By Suzanne Vanstone, Senior Communications Manager, Editorial at the Canadian Opera Company.
After splitting the demanding title role in the Ensemble Studio performance of Semele this past spring, sopranos Mireille Asselin and Ambur Braid are both excited to join us this fall to share the charming role of Adele in Johann Strauss II’s operatic frolic Die Fledermaus.
Both sopranos have been busy over the summer months. Ambur had a few stops: Santa Fe to coach upcoming roles with Anne Larlee and Matthew Epstein; then to the Chautauqua Institution to work with Richard Bonynge; followed by a stint at the Steans Institute in Ravinia. Mireille left Toronto the day after Semele closed to travel to Glimmerglass where she performed Phénice/Lucinde in Lully’s Armide with Opera Atelier as well as being involved to a lesser extent with Aida and The Music Man.
Both agree that the Ensemble Studio program has helped in their preparation for the larger roles they have been offered recently. “The first year was so unlike anything I’d ever experienced,” says Ambur. “But you put things together in a way that works for you. My second year involved a series of small roles, understudying Clémence in Love from Afar and performing Semele. Clémence is the biggest role I’ve ever learned, never mind the most difficult, but that made learning Semele so much easier. It’s made me a better musician and made me organize my time in a different way. In Fledermaus I am not as concerned about the music as I am about all that German dialogue! It will be so much fun, but you have to have that fluidity with the language.”
Mireille is no stranger to the role of Adele – Eisenstein’s cheeky, yet endearing chambermaid – having first performed it with Opera Nuova and then Opera Hamilton. “It has been the role that has eased me into every new career step – my first big role, then my first professional role and now to be able to perform it with the COC is just incredible. There are always surprises along the way and every production is different, but at least I know how this role ‘fits’ me and what my ideas are. The pacing of a role is different depending on what kind of stage you’re on and the size of the house. The way that you deliver dialogue in a large house like the COC’s is completely different than how I did it four years ago in a smaller community house. This past year with the Ensemble has really taught me how to sing on a large stage and how to project vocally, physically and dramatically.”
And both sopranos, of course, will have their own take on Adele. Although they have often been double cast in roles, Ambur and Mireille have very differently coloured voices and styles of singing. Ambur says, “My idea of Adele is going to be rather different. I have always seen her portrayed as a very spunky, chipper soubrette. That’s not my personality – nor am I a soubrette. But when I read the text I discovered that she is not so much chipper, as she is very dry. She definitely knows what’s going on when she walks into that ball! It’s so Wes Anderson [American film director] to me – a very dry German sensibility and I adore it. Adele taunts, and challenges, and she’s clever. You have to be able to draw on your own resources to make the character yours and flesh it out.”
Mireille says, “You can either write Adele off as someone who is quite the airhead, not a very good actress, and a little vain about wanting to be on the stage, or you can look at her as a good actress but stuck in a lower level of society. You can certainly make a case for either version. She definitely has her ‘blonde’ moments,” she laughs, “but at the same time has the ability to hoodwink and play with her boss at a dinner party in front of everyone and have him eating out of the palm of her hand.
“I find it much more interesting to play someone who knows exactly what she is doing instead of someone who is a loveable ditz. But at the same time there is a ton of comedic potential in the loveable ditz. It really depends on what director Christopher Alden thinks about the character and what we discover during the rehearsal process.”
Ambur comments, “There are so many little snippets during the piece that I think are hilarious. It’s our job to have fun and allow the audience to experience that. I love the part where they interrupt their scheming and craziness and sing about brotherhood and their mutual bond as human beings. It’s very sweet but I don’t think it should be overly sugary – it should be honest. I’m sure it will be very honest with Christopher Alden! I’m excited and feel it’s a pretty good match to be involved with him because I don’t do ‘sugary’ well – I love getting down to the darker side of things.
“Die Fledermaus is a great season opener. I love it when I can recommend an opera to anyone and everyone. It has a solid plot, the construction is great, and it’s human. I feel we’ve experienced a lot of what the characters in the opera feel – we’re often deceived when we’re actually attempting to deceive others. And then the humility comes full circle. When it’s not all ‘jazz hands,’ it will feel extremely visceral.”
Mireille adds, “Operetta is a genre completely unto its own and it’s a shame that it sometimes gets discounted. There is hilarious, witty, funny music in this piece. The beauty of the genre is that it gives so much creative license to the director, the cast and the conductor too. There isn’t a ‘white glove, put-on-a-pedestal’ attachment to the music. In operetta you have so much freedom to update the dialogues and make it topical so that the jokes are relevant to the modern audience. You are expected to have your own vision of the piece which is often very different from ‘straight’ opera where people strongly feel it’s prima la musica – first the music.”
Both young artists welcome the opportunity to perform Adele and look forward to seeing what Christopher Alden will bring to the work because, as Mireille sums up, “Die Fledermaus is a fantastic piece of music, wonderfully entertaining and has stood the test of time. And isn’t that what great art is?”
This article is published in our Fall 2012 issue of Prelude magazine. Click here to read the issue online.
Photos: (top) Preliminary costume sketches of Adele by costume designer Constance Hoffman; (middle) Mireille Asselin as Adele, with James Westman (seated) as Frank and Jan Pohl as Frosch; (bottom) Ambur Braid as Adele in the Canadian Opera Company's production of Die Fledermaus, 2012. Photos: (middle) Michael Cooper; (bottom) Chris Hutcheson.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001