A Firebrand of Florence: Victoria Clark
When Victoria Clark describes herself as a Kurt Weill “nerd,” she has the street cred to back it up. She served as a judge for the Lotte Lenya competition at Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, where she met and worked with Carolyn Weber & Kim Kowalke, who run Kurt Weill foundation. So when she was offered the chance to appear in a rarely heard Weill/Ira Gershwin 1945 operetta, The Firebrand of Florence, she grabbed it.
On Thursday, The Collegiate Chorale will appear with The New York City Opera Orchestra at the newly renovated Alice Tully Hall in a very rare one-night only concert of the show. Directed and narrated by Roger Rees and conducted by Ted Sperling, the performance will also star baritone Nathan Gunn, soprano Anna Christy and baritone Terrence Mann.
Even with a Broadway career anyone would envy, Clark is very excited about appearing in this one-night gig. The dream-cast is certainly one appealing aspect of the show (“It’ll be great fun to have that much talent in one room and to see what people are doing,” she says), but more than that, as a classically trained singer, she appreciates the chance to hear a classic score by two masters of the craft with a full orchestra.
“Anytime you have an opportunity to hear the music for a full score with an orchestra, it’s always something exciting for contemporary audiences,” Clark says. “We don’t have an opportunity to hear many pieces with an orchestra, especially on Broadway, where the ensembles are so reduced from what they used to be.”
Having tried-and-true singers is also important for a production like this. “I think this probably the most European of his scores,” she says, “and the most clearly operetta-ish, or operatic, so it’s gonna be great to hear these opera singers really sing the score. I mean, I’m always a fan when people hire fantastic singers,” she says with a little self-conscious laugh, and then politely adds that “sometimes they hire people who are better known for their acting. I’m not dishing,” she adds quickly, “I’m just saying we’re definitely in a period of time right now where, for box-office reasons, stars are being brought in [who] don’t necessarily have a musical background…And the pendulum swings back and forth, but I always appreciate when an equal emphasis on musicality and musical skills is given with acting skills…I’m always happy when good singing is recognized.”
Her biggest challenge, she says, has not been a particular stage role (she calls The Light in the Piazza, which earned her a Tony Award, “pure joy from beginning to end”), but balancing her career with being a mom to her son, Thomas. “It’s really challenging and really fulfilling and really fun. And really exhausting!” she laughs. “Somebody once told me, ‘You can do everything, but you can’t do it all at the same time.’ I often remember that.”
In addition to singing and acting, Victoria Clark shares her expertise with the next generation of artists as a teacher. “It’s one of my big passions,” she says about teaching. “I feel like being a teacher makes me a better performer. And being a performer makes me a much better teacher, so I think the two really fuel each other. I felt the same way after I had my child,” she continues. “I felt like being a mother made me better at everything, just ’cause it makes you more compassionate, and it makes you more playful and it makes you not afraid to multitask. So I think the same can be said when you have two careers that go hand-in-hand. Students, I think, appreciate that I’m still professionally active and that I can tell them my own set of war stories and commiserate with everything they’re going through, and also tell them technically what to do in a performance situation. And when I’m on stage, I draw a lot of inspiration from my students and what they’ve taught me about resilience and imagination and their wonderful energy and sense of humor. They kind of go hand-in-hand for me.”