Mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts
made her Company debut on June 5 as Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann
—currently running through July 6. The San Francisco Chronicle
described her performance as "tonally resplendent," while the San Jose Mercury News
gushed that she "dazzled in her company debut; what a plush, opulent voice she has." Prior to opening night, Ms. Roberts answered a few questions for us:
We are so excited to see you as Giulietta in your debut at SFO! As a northern-California native, did you attend many performances here while growing up?
The first opera I ever attended was here at SFO actually! I went to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA (just about an hour away) for my undergraduate degree and we attended final dress rehearsals and performances throughout my 4 years there. I remember being so blown away by the grandeur of it all and secretly intimidated by the size of the hall!
[Roberts as Giulietta.]
How do you prepare for a role? Anything specific to Giulietta that you’d like to share?
I'm always excited to learn a new role and the "nerdiness" really comes out then. The color-coordinated highlighters, color-coded tabs for different sections, you name it. But the real fun comes when I start looking into the source material. I find books or short stories that the opera was based on, films that have been inspired by similar stories, or other books/films that feature characters similar to the one I am researching. For the role of Giulietta, a courtesan, I read a lot about the most famous courtesans in Italy, France and Japan in an attempt to gain a better understanding of not only how they lived their lives, but the motivation behind maintaining and really needing that lifestyle. If I can understand what might fuel my character then I can be more present in every moment on stage, and that is my ultimate goal.
There are many operas about the search for love. What do you think makes The Tales of Hoffmann such a unique story?
I think the most interesting thing about this love story is the fact that the unwavering, endless love Hoffmann is searching for is something that transcends any relationship he's had with the women he has encountered. It is rather the love he has for the inspiration for his art.
[With Christian Van Horn as Dapertutto.]
What led you to study opera?
I studied piano seriously since I was 3 years old and always sang along when I played. Now, there wasn't much to sing along to when I was working on a Chopin etude or Beethoven sonata, but when I played songs from Disney (princess) movies or musicals I always sang while I played. I wanted to be a singer/songwriter when I was in my late-teens and I thought that having a classically trained voice as a foundation would serve me well. I sang in my first opera when I was 22 and that's when I fell in love. Until then, I had never felt so present in any moment as I did on stage performing with dozens of other people from the conductor, orchestra, fellow singers, to the friendly faces dressed in black making the magic happen backstage. I just couldn't do anything else once I experienced that for the first time.
[With Matthew Polenzani as Hoffmann and the San Francisco Opera Chorus.]
What do you plan on doing in San Francisco during your time off? Any favorite haunts you like to visit?
I've been visiting San Francisco my entire life since I grew up in Sacramento, so this city is very familiar and beloved to me. When my grandparents started visiting from Japan regularly, we would make a big trip out of picking them up from SFO airport. One of my favorite parts about it, aside from seeing them, was the trip to Japantown to eat udon and to get some other Japanese treats! So, I love being close to Japantown again and reliving some very fond memories :) I have favorite spots by the water, and a couple neighborhoods that I just love to take long walks through, not to mention visiting all the restaurants! I am very close to my family so it has been so wonderful to be able to spend time with them here and share this very exciting time in my life. Singing at San Francisco Opera has been a dream of mine for so long and I am still pinching myself when I walk through that stage door!
Production photos by Cory Weaver.