Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bass-Baritone John Relyea

Le nozze di Figaro
Written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Directed by Jonathan Miller
Conducted by Dan Ettinger
Starring John Relyea, Danielle de Niese, Emma Bell, Isabel Leonard, Bo Skohvus

The Metropolitan Opera Performances September 22-October 9, 2009 (additional performances in November and December)

Bass-baritone John Relyea has got it made: singing the title role in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Relyea is co-starring with three of the best young actresses/singers in opera, Danielle de Niese (pictured with Relyea), Emma Bell and Isabelle Leonard. And he also was featured in two of the Met’s most high-profile new productions in the past couple seasons: Adrian Noble’s Macbeth and Robert Lapage’s La Damnation de Faust.

Although raised in Canada, Relyea was born in the U.S. and currently lives in Rhode Island with his wife and six-year-old son (whom he visits frequently by jumping on the train from New York whenever he has a few days off). That commute will continue for the foreseeable future, as Relyea will be featured in Bizet’s Carmen and Gounod’s Faust (as Mephisto) in future seasons.

Relyea recently spoke about his co-stars, Mozart, performing in new productions and his rock’n’roll background.

Kevin Filipski: How often have you sung Figaro at the Met, and is there anything new that you are encountering this time?
John Relyea: It’s my fourth time with this production, which I did first in the 2001-2 season. It’s a great production, I hope they keep it because it’s done the way you want it to look and feel. I’m only sorry I never got to do it with the original director (Jonathan Miller). I’ve actually done Figaro with our conductor, Dan Ettinger, at Munich Opera; he understands Mozart and brings a lot of life to the opera. I believe you get much out of the character and energy of the music by being loyal to the rhythms of the melodies and accompaniments. (Ettinger) has really good tempi that brings it all to life. He’s a few years younger than me, so he’s got fresh perspective.

KF: You are also working with a trio of fiery actress-singers, Danielle DeNiese, Emma bell and Isabel Leonard.
JR: Figaro is my most-performed role: I have 70 performances of it under my belt, but when you get this cast with this chemistry, it never feels routine. Danielle has got a lot of fire, and it’s all natural when you see her, it’s just her being herself: her whole personality comes out. I just did Figaro in Munich with Isabel, whose wonderful, and about a year ago, I worked with Emma Bell, so I was happy to work with her again. I’ve even sung with Bo Skohvus in two Figaro productions before! So everyone’s familiar with each other, a great feeling to have since we’re already a cohesive ensemble and that transfers into the relationships in the opera. You get a much larger level of trust among the singers, which automatically helps you onstage and you’re generous with each other and with Mozart: we get that feeling of spontaneity and keep it rolling.

KF: What is the quality of Mozart’s music that keeps you coming back to it?
JR: His music is so alive that it’s really got a life of its own. That’s the best way I could put it—there’s nothing pompous about it. It’s honest, straightforward and natural. Mozart is always leading your character in a natural direction, so true as he to the mood and the feeling and what’s being sung. There’s just joy in it—you can sing or listen 100 times and something new jumps out at you every time.

KF: Your last few appearances at the Met have been in new stagings: last season in La Damnation de Faust and Macbeth, for example. How do you like working on new productions?
JR: It’s always great to be in a new production because you get to work one-on-one with the director and work with their new concept: it’s as close as you can get to reinventing the role and have a new perspective on the story perhaps. Doing Macbeth was incredible—it gave a new look to the story, and (Adrian Noble) had very deep ideas about these characters from doing Shakespeare so often. And in Faust, Robert Lapage does very modern things, but I found them true to the characters and the story, and he makes the most of it all, both theater and video. I think it’s an exciting time with these types of new productions.

KF: You have a very unusual musical background—can you describe it?
JR: I was in a very rare situation where I grew up in a family of opera singers who both perform and teach. My father was trained as a concert pianist before becoming a singer. I grew up surrounded by music all the time, but never really gave much thought to opera—I just lived and breathed it growing up. Instead, I played guitar for many years in rock bands, and I still play when I get the chance. However, I realized one day that I was a singer, and I was living a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde existence, with one day singing opera and another day playing guitar in really loud bands. Well, Dr. Jekyll ending up winning, and I started to sing regularly: I also enjoyed acting onstage, since I was able to become the actual instrument and not just strap it on and play it.
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