(Above: Angela Meade, credit Edward Acker)
Last weekend we wrote about the 36th annual Richard Tucker Gala, a celebratory concert that bears witness to the long legacy of its founder and to toast its 2011 awardee, American soprano Angela Meade.
We wanted to hear more from Meade, who made her professional debut three years ago at The Metropolitan Opera, about finishing such an important year of career development.
In an exclusive interview, she talked to us all about bel canto styles, singing Norma, the dangers of burning out, future roles, and most curiously -- what's she going to do with that 30K Richard Tucker award?!
Click the link below for the entire interview.
(Above: Angela Meade, credit Edward Acker)
As a younger singer, you have to follow in the footsteps of many opera headliners who are reinforced by legions of super-fans and critics, brining-out the inevitable compare/contrast that's not always relevant or fair. What's your take on it and do you deal with the phenomenon?
That thought had never occurred to me. I find it a waste of time to think about such comparisons. I sing the role the way I do, and they do it their way. That’s what makes opera so interesting. If everyone did it the same way, it would be a bore. Obviously I listen to others who sing the role for their take on interpretation and for inspiration, but in the end it has to be what I bring to it that makes it mine.
In general, the style of bel canto is more organic and open to change than let's say, Verdi or Wagner. Let's take, for example, the bel canto of Rossini as it was popular before the 1980s with a heavier sound and singers who exaggerated everything. Rossini how we hear it today is in a lighter presentation which gives more justice to the coloratura lines. Do you prefer Rossini pre-1980 or do you prefer it today? Is it challenging to think that the style in which you sing bel canto today will likely be different than when you’re singing it in your 50s?
I prefer a larger voice with the ability to move in the bigger bel canto operas. There tends to be a trend toward casting light. I’m not sure if that’s for a lack of singers who have bigger voices who can sing coloratura, or if it’s a preference of conductors/musical directors/etc. I personally like bel canto with a lot of flash and exaggeration. It’s a style that grew out of the great castrati who embellished everything and I think it’s something we are missing today. It is challenging to think that bel canto style might be different years to come. Our art form is always changing though and we don’t really know how people will interpret bel canto at that point, but I am hopeful there will be a resurgence of classic bel canto.
Opera’s seen so many promising, young talents burn themselves out by taking-on too much. What’s your strategy to protect yourself and where did you learn it?
I'm conscious of it so I try not to take on roles that are too much, too soon or too varied. So I'll try not to sing roles back-to-back that are total opposites and I allow myself to have enough recovery time. I've declined many offers -- stuff like people wanting me to sing Norma back-to-back on consecutive days. I try to be very protective of myself.
That attitude comes from knowing great singers who’ve burned themselves out. It's difficult to pace yourself when you're so eager to do things, not only for the recognition but I'm so eager to sing and do it all. It's hard to stay no sometimes, but I know that in order to have a long career, I have to do that. It's not always the easiest decision to say no to things that you really want to do.
Bellini's Norma has fascinated audiences for centuries and it's some of his best composition. In Philip Gossett's book Divas and Scholars, he said that Bellini wrote to the first Norma, Giuditta Pasta, that the role of Norma was "encyclopedic" and that it "made a wide range of vocal and emotional demands on the heroine, surely one of the reasons why generations of prima donnas have been attracted to the opera". So what is it exactly that attracts you to the role?
I agree with Bellini’s statement that Norma is an encyclopedic role. It demands everything. One must sing with all of the tools in the singer’s toolbox. High, low, soft, loud, legato, fioratura and also the entire opera is dependent on you. I would say Norma isn’t the only encyclopedic role, though: Anna Bolena, Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux, Armida and all of the other Assoluta roles demand just as much as Norma does, maybe just in a little different combination.
Personally, these roles attract me because I have always loved to be challenged. I find it extremely rewarding to push myself to the extreme in terms of vocal and dramatic challenges. I'm looking forward to singing it in the next couple years and to make it richer and deeper, and to bring it to life.
Could you give us a teaser of some roles that you’d like to add to your repertory?
I'd love to do Lucrezia Borgia at some point. The music is so beautiful and I wish it was done more often. Also I'd love to do Maria Stuarda. Like I mentioned before, I'd love to do another Roberto Devereux down the line. I did it in Dallas as a student in a production a couple years ago. I want to do Semiramide, too, at some point. I'd also like to add some Mozart back into my repetory and some of the later, heavier Verdi. I'd love to sing La forza del destino, but not for many years.
Congrats on being the 2011 Richard Tucker Award recipient! It’s really real, now that you’ve had the event. What’s it feel like? What impressed you the most?
It's funny that you say that it becomes real because in the moment, you're programmed to just go and do your job -- you sing. The impact of it still hasn't completely hit me and the moment goes by so fast. I was looking at everyone -- Jonas Kaufmann Stephanie Blythe, Bryn Terfel, Dolora Zajick -- and I was thinking, "Ok, these people are really my colleagues!" It's such a strange feeling to be so freshly out of my studies and to be in a place like that. It’s overwhelming. I have to pinch myself and ask if it's really happening! It was an amazing night and I wish it could have lasted forever -- it will in my memories.
What are you going to do with the money?
At the moment, I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to do with it! I've been thinking about putting it towards a down payment for a house but I'm still unsure where I want to move. I was thinking about moving closer to Philadelphia because I have such a strong support group there -- all the coaches I had while working at the Academy of Vocal Arts. I like Philadelphia and it's close to Manhattan without being so expensive.