Boston Lyric Opera’s five-performance run of Rossini’s ever-popular Barber of Seville begins Friday at the Majestic Theater. David Angus will conduct stage director Rosetta Cucchi’s production designed by Julia Noulin-Mérat, costumed by Gianluca Falaschi, and lighted by DM Wood. The cast comprises Matthew Worth as Figaro, Daniela Mack as Rosina, Jesus Garcia as Almaviva, David Crawford as Basilio with Michelle Trainor, Steven Condy, Jesse Darden, Vincent Turregano in smaller roles.
BMInt writer and BLO annotator Laura Prichard tells us, “It is a veritable tour de force of vocal acrobatics, musical wit, and comedy. Beginning with a spirited overture, Rossini’s approach contrasts upbeat humor with poignant musical touches. Rossini mastered the opera buffa by peppering each act with duets and trios and capping each act’s finale with a sophisticated ensemble (à la Mozart). By utilizing the satirical opera buffa genre, Rossini could transform characters from the still-popular commedia dell’arte into scheming servants and deceptive suitors, laying bare the social injustices of their time.”
The BLO’s Rosina, mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, acclaimed for her “caramel timbre, flickering vibrato, and crisp articulation” (Opernwelt) as she “hurls fast notes like a Teresa Berganza or a Frederica von Stade” (San Francisco Chronicle), had some interesting words for BMInt.
FLE: After nearly three weeks of rehearsing, can you relate anything surprising in the BLO staging?
DM: Well, let me just talk a little bit about this set. There’s nothing too different about the actual staging, except that we’re on this crazy set that was inspired, I think, by Escher. It has stairs that lead every which way. Some of them lead to nowhere. Some of them move while we’re singing. One of the trickiest parts is navigating the actual set pieces. But one thing that’s been interesting for me and my character to play with specifically has been the fact that Rosina is basically a prisoner in Dr. Bartolo’s house. And in this production, I have this nine-foot off the ground platform that is really, it’s not very big. I’m guessing something like six feet by six feet, maybe a little bit bigger. And that’s really the space to which I’m confined for most of the opera. It really makes it feel kind of claustrophobic and like a cage in that way, which is kind of a cool mental exercise to play with from an acting standpoint. That’s been something I’ve never had to do before, actually, just play in a very confined space in that way, and it adds to the psychology of the character quite a bit.
You’ve never done the balcony scene from Juliet and Romeo?
[LAUGHTER] I never have, no. But there is an escape from that. You know, if I wanted to leave the balcony, and you know, in other Barber productions that’s been an option. But really, I just, I have nowhere to go in this one.
There’s no ladder?
There is a ladder, which I obviously don’t get to use. But yeah, it’s a very interesting concept, and it’s one I haven’t seen before.
Is it safe?
[LAUGHTER] We’re hoping it’s safe. There are a few railings here and there. But really, since we’ve been in the theater for the past three days, we’ve had a lot of technical rehearsals, and everybody’s sort of figuring out how to navigate in as safe a way as possible. We’ve altered only a few things from the way that we rehearsed it in the rehearsal room, without the set. We’re all traveling a little bit more slowly than we had been in the room, and just watching our footing a little bit more. But they’ve done everything that they can on the technical side to make it as safe as it can be.
Right. And you don’t have to memorize a lot of blocking, then.
There are some trajectories, but in the quartet in Act II, where Bartolo sort of discovers that Figaro is in his house, and he’s trying to take me away, he chases us around, and we have this path that we have memorized. The staging is not exactly stationary, but there’s less movement than I’ve done in the past, for sure.
The Majestic isn’t exactly an opera house, but on the other hand, it must be a very gratifying place to sing, because you don’t have to bellow.
It is. And you know, most of these pieces were written for a space very similar to this jewel box theater. And I quite like not having to worry about projecting into a huge barn of a house. It reminds me of a lot of the theaters in Europe, and that’s good, especially considering that the set doesn’t have any walls to speak of. And usually, that’s very hard on a singer acoustically speaking, because you want something to bounce your voice off of when you’re on stage, projecting over an orchestra. But in this house, I think that it doesn’t matter too much, because the acoustics are good, and it’s not too big of a space for that.
