BWW Feature: Raquel Suarez Groen Talks THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA's Diva and More!
I'm not going to lie...until this week, I'd never seen a live production of The Phantom of the Opera. I'm intimately familiar with the music and the story, but it was just never an experience I thought I needed to have.
I was wrong.
On a recording, the story feels dated and the synthesizer cheesy - but in the house? Pure magic. Ali Ewoldt's Christine never hints at victimhood and the synth is perfectly incorporated to achieve maximum effect. It is moving and timeless - I am so happy I finally bit the bullet. Particularly, so that I was able to experience Ms. Raquel Suarez Groen. A spitfire in the often-misunderstood Carlotta, her hungry, ripe soprano boasts a bite that would pierce the firmest apple, bolstered by the grounding sexual dominance of her spoken mezzo.
A native Canadian, Raquel studied linguistics in undergrad, all the while continuing her vocal training. As her talent continued to develop, she decided to pursue a master's in classical voice at the Manhattan School of Music. While always harboring a love of musical theatre, Raquel took a step away from the genre - focusing her studies on operatic pursuits. Four years ago, her manager heard her sing an audition in Florida and broached the subject of musical theater. It's a sensitive topic, given the operatic stigmatization - but, lucky for us, Raquel embraced the addition to her professional pursuits and, in turn, revived a childhood love.
Broadening her approach began a four-year journey on her road to Carlotta. She'd seen the production years before and had always preferred the 'most awesome diva' over any other role in the show. She auditioned for the tour twice - to no avail. But these setbacks didn't derail her singular focus, and, on her first audition for the Broadway production - she booked it. After crying a 'full on ugly cry' in the street, she began the 2-week rehearsal period that would lead to her Broadway debut. A process this truncated is rarely seen in the operatic world,
"We're used to so much rehearsal time and things went a lot faster than what I was expecting or used to - but it was awesome! It made me realize that we don't need all that time. It made me realize that I can do anything."
As she developed her take on the operatic diva, within the confines of the musical theater landscape, she spoke of the focus on the authenticity of her acted performance--something that is often left by the wayside in opera.
"They want [Carlotta] to be honest--never over the top. They want her to be likable--she's just looking out for her job. I really work to make sure that she's never a caricature of herself."
Raquel pulled inspiration from some of her favorite artists, some of whom inspired her singing journey from the beginning--one being Renée Fleming.
"Renée is the ultimate diva - but in a totally different way [than Carlotta], because she's not temperamental at all. She's just a great artist--and Carlotta is too. As I'm performing the role, I have [Renée's] portrayal of the grand diva in Living on Love in my head. There is one scene where she listens to herself sing over and over. The character was so funny - a true diva that can't stop thinking about themselves."
Raquel's nuanced performance brought life and vigor to the divine prima donna, perfectly holding her own in the well-oiled Phantom machine. Hopefully these success stories continue to rise to the top and the classical community will begin embracing a variety of career paths for exceptionally talented individuals.
Production Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy