You just sang all three leading roles in Il Trittico for the first time in San Francisco, and now you're bringing your interpretation to the Met. Is this something you've wanted to do for a long time?
It has been at the top of my wish list since very early on. The whole reason I got into opera was because of Suor Angelica. My sophomore year of college I was listening to Renata Scotto's recording, and I completely got it. It was the big "Aha!" moment for me, when I first really appreciated how powerful opera can be. I'd joke about it: every time I'd meet an opera director or administrator, I'd somehow manage to work the "I'm dying to do all three heroines in Trittico" subject into the conversation!
Do you find it exhausting singing three lead roles over the course of one evening?
Well, my comparison is always Madama Butterfly, in terms of exhaustion level and of the vocal stamina that's needed. And I have to say that Butterfly still wins on that count, but not by much. Il Tabarro is rather evenly distributed among the three main characters, so that's not too difficult a task. But when you arrive at the scene with the Principessa in Suor Angelica: that is unrelenting. You want the audience to feel absolutely shattered at the end of Angelica: and I feel shattered myself. I'm actually weeping throughout. [Laughing] It gets a little messy, truth be told!
And then you move from the intensity of Angelica to the comedy of Gianni Schicchi...
The audience is so ready to laugh after Suor Angelica. They need to. What Il Trittico succeeds so beautifully in doing is taking you on a wide emotional journey, and to end it with laughter, with hilarity, is a great release.
It must be challenging for you as a performer to shift gears so quickly.
That is the hardest part. You're telling three very different stories over the course of the evening. There's a different body language, a different attitude, with each character. And you want to flesh out each one and make it as three-dimensional as possible. Thankfully, the music guides you. In Il Tabarro Puccini managed to create that undulating sense of water, which adds to the earthiness and sensuality of that piece. This is completely contrasted by the ethereal, mystical quality of Suor Angelica. And then there is that gift of giddiness in Schicchi: a rarity for my rep! So I have to give Puccini a big thank-you for providing a great road map that lets me make my journey with a variety of sweeps and turns along the way. It's an amazing a ride, I'll tell you.
Jack O'Brien's production of Il Trittico, also featuring Stephanie Blythe in all three operas, opens on November 20.
Click here for tickets.