It sounds like if you’re on a balcony, you’re projecting into that house most of the time you’re singing anyway.
Yeah, but it’s always nice to have something to bounce the sound off of. Usually I opt for walls. [LAUGHTER]
You’ve done Rosina with Covent Garden and San Francisco Opera—were they more conventional in terms of your movement on stage?
I’ve never really done a Barber of Seville that was just completely off the wall. I have seen, for example, a Barber production that my husband was in year ago in Germany that was set on a different planet. I’ve never done anything like that. But the bulk of the Barber productions that I’ve done have been more traditional. That’s not to say that the costumes weren’t slightly updated or sort of inspired by a period, but not absolutely married to the period that it was composed in. And what we’ve done here, also, is sort of a mish mash of periods, too. We have costumes that are period, but then they’ve thrown in some elements of more modern elements give an idea that we’re in some period that’s not today. But this show makes a really cool juxtaposition of eras.
Do you know whether they have rewritten the translations of the libretto into something more contemporary? Which is sometimes done now?
I know that’s sometimes done. I, honestly, I haven’t read what they’re using for the supertitles. But I can’t imagine that they have had to. It’s a story about relationships that really anybody can identify with. I don’t think it needs much explanation. And that way there aren’t that many cultural references in this one that really would be lost on a modern audience. I can’t imagine that they’ve changed too much, if anything.
So how is your chemistry with Almaviva?
[LAUGHTER] It’s good. Actually, I have many mutual friends in common with Jesus Garcia, who’s singing the role, but I had never met him before, whereas I’ve met most of the rest of the cast before and worked with them. It was 2 ½ weeks ago when we got here; that was the first time we met. Part of the gig of being an itinerant singer is that you get thrown into a production, and you have to immediately find some sort of chemistry with somebody that you’ve perhaps never met. But this group of people is really nice. Everybody’s just really sort of low key and professional, so it’s been really easy in that respect to find a rapport. And regarding Almaviva, it’s funny in these Rossini pieces, the love interests never really spend a whole lot of time together; I don’t have a love duet with him or anything like that. We just have to figure it out in the moment a little bit. And you suspend disbelief, since we’ve just met, and we’re already completely head over heels in love. You know, that’s opera. But yeah, it’s been a really good group to go to work with, and everybody gets along, and we goof around in rehearsal; that helps us bond certainly in a very short time span.
Sometimes people say that Rosina is really the string puller in this opera. But in this setting, where you really aren’t interacting as much, are you dominating the action? Do you have any agency as a character?
Some directors make a point of bringing that aspect of her personality out. In Rosina’s first aria, she’s singing alone, so nobody’s listening to her monologue, and she says, “I can be sweet. I can be docile, but if you push the wrong button, I will be a viper, and I will come up with these elaborate plans. And often directors exploit that, in a good way. In this production as in probably most, Figaro is the mastermind. And, of course, that works with the libretto. I have done both ways. In this version I think Rosina takes more of a secondary role in plotting everything out, but it doesn’t make her any less feisty, any less quick on her feet. She’s a girl who knows what she wants, and she’s very quick to read a room, thus she’s adaptable in a situation. When Bartolo starts questioning her about who she’s spoken to and what she’s done, she thinks very quickly on her feet and comes up with an answer which is indicative of her ability to really run a situation.
Rosina has been sung by a variety of vocal types. Now, are you a coloratura mezzo? Is that fair to say? Because over the phone you sound like a contralto.
[LAUGHTER] Well, it’s still early in the day. I like to do the coloratura rep very much. I would say that if I had to do something for the rest of my life, and sort of roll out of bed doing it, it would be the fast stuff. But you know, my repertoire over the course of my career thus far has been pretty varied, I’d have to say. I haven’t specialized in that, in coloratura. But as it is, my instrument has always found it particularly easy to do that. That’s why I’m sort of partial to Rossini. The things that I’ve had to work really hard at are the legato and sustained singing.
