The 51st season of Festival dei Due Mondi (Spoleto) launches today, Friday, June 27, 2008 to the thrills of loyal summer festival enthusiasts. The inaugural performance will be the Italian premiere of Albert Roussel's opera-ballet, Padmâvatî. It has returned to Italy after almost 40 years of absence (heard only prior the 1970s in Italy via Andre Cluytens and Georges Prêtre). The production was seen last March in Paris's Théâtre du Châtelet, where it exited to successful reviews.
Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the highly awarded Indian film director, Padmâvatî is produced by a majority of Indian talent, from the choreography to the sets to the costumes, which we were made exclusively by hand in India. Tonight, conductor Emmanuel Villaume will lead the Czech National Symphony Orchestra of Prague.
Entrusted to star in the leading role of Padmâvatî is American mezzo soprano Nicole Piccolomini, who has already successfully appeared in the last two seasons at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. A graduate from The Juilliard School, Nicole has sung Fenena in Nabucco, Maddalena in Rigoletto, Federica in Luisa Miller, Flosshilde in Götterdämmerung and Das Rheingold, and Dritte Dame in Die Zauberflöte. Nicole tells us that the production boasts an elephant, a horse, and an adult tiger. Get ur beast on!
Nicole graciously agreed to take a few moments from her hectic, last-minute rehearsals to share a few insights on working with Spoleto and preparing herself for the opera with the readers of Opera Chic.
What were the key elements in preparing yourself for the lead role of Padmâvatî?
"Being that I was not familiar with Padmâvatî at all I got a recording right away. I found out I'd be singing the role two months before rehearsals began. Now that we can find almost anything on the Internet I went straight to Wikipedia for information on the Hindu gods. I must say I didn't find as much information as I had hoped for on the character of Padmâvatî but as soon as rehearsals began I was completely surrounded by people who were much more familiar with Indian culture: the dancers from Calcutta, one of the assistant directors Raaghav Dar, & the choreographer Tanusree Shankar. They helped me bring Padmâvatî to life by a lot of trial & error, so to speak."
"The director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali arrived only a few days ago so I have had very limited time to work with him. I was a sponge every time he spoke to me about Padmâvatî, he's truly a genius in his own right. He's so specific, straight to the point & not to mention intense! Even from the limited rehearsals we had together I have been able to take the role to a completely new level. There are many rituals I knew nothing about that are so fascinating, for instance offering milk to the Siva before praying, breaking the bangles around her wrists after her husband is dead, and burning herself alive on her husbands funeral pyre. Many of them don't necessarily happen anymore, of course. The role of Padmâvatî is not very long, maybe about 35 minutes, but it's very intense, emotionally & physically."
Does leading in an opera-ballet open you up to more artistic liberties than you find in traditional opera?
"I always love working in productions with a lot of dancing. Unfortunately, I don't get to dance at all (I was a dancer for 12 years). I had the pleasure of working the wonderful & beautiful choreographer from India, Tanusree Shankar. She worked with me on specific details like how to lift the veil from my face, how to hold the milk for Siva, how to walk, turn & fall naturally. I definitely find it more liberating to be apart of an opera where I interact with dancers. I feel myself moving more gracefully and being more fluid with my actions. I always try to incorporate my dance background to every role I sing no matter the size."
What is it like working with Spoleto? How do you like Italy?
"This is my first experience singing in Italy and it's been really wonderful. (I've been to Italy a few times before but that was years ago). I actually feel really spoiled singing with The Spoleto Festival. Everyone has been so helpful, supportive & very friendly. I absolutely LOVE Italy!! I hate the fact that I haven't been able to visit some of the nearby cities due to the schedule but I have a feeling I'll be back here soon!"
What are your plans for the future?
"I'll be taking a few weeks off at 'home' in Long Island, NY with my family before returning to Berlin in August, where I'll be starting my 3rd season at The Deutsche Oper Berlin."