Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rosalind Plowright talks about singing Herodias in Portland Opera's Salome and of her career

Rosalind Plowright - © Pat Moran / Portland Opera

This Friday evening, Portland Opera will present “Salome,” a forceful, melodramatic work was written by Richard Strauss completed in 1905. “Salome” is based on the Oscar Wilde play, which takes some liberties with the New Testament story of John the Baptist, who is a prisoner of King Herod. Herod’s stepdaughter, Salome, performs her Dance of the Seven Veils and obtains the head of John the Baptist. In the midst of the story is Herod’s wife, Herodias, who tries to deflect and control her husband’s infatuation with her daughter. For the Portland Opera production, Rosalind Plowright will sing the role of Herodias. Plowright is a remarkable singer whose 35 years of professional experience on opera stages around the world includes acclaimed recordings and DVDs. She is one of the few singers who have successfully transitioned from a soprano to a mezzo-soprano.
I saw you sing the role of La Prinzipessa in the Seattle Opera’s production of "Suor Angelica," and you were fantastic. Now you have another unsympathetic character, Herodias.
Plowright:  Thank you for the complement. Yes, I do a lot of nasty ladies, and in the Bible, it is Herodias who demands the head of John the Baptist, not Salome. But Oscar Wilde switched that to Salome for dramatic purposes.
I love these characters. I specialize in them at the moment.  Even when I was a soprano I wanted something with a bit more guts. Many of the soprano roles are sticky sweet heroines, and I longed for something more evil, the nasty ladies. Now I am doing nothing but nasty ladies with a few exceptions like Mme de Croissy, the prioress of the monastery in the “Dialogues of the Carmelites.”   But I have Mrs. Sedley in “Peter Grimes” coming up soon. She is not a very pleasant person. I’m on Twitter as specializing in bags and hags and witches and bitches. It’s a bit of a joke really, but I’m loving it. It gives my career longevity.  
It’s terrific that you have been able to extend your range into the lower area. That’s got to be difficult.
Plowright:  I’ve really had no problem doing that. [Laughs.] I sang Ariadne years ago and Ariadne goes down to a very low note. There are also some dramatic soprano roles with huge cadenzas. I recall one that went from a high C to a low F. Those high C days are now gone, but I still have the low, chesty tones.
I started off as a mezzo, but not in a professional way. I was a student of the London Opera Center. They didn’t know what to do with me, because I had the low and the middle really well. I sang a bunch of mezzo roles, including the Page in Salome.
Strauss uses a large orchestra in “Salome,” and you have to sing quite loud. That must be tiring on the voice.
Plowright:  Herodias doesn’t have a lot to sing, but what she has, she has to fire out. That can be tricky because you don’t have the chance to warm up. My first three lines are gentle but thereafter it starts to shriek.
Salome presents a lot of psychological problems. It revels in human obsessions but none are resolved.
Plowright:  Each individual character is after another one. No one can acknowledge or duplicate the love that is given to them. Only Herodias doesn’t have anyone interested in her. The Page loves Narroboth, Narroboth loves Salome; Herod loves Salome; Salome loves Jocahanaan – John the Baptist. So Herodias is left out on a limb. Maybe that’s why she is always seeking attention.
Have you worked with the stage director of this production, Stephen Lawless, before?
Plowright:  No, but we were actually students together. I used to mother him when we were at the London Opera Centre. Then he was at Glyndebourne and I was in the Glyndebourne chorus. But in the course of our careers our paths have only crossed twice – in social situations, not in working situations.  So this is the first time that I’ve work with him. It’s absolutely fabulous and I’m loving it.
The London Opera Centre was on the east side of the city, but it doesn’t exist anymore. It was important for young singers because opera companies didn’t have young artists programs. After you finished at the conservatory, young singers still need more training and experience. So you went to the London Opera Centre or the Glyndebourne Chorus, and I did both.
Have you worked with conductor George Manahan?
Plowright:  This is my first time. He’s an excellent conductor and a wonderful person to boot. I’m used to arrogant Europeans – [laughs] – the types that think they own the stage and put the fear of God in you are a quarter of a beat late.  It’s refreshing to work with normal people. I really enjoyed working with Gary Thor Wedow, who conducted “Suor Angelica” in Seattle.
I was looking at your gallery of photos on your website and noted that you sang with Eric Idle and Monty Python at Royal Albert Hall and did a DVD with them.
Plowright:  It was a wonderful to get out of the opera world and do that. That was a lot of fun. Michael Palin was a bit embarrassed and had a lot of humility when he got on the stage to sing with four opera singers.  He was my favorite. 
Is your home base in London?
Plowright:  No, I live Salisbury about 80 miles southwest of London.  It’s near Stonehenge and has a cathedral that is about 1000 years old. I enjoyed living in London when I was young, but I prefer the countryside nowadays.  I commute to London when I need to.
It seems that you have theater in your bones.
Plowright:  I came to opera through straight acting. Straight acting is much more difficult than singing opera for me. I need music to do my acting. For me, the drama comes through the music. But when I do straight drama, it feels like I have nothing to hang onto. I did a TV mini-drama in which I played an opera singer, but it felt very uncomfortable, and I can’t bear to watch myself. I could do Shakespeare, because his words sing. [Laughs!] 
I’ve been in a number of theater things, a couple of which I helped to develop. It’s similar to “Aridane auf Naxos” in that an opera singer and a jazz singer double book the same theater on the same night, but neither of them want to give in. They try to perform together but separately. It’s a comedy and a lot of fun. 
What will you be doing after “Salome” closes here?
Plowright:  After Portland I’ll travel to Paris for the “Dialogue of the Carmelites.” They plan to film it, and it may end up as a DVD. It has the most phenomenal cast of major French divas. It’s a slightly daunting undertaking for me, because I’ll be the only non-native French-speaking person in the cast.
It seems that when you aren’t singing, you are busy giving master classes.
Plowright:   I’m doing one here with the young artists. They asked me. I love doing master classes, and I’ll do more of them when eventually my singing career comes to an end.  But I’ll stick to singing opera for as long as I can.
Rosalind Plowright - © Pat Moran / Portland Opera

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