The timber of my voice has really dictated what kind of a singer I am. I’m also fortunate that I like the repertoire I’m asked to do. And I’m happy to do it for as long as people hire me to do it.
Can you help me remember a term for a vocal ornament which I was trying to remember? It’s a kind of portamento in which you do a very slight staccato on each note as you’re sliding. Am I thinking of a roulade?
We definitely speak of portamento specifically in bel canto. It has to do with going from one note to another. It doesn’t have to be in step-wise motion. It’s usually a larger interval. But definitely just the thought of sustaining the sound and sustaining the breath through from one note to the other, and really making that connection, drawing out that connection, I think is the way I think about portamento. And there certainly is some of that in Rossini, perhaps not as much as in something like Puccini or Verdi, but I definitely use it on occasion.
And you have a trill.
Yes. [LAUGHTER] Although I don’t think I use a trill in this. I think sometimes I’ve ornamented a trill into one of her arias, and maybe I’ll throw one in on some evening.
Give us a head’s up as to which one! With all of your ornamentation, do you sing more notes than anyone else in Barbieri?
That’s probably a safe assumption. Bartolo’s patter is really impressive, and it’s a lot, it’s so quick, and it’s a different thing from what I sing. I ornament in the arias and do maybe a lot more runs than anybody does, but I think Bartolo might have me beat; he’s definitely in competition for that.
Is Steven Condy a buffa or a cantabile?
I’m not sure, again, I haven’t put a label on him, because I don’t know if he calls himself a buffo or not. He’s certainly funny, and I know that he’s done this role many, many times. I was talking to him, I think it’s maybe over 300 performances of Barber of Seville as Bartolo. He’s definitely a seasoned vet.
How unusual it is that someone who sings Rossini can go on and sing Carmen a week later.
[LAUGHTER] Well, it’s funny you should say a week later. I try to plan my schedule pretty carefully, honestly, especially if I’m going to do something like Carmen, because the bulk of my repertoire is more bel canto, and Handel, which I like to do very much, and some Mozart as well. But Carmen is a different beast. I like singing the role very much, but it does take a different measure of stamina. And just a different production wherein something like Rossini, I can really give gas when I need to or when I decide to do it, and really pull back in certain ways. Carmen, for my instrument, requires sort of full throttle singing I would say a good 80% of the evening. It just means that I get tired in a different way than I do singing something like Rosina. I have to make sure that it falls into the schedule at a time when I can really prep for it beforehand, and really get into that mode of singing, and then have a little bit of recovery time afterwards.
And you’re not going to do Carmen standing immobile on a balcony.
Exactly, no I’m not. [LAUGHTER] It’s an entirely different exercise for a performer. It’s a lot of emotion poured in, especially in Act IV. It takes planning, for me anyway. I think some singers with a different instrument, perhaps, would say, would think about it differently. But I certainly have to give it some thought in that sense.
If you had your choice for ideal triangle as Carmen, what Escamilo and Jose would you lust after—historical types, and current singers?
Oh my gosh. No one’s every asked me that question. It would be really hard to make a choice like that. I was always a fan of the early Domingo singing. I first discovered Carmen listening a lot to the Troyanos recording with Domingo; that’s really in my ear.
And what Escamillo?
He’s more exciting, after all.
He is more exciting, but again, I don’t spend very much time with him onstage. The bulk of the evening is spent with Jose, for better or worse, fighting or enjoying it.
Do you dance on the table? And do you do your own castanets?
I have danced on the table, and I do do my own castanets. So yes and yes.
Well, how about Jonas Kaufman?
Who doesn’t love Jonas Kaufman? Of course, I welcome the opportunity to do this kind of thing with new voices as well. The last Carmen that I did was with a very young cast. I think honestly, I was one of the oldest people in the cast. And the guy singing Jose was very young. I think he was about 25 or 26, and this was his first Jose. And there was just something magical about watching this person discover how to do this, really how to portray this character, and also to see this voice that is already great, but that you can see, you can go into what the future holds for this voice. And that’s really exciting to me, also, to have somebody who’s just fresh into it; it’s really nice to discover a piece like that with that kind of a performer.
