the words are the words, but the music is the emotion underneath it. In a way it's visceral for men. Larger than life. Usually exaggerated.
FVS: Exactly. My husband and stepsons never talk about anything except, we need to put five screws in that and it will hold. It all comes down to some sort of mechanical thing they put together that isn't really what they want to talk about.
EM: That's how their brains are wired. Men need action.
FVS: And events. And that's opera. This opera is different from anything we've experienced.
KA: From anything I ever sang.
FVS: Absolutely. And you cannot label it a comedy. It's not like Rossini.
KA: They say dramatic actors are often the best comedic actors. They're opposite ends of the spectrum, but in the end they're kind of akin to each other. It's similar with this opera. It's so funny, so heartbreaking at moments. But really funny.
EM: So you've go the gamut of emotions from one end of the spectrum to another.
FVS: At one point Jack talked about it being too funny. There were too many jokes. They've actually taken some out (Laughs).
EM: Since Dallas?
EM: Since you sang in Dallas, Flicka, does it feel really different to be performing it here?
FVS: One of my favorite operas ever was Marriage of Figaro, because all the people in it were so real. Every time you did it, it had that large safety net of humanity around it. It was very different every time, but always as magical. I'm really happy to find that out about this piece. I'm happy for Jake. Because to me it means this has durability, lastability. It's different but it feels great. It's as magical, as full, as it was. We were all like going on vacation together in Dallas. It was the first time, and that's a bit like a class reunion. It has that element. That was wonderful, but this feels like the essence of the work is there. Jake did it. I think for a composer to cut some of his lines is really hard. It takes as much work as creating them in the first place.
EM: Yes. Writing is rewriting. Every word is like your baby. Every note, in Jake's case.
EM: How is it for you, Kate, not having sung it in Dallas, and especially coming in virtually at the last moment, has it been a big adjustment, with people who've already done it?
KA: No, because it's such a warm, lovable cast. There's not a lemon in the group. I don't even mean vocally but personality wise. Everyone is just lovely to work with. There's been none of the, "Last time we did this." Some operas like Marriage of Figaro, you might experience this. I've done a lot of Carmens. Sometimes the tenor is like, "When I do Don José, this is how I do it." Less ability to adjust and try, discover new things. There's none of that in this group. There was occasionally, "This is how we did it in Dallas," or, "We can try it this way." But overall I've never had that feeling.
EM: It sounds like a joyful experience - for you, Kate, being new to it, and for you, Flicka, having already done it.