BWW Interviews: Heidi Stober Talks Playing Musetta in LA BOHÈME
LA BOHÈME opens this week at Houston Grand Opera. It runs from October 19 to November 10, 2012. Busy with rehearsals and putting the final touches on this perennial favorite, Heidi Stober who is portraying Musetta took a few moments to chat about the character, the show, and herself.
Me: What was it like being cast as Musetta who is such an iconic character in the renowned opera LA BOHÈME?
Heidi Stober: I mean, it’s great. It’s my second time singing Musetta. My first time was in Santa Fe in the summer of 2011. For me, one of the great things is just being back at Houston Grand Opera because I was a young artist here from the studio program. Also, the cast is a lot of young, wonderful singers. This is just an incredible opera with beautiful music and a very moving, touching story. The conductor is a dear friend of mine who also went through the studio here, and the director, John Caird, has just been really amazing to work with.
Me: How do you prepare for a role like Musetta?
Heidi: First and foremost, I just learn the music and working on the language as well. And then, I’ve seen LA BOHÈME a number of times and in various places, and I sort of take in what different directors and productions do with the character. Then you really have to be open, when you start a new rehearsal process, to the ideas of the director, the conductor, and, of course, your colleagues that you’ll be interacting with on stage as well. But, certainly, with something like Musetta in [LA] BOHÈME, it’s just such a famous opera that you’re going to already have some preconceived ideas from hearing her famous aria for years and years and years and knowing just different, amazing people who have sung this role.
Me: So, how do you approach Musetta, who has been played by so many people before, to make the character your own?
Heidi: Yes, of course, it’s helpful to listen recordings and different interpretations, but my big thing when I’m studying a role is I think it’s really important not to get bogged down with having certain ways of singing something and certain interpretations so present in the forefront of my mind. For me, it’s about taking and really examining this character and what I get from the different aspects of her scenes in this show—the different layers of Musetta. It’s not just about her being a huge flirt and loving attention, which is what comes out in Act II, but really Act IV, for me, which is the scene when Mimi is dying in the small apartment of the men of, is when we see the real Musetta—her wanting to take control of the situation, to be helpful to everyone else around her, this maturity, this real pain that she feels and goes through seeing this young woman dying, and seeing the pain that is created in her lover.
Me: Other than being one of the world’s most famous operas, why should Houston audiences be excited to see this production of LA BOHÈME?
Heidi: This is a brand new production. The design is really fantastic, the set is really interesting, and it's not as though there is something completely wild and new that’s happening. I’m based in Germany now, and there’s a lot of very, very wacky takes on productions and operas that have been around for hundreds of years. So, it’s nothing like that. The costuming design is great. John Caird is, as I said, an amazing director, and I feel like he is well beyond the sort of clichéd ideas about LA BOHÈME that can exist and can be out there. There are just some wonderful subtleties, details, and layers that I think are coming out in this production, which I think would be a great reason to see it actually more than once, if people can. And, the cast is a young group of lovely singers, lovely actors, and the dynamic between all of us as people, just in real life, is very strong. I think it’s going to be a really, really lovely night at the opera.
Me: Is LA BOHÈME a good first opera for someone to see?
Heidi: Absolutely. I think this is a fantastic first opera. I’ve never met a single person, operagoer or in the profession, who has said, “Oh, LA BOHÈME, I don’t really care for it.” Some people simply love it, love it, love it way more than others do, but I still think there is always an appreciation for it. This opera pulls at your heartstrings. The music is gorgeous. The story is relatable, I think, especially because of RENT. I remember in college going to see RENT whenever I could in various cities that I would either be living in or visiting. I think it’s a perfect first opera.
Me: For you, what are the best aspects of performing LA BOHÈME in Houston?
Heidi: I just think it’s wonderful that Houston Grand [Opera] is doing this brand new production. It's just been a great group of people to work with. I sort of can't express that enough. Like I said, for me, this is like coming home because this is where I did my training and it was such an important, crucial part of my development as a singer and artist.
Me: Who would be a dream role for you?
Heidi: Well, there’s a number of dream roles. One, definitely for me, is Ann Truelove in THE RAKE’S PROGRESS, which is by [Igor] Stravinsky. It’s just amazing music and it’s a lovely role. There are a number of Handel roles I’d like to do. The other one I’d say definitely is doing more Strauss. I’d love to do more Strauss operas.
Me: You received rave reviews for playing Atlanta in XERXES in Houston. What was that like for you as an artist?
Heidi: It was wonderful. First of all, I love singing Handel. I certainly cannot have enough opportunities to do Handel operas. For me, with XERXES, it was singing with Susan Graham, David Daniels, Laura Claycomb, and all of these artists I had worked with before and have very nice, wonderful relationships with. David Daniels singing Handel, there’s just nothing like it in the world. This was just a fantastic opera. It was nice to play a role that had sort of this comedic side to it as well and play with that. When the reviews came out, of course, it was nice to know things were well received. And I think again that production, even though it wasn’t a new production and something that had been around for a while, it still really captured audiences. Handel operas can be very long evenings, but I think with this dynamic group of singers and actors and some beautiful, beautiful Handel music and some very exciting fast arias and the fireworks that happen in the fast aria, it was really a nice role to come back to Houston and do. Then, we actually did it again, the same production, last fall in San Francisco with a lot of the same cast. That time Patrick Summers conducted. He did not conduct it here in Houston actually, but he did in San Francisco. That was just an incredible experience, and one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time.
Me: What advice do you have for young performers, working on their craft?
Heidi: Continue to work on your voice with teachers no matter where you are and what you’re doing. It becomes harder and harder if you’re on the road with this career. And I think besides being strong musicians that pay really good attention to all the details, the wonderful subtleties that can be in the music that the composer created, to me, having acting chops this day and age is really important—taking acting courses and really honing that craft as well.
Me: Where can audiences see you after LA BOHÈME?
Heidi: Well, I go back to Berlin, which is my home base. Basically in a period of about a month, when I’m back there, I will be doing a brand new production of THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES which is by [Sergei] Prokofiev, and I will also be singing Pamina in THE MAGIC FLUTE and Micaëla in CARMEN. Like I said, all three of those are within a month.
With direction by Tony winner John Caird, this is sure to be a must see production. Tickets range from $15 to $350. Season subscriptions, which get you tickets for all 6 operas, can still be purchased for as low as $69. For tickets and more information please call (713) 228 -6737.
Photo courtesy of Houston Grand Opera.