Interview: Award-Winning Mezzo Soprano Audrey Babcock on Portraying Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

Presented by the Verdi Chorus on January 20, 2024

By: Jan. 08, 2024
Interview: Award-Winning Mezzo Soprano Audrey Babcock on Portraying Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA
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Interview: Award-Winning Mezzo Soprano Audrey Babcock on Portraying Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

The Verdi Chorus, the only choral group in Southern California that focuses primarily on the dramatic and diverse music for opera chorus, continues to celebrate its 40th Anniversary season by presenting its first full-length opera, Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana for one performance only at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica on January 20, 2024, followed by a wine and dessert reception.

Helmed by Anne Marie Ketchum, who is celebrating forty consecutive years as Artistic Director of the organization, Cavalleria Rusticana stars award-winning mezzo soprano Audrey Babcock as Santuzza. I decided to speak with her about taking on the challenging role as well as her history of performing opera around the world.

Thank you for speaking with me about your upcoming performance with the Verdi Chorus. In my research, I discovered you have portrayed Carmen in Bizet’s opera for more than 250 performances. What is it about that role which inspires you to keep presenting her to the world?

Award-Winning Mezzo Soprano Audrey Babcock

Award-Winning Mezzo Soprano Audrey Babcock

Carmen is the most iconic feme fatale of all time, as well as the most misunderstood and misrepresented female to walk the stage in the operatic cannon. She has been and continues to be vilified for her beauty and her knowing. She is the most honest of any archetype I have played and is murdered for the perceived villainy of vigilant self-awareness, her cutthroat leadership focused solely on survival, and the use of her voice to declaim her truth to those who continue to oppress her and her people. Embodying this woman time and again is not just a privilege but it is something I feel compelled and inspired to pursue, present, and discuss, so thank you for asking!

What part of the world do you call home?

Los Angeles, CA so I am happy to be performing where I can stay at home.

Do you usually travel with a supporting entourage?

I usually travel with one suitcase that I indeed find supportive.

No doubt!

Interview: Award-Winning Mezzo Soprano Audrey Babcock on Portraying Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

Award-Winning Mezzo Soprano Audrey Babcock

Let’s talk about Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana (translated as “rustic chivalry”) which centers around the daily struggles and emotions of men and women, depicting the emotionally charged and sometimes violent situations that can result. First, tell me about your character, Santuzza, her part in the storyline, and why portraying her appeals to you.

Cavalleria, being one of the most Versimo of the Verismo operas, we are faced with a score and a subject that is pure and unbridled in desperate emotion. All the current self-help tropes would gasp at the outward display of pain, heart ache, and cruelty these four lovers unload on each other and their community. Nothing short of life or death is at stake here either considering the customs and the time. Santuzza, for falling in love, is ruined – the lovers, for having been caught, will be murdered. And all the while, orchestration and high notes soar from the depths of the pain of unrequited love – who would not want to swim in that musical water!!!

After hearing Mascagni’s work, Verdi himself said ‘I can die in peace.’ What do you think is so special about this opera to make him feel that way?

I will refer to my answer above and just add that one must experience the melodies and the richness of the score to understand this.  It is short. It is rich. The piece is like a lava cake, you think you can’t possibly eat it and then you do and then you are left thinking about it because it affects you so.

Interview: Award-Winning Mezzo Soprano Audrey Babcock on Portraying Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

Tenor Todd Wilander

Along with the Verdi Chorus, your two co-stars are California natives: tenor Todd Wilander as Turiddu and renowned baritone Roberto Perlas Gómez. Tell me about their roles and how they interact with Santuzza.

Turiddu is a typical tenor who’s self-interest is above all else. The only one he even attempts to respect is his mother and knowing that, she is the one Santuzza goes to for guidance on how to handle him. Turiddu treats Santuzza like an inconvenience and a bother, and she is shocked as she was lead to believe what they had was real.

Interview: Award-Winning Mezzo Soprano Audrey Babcock on Portraying Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

Baritone Roberto Perlas Gómez

Alfio is a big man in town and doesn’t seem to give Santuzza much time of day until the mere thought of being cuckolded in a town where he is such a big man is brought to his attention. Then he too, ruled by ego, has no use for her and tosses her aside.

Have you ever sung with either of them before?  If so, how does this opera differ from the last one in which you appeared with them?

We have sung together many times in concert but never to present an entire opera, so it will be a lovely experience to create these characters from beginning to end with them.

Is there something about Santuzza or her story that will resonate with modern women?

Everyone has suffered heart break, and Mascagni has put to music so perfectly the agony we have all felt, but have such a hard time expressing or moving through. It’s chilling, healing, and magical.

What do you think will surprise audience members the most who are not familiar with Cavalleria Rusticana?

I think people will be surprised at how many times their breath is taken away by the swell of the emotion mixed with music – the volume of the chorus and the passion in the music. It has to be experienced.

Do you prefer performing contemporary over classic opera, or do both appeal to you in different ways? How so?

It’s like eating a well-rounded diet. I do not prefer and I could not live without either.

What roles (and where) are you planning to present them during 2024?

My concert Beyond Carmen is set to tour the southeast https://www.audreybabcock.com/beyond-carmen

And I will be singing Augusta Tabor in the Ballad of the Baby Doe with Opera, with Opera Buffs here in California, as well as playing Laura Huxley in Anne LeBaron’s LSD opera - Huxley's Last Trip at RedCat, and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd with Utah Opera.

That is certainly a busy schedule! Do you have a favorite place to perform opera that lifts your soul beyond its four walls? Why there?

I find theaters of all shapes and sizes, conventional and site specific, to be potent places of imagination and inert creation. Every time we enter, there is a blank canvas we get to fill and the presence of something divine that we get to participate in this kind of adventure. So – yes, all of it. And nothing beats a good acoustic, so there is that.

Absolutely! Anything else you would like to add about yourself?

I hope everyone enjoys the show!

Thanks so much!

Interview: Award-Winning Mezzo Soprano Audrey Babcock on Portraying Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA

Led by Founding Artistic Director Anne Marie Ketchum, the Verdi Chorus is presenting Cavalleria Rusticana for one night only, Saturday, January 20 at 7:30pm at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica, located at 1220 2nd Street in Santa Monica, CA 90401. The performance will include a post-performance wine and dessert reception featuring the sixteen Fox Singers, an auxiliary group of the Verdi Chorus, singing Italian favorites.

Accompanied by pianist Laraine Ann Madden, “the full-length production also features fifty+ members of the Verdi Chorus, which includes singers from eighteen to eighty-seven who come from a variety of professions, and yet have one thing in common: the desire to sing side by side each week and delve into the rich, dramatic world of opera.” Priority seating for Cavalleria Rusticana is available for $50, general admission is $40, seniors are $30, and students aged 25 and under with a valid ID are $10. For tickets and more information, visit www.verdichorus.org




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