Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Soprano Takesha Meshé Kizart

Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan
Bel Canto at Caramoor
Orchestra of St. Luke's
Caramoor Opera Chorus
Will Crutchfield, conductor

July 24, 2010

Every summer, Will Crutchfield brings operatic masterpieces to Katonah—less than an hour north of Manhattan—for his adventurous “Bel Canto at Caramoor” series. This season, amidst several orchestral and chamber performances, the Caramoor Music Festival presents two operas, including a nearly unknown piece by Gaetano Donizetti, who penned such Met-worthy classics as Lucia di Lammermoor and Maria Stuarda.

Maria di Rohan, a romantic tragedy, premiered in 1843 but has barely been performed since. Of Donizetti’s 70-odd operas, it’s one of the least-heard. But Crutchfield has brushed off the score and will present it with the dazzlingly talented, up-and-coming soprano, Takesha Meshé Kizart, in the title role.

Kizart, originally from Chicago, has only been singing professionally for 2-1/2 years, but has already amassed an impressive resume, including a recent Madama Butterfly in Slovenia and Bluebeard’s Castle in Cologne. She debuted at Caramoor in 2008 in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, and will surely be back for more roles in the future.

The constantly engaging singer sat down to discuss her love of music and her short but burgeoning career recently in Manhattan.

Q: How did you become interested in singing classical music, specifically opera?
A: I’ve been singing my entire life—I came out of the womb singing. I started singing classical music in high school. My music teacher noticed that I had a voice, and she wanted to support me in any way to showcase it. She found my first voice teacher for me. My focus on opera really came when I started at the Academy for Vocal Arts (in Philadelphia). There was something about the focus of the program, and the resources available to me as a young artist—it was a wonderful place to be.

Q: You’re singing an obscure opera by one of the great bel canto composers. How much do you enjoy singing this kind of music, with its florid vocal ornamentation?
A: I love singing bel canto. For me, this is a very natural and organic thing to do. I’ve only been singing full-fledged professionally since January 2008, so everything for me is brand-spanking new, everything is a debut. Making sure you have the style of the composer is the focus, and making sure you do everything you’re supposed to do as a responsible artist. I love the fact that I can get extra high notes in bel canto—that’s always fun. I love, love, love that! I also love the fact that it’s shaped around an individual’s voice: you can create something that’s not just written in the music. The more heroic bel canto operas have more drama and thrust, like early Verdi operas. Some parts of this opera remind me of Verdi’s Un Bello in Maschera and Don Carlo. You can tell that Verdi and Donizetti were friends. Somebody should be suing someone, I think!

Q: What’s the difference between preparing for an obscure role like Maria di Rohan and a famous one like Madama Butterfly?
A: It’s more difficult to prepare for this kind of role. It’s like you’re creating a new role, as I did with Respighi’s opera Maria Victoire—I did just the second production of that opera ever, in Berlin. You can sense that some notes are not written correctly—there are so many misprints in this score that it’s not even funny. It’s exciting but also a little frustrating. I love rehearsing, so the more we rehearse the better I feel about it.

Q: Will Crutchfield resurrects bel canto operas for Caramoor each summer. What’s it like to work with him?
A: Will is amazing—he knows every random detail about these operas known to man. It’s exciting to be with someone who really knows and can guide you—for a young artist striving to be excellent, to be surrounded by someone like him is a blessing. I just wish we had more time to work on it. I’ve been trying to sneak in a few extra high notes, but Will won’t let me do it! (laughs) I loved singing at Caramoor two years ago, and just the opportunity to work with Will again on something no one has heard before—I love doing things like that.

Q: You’re early in what will be a long career, but do you think about what roles and composers you’d like to tackle?
A: Oh my gosh, that’s the most complicated question ever. There are so many roles that are coming that I’ve yet to sing: I want to do the Italian heroines and, of course, sing Strauss. I love singing anything that feels good in my throat. I thank God that there are quite a few composers that do that for me. I’ve been offered Strauss’s Salome already a thousand times, but I still say, “Not yet—give me time!” I did Bluebeard’s Castle in Hungarian in Cologne, which was amazing. It was crazy to sing it in Hungarian, but luckily I’m quick at picking up languages. From the time I was little, I was a human jukebox, and I’ve always been quick at picking up melodies. Someone told me that it will help me with Alzheimer’s later in life, keep my brain power longer. (laughs) I hope so!

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