One of the things I enjoy most about attending opera is that the music is often so timeless and wonderful that I can see the same show re-imagined hundreds of times and each time it will come to life and touch me in a new and meaningful way. The same thing is true for performing in opera.
The role of Maffio Orsini is one that has lived in my repertoire for quite a while. As a conservatory student, I used the Act 3 “Il segreto per esser felici” as an audition aria. In fact, this was one of the arias that helped secure my position in the young artist program at Lyric Opera of Chicago. It is delightfully serendipitous to now be performing this role at San Francisco Opera with such exceptional colleagues as Renée Fleming and Michael Fabiano. [Right: Elizabeth DeShong in her first wig fitting for this production. Her hair has yet to be cut and styled.]
Michael and I made our role debuts as Gennaro and Maffio Orsini at English National Opera this past winter, singing the opera in English. While opera has often been translated into the native language of its audience, I will step out on a limb and say that music written to be sung
in Italian is much easier to sing in its native tongue. A recent article in National Geographic Traveler spoke of how common ground between strangers in foreign territories is often found in a “third tongue”, neither person’s native language. Both speakers feel comfortable making small syntactical mistakes here and there, thereby leveling the playing field. This idea can play out fantastically on the operatic stage, the added unifier, of course, being music. (We’ll try to keep the errors to a minimum.) [Left: Elizabeth DeShong's finished wig]
Music, in fact, is the only common ground between the two productions of Lucrezia Borgia that I have been involved in thus far. At ENO, I was asked to play the role of Maffio Orsini as a tomboy with a crush on Gennaro. Here, our director, John Pascoe conceived him as a homosexual male. Are these imaginings consistent with my own? Not necessarily, but as a singing actress, being given the opportunity to layer new ideas into my image of a character thrills me. [Right: Elizabeth DeShong as a female Maffio Orsini at ENO]
At the end of the day, I, as a singer, bring my voice and imagination to the table, but have to ask for help for the rest. Conductors, directors, actors, dancers, singers, instrumentalists, fight choreographers, stage managers, etc. all play important parts in the success of a production. Opera at its best is a true collaborative art.
When the time comes to move on to the next show, I’ll take my suitcase, score, and an open mind. [Left: Elizabeth DeShong on stage as Maffio Orsini. Photo by Cory Weaver]
Elizabeth DeShong maintains her own fantastic blog--which features one new photo to represent each day throughout her travels--at www.asingerssuitcase.com