When you talked about deciding what vocal type you would become, why is it that there are really, aside from you in the morning, that there are really no true contraltos anymore? Is it just not good marketing?
I think that might be a misconception. I did a production earlier this year, also at the beginning of the year, with a young singer who just has this glorious, rich, deep contralto voice. And it’s a real contralto. It’s not manufactured. It’s not somebody who’s pushing her voice to go down there. I think they are a rarity, I think certainly hard to find. But maybe there’s a hesitance, or a reticence in education to really have young girls explore that part of the voice. But I think they’re out there. I just think they’re few and far between.
Did you ever sing tenor in a chorus before you became a professional?
I did not, no. But I do know women who have. [LAUGHTER] Whether they stayed in that sort of range as a contralto later, it’s not the usual trajectory for a singer, certainly. I do think that they’re out there, but I don’t think that there’s a lot of rep being done which highlights that kind of voice, but there is a wealth of rep written for it… a lot of baroque repertoire, a lot of Handel, even the Rossini heroines, if you look at the original cast list, were written for contralto. People shouldn’t be afraid to explore that range. But a lot of it has to do with timbre and just where a singer is comfortable living in terms of tessitura.
BY the way, have you ever sung my Rossini favorite, Petite Messe Solennelle from Sins of Old Age?
That’s on my list of things I’d like to do. I’ve done the Rossini comedic heroines, Rosina, obviously, I’ve done the most. But I just finished a run of Italian Girl. I’ve done Cenerentola quite a bit. I’ve done Rossini’s Joan of Arc several times, which is not often done, but it’s a great sort of 20-minute cantata type thing. What other Rossini? I have a list. I would love to do Donna del Iago. I would love to do Desdemona in Otello. There’s a lot of rep to choose from.
Hopefully the opera companies are reading this.
Oh, yes. [LAUGHTER]
In addition to opera you seem to be doing oratorio and orchestral works. Mozart Requiem, Beethoven Ninth. And is that part of your career going to continue? And is that as satisfying?
I hope so. It’s a totally different animal in a lot of ways, especially in terms of a time commitment. Once you’ve learned it, it’s the kind of gig where you show up, and then a few days later you are done rehearsing, and then you perform, and then that’s it. In that way, you can really do a lot of very interesting concert work in a very small amount of time. And working with some of these fantastic orchestras, and Boston is no exception, is fulfilling in a different way. I really like to do concert work. I also like to do recitals, but those are few and far between. I think they can be a hard sell.
It’s hard to hear the alto in the Beethoven Ninth quartet.
No one ever hears the alto in that. But it’s amazing to be on stage for it, and it’s such a remarkable piece that you just, unless you have a mammoth sized voice, the mezzo is not the most important part of that quartet for sure.
Do you want to talk about Charles Dutoit; you’ve sung with him several times.
I had wonderful experiences performing under his leadership. I never had any bad experiences with him, but really, it’s just a very unfortunate situation, and I’m glad that people found the courage to come forward about something that’s very painful and traumatic for them. I admire the people that have come forward.
It’s something that is very prevalent, and not only in our musical community. It has to be talked about. It’s a very real problem, and I’m glad that it’s now a part of the conversation.
See related review HERE
The Barber of Seville
Music by Gioacchino Rossini
Libretto by Cesare Sterbini
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
FRI 12 | 7:30 PM
SUN 14 | 3:00 PM
WED 17 | 7:30 PM
FRI 19 | 7:30 PM
SUN 21 | 3:00 PM
Conductor David Angus
Stage Director Rosetta Cucchi
Set Designer Julia Noulin-Mérat
Costume Designer Gianluca Falaschi
Lighting Designer DM Wood
Matthew Worth as Figaro
Daniela Mack as Rosina
Jesus Garcia as Almaviva
David Crawford as Basilio
With Michelle Trainor, Steven Condy, Jesse Darden, Vincent Turregano
Renowned for her Rossini interpretations, Daniela Mack will have two house debuts as Rosina in The Barber of Seville during the 2018-2019 season at Boston Lyric Opera and Michigan Opera Theatre. She makes her Spanish debut and role debut at Ópera de Oviedo as Sesto in La clemenza di Tito, as well as her debut with the BBC Philharmonic as Béatrice in Béatrice et Bénédict. Ms. Mack makes her role debut as Dorabella in Così fan tutte at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and her return to the Florida Grand Opera in a highly-anticipated role debut as Charlotte in Werther.
In recent seasons, Daniela Mack made her Royal Opera House-Covent Garden debut as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia with Javier Camerena and made her Metropolitan Opera debut in Mary Zimmerman’s new production of Rusalka as the Kitchen Boy. Ms. Mack was seen at the Santa Fe Opera for her first North American performances as Isabella in L’italiana in Algeri, as Bradamante in Alcina conducted by Harry Bicket, and her role debut as in Carmen. She created the role of Elizabeth Cree in the world premiere of Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s Elizabeth Cree at Opera Philadelphia and returned later in the season for Carmen. She was seen at the Washington National Opera as Bradamante in Alcina, debuted at the Seattle Opera as Berlioz’s Béatrice in Béatrice et Bénédict, returned to Arizona Opera as Angelina in La Cenerentola and debuted at the Florida Grand Opera as the title role in Carmen.
You’ve done Rosina with two Covent Garden and SF. Opera in recent years and are continuing in the role with two more American companies this season. Are you asked do very different things?
You can do fleet coloratura and trouser roles but also juicier roles. How different is your vocal production for, say, Carmen and Rosina and Cherubino? Is it fun to play a lovestruck youth on one night and a temptress on another?
Daniela Mack has been seen at the San Francisco Opera as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia and Rosmira in Partenope, as well as created the role of Jacqueline Kennedy in the world premiere of David T. Little and Royce Vavrek’s JFK at the Fort Worth Opera with subsequent performances at the Montreal Opera. She debuted at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as the Kitchen Boy in David McVicar’s production of Rusalka conducted by Andrew Davis and returned to Madison Opera as Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking. She has been seen at the English National Opera in a new production of Julius Caesar as Sesto under Christian Curnyn, the first time the opera was produced at the ENO since the legendary 1979 production. She also debuted at Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse and Los Angeles Opera as Nancy in Albert Herring, Washington National Opera as the Madrigal Singer in Manon Lescaut, Deutsche Oper Berlin and Verbier Festival as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, Opéra National de Bordeaux as Angelina in L’italiana in Algeri, and Opera Colorado in Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s famous production of La Cenerentola directed by Grischa Asagaroff.
On the concert stage, Ms. Mack debuted with three orchestras under Charles Dutoit: Orchestra de la Suisse Romande in Ravel’s L’heure espagnole and L’enfant et les sortilèges, Boston Symphony Orchestra in L’heure espagnole, and Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat. She also debuted with the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk in Rossini’s Giovanna d’Arco under James Gaffigan and performed Vivaldi’s Judith triumphans with Boston Baroque. She debuted with the New York Philharmonic in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under Alan Gilbert and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Manuel de Falla’s La vida breve under the baton of Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. She also performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the LA Philharmonic, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis with the Washington Chorus, Ravel’s Shéhérazade with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne and Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas with the Sydney Symphony. She also made her Cincinnati May Festival debut in Mozart’s Requiem under James Conlon and in an all-star gala at the Opera Theater of San Antonio.
Daniela Mack is an alumna of the Adler Fellowship Program at San Francisco Opera where she has appeared as Idamante in Idomeneo Siebel in Faust and Lucienne in Die tote Stadt for her house debut can you also do Marietta’s Lied?
She performed the title role of La Cenerentola as a member of the Merola Opera Program and made her West Coast recital debut as part of San Francisco Opera’s Schwabacher Debut Recital Series. Ms. Mack was recently a finalist in the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.