Viewpoint: Coloratura Queen
Aikin as Marguerite in Les Huguenots at Strasbourg's Opéra National du Rhin
© Alain Kaiser 2012
I didn't hear American soprano Laura Aikin navigate the shoals of "Grossmächtige Prinzessin" when she made her U.S. opera debut in October 1998, as Zerbinetta in John Cox's production of Ariadne auf Naxos at Lyric Opera of Chicago, but all reports at the time indicated that an astonishing coloratura had arrived on the scene. I was eager to hear her Met debut in mid-December of the same year and was duly impressed when I observed the cool, courageous authority with which Aikin sang the Queen of the Night in a mid-December revival of the company's John Cox–David Hockney staging of Die Zauberflöte, conducted with stylish vigor by Charles Mackerras. Aikin's Met success as opera's ultimate wicked queen was such that I thought we would be seeing a lot of her in New York, but that is not the way her career has developed. She has returned just twice to the Met since her company debut, on both occasions offering distinctive performances of Richard Strauss roles — Fiakermilli in the 2001 Arabella that marked the house debut of conductor Christoph Eschenbach and Sophie in the Met's splendid 2005 revival of Der Rosenkavalier, with Donald Runnicles pacing Aikin, Angela Denoke and Susan Graham. Aikin has generally preferred to sing in Europe, where she has built a personal repertoire that is pretty evenly balanced between new works, such as the world premiere of Henze's L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe at Salzburg in 2003, and more standard assignments, on the order of Mozart's Donna Anna, which she sang in Iván Fischer's production at last summer's Mostly Mozart Festival.
The performance that made me an Aikin fan was her San Francisco Opera debut in 2002, as the Angel in the company premiere of Saint François d'Assise. The production, by Nicolas Brieger, offered a beautiful but highly stylized representation of Olivier Messiaen's collection of episodes in the life of Saint Francis. Aikin was dressed in a body stocking and an elegant pair of wings; she sang fearlessly, but not recklessly, and moved with the refined grace of a dancer, her arms, legs and torso as engaged in representing her character as her immaculately poised soprano. Aikin made one believe that the Angel was a spirit being, a creature from another world who could summon up music heavenly enough to make a saint swoon.
Aikin was photographed for OPERA NEWS at Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg, where she was preparing for a run as Marguerite de Valois in Olivier Py's production of Les Huguenots, Meyerbeer's romance of seventeenth-century France. (A portion of Pierre-André Weitz's sets is visible in the background of the portrait on page 22.) The role of Marguerite de Valois, a specialty of several great nineteenth- and twentieth-century coloraturas, gets a twenty-first-century twist in the Py staging, first produced in 2011 at Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. Py takes full advantage of the historical Marguerite's well-deserved reputation for sexual adventuring. (I leave the details to your imagination.) One wonders what the formidable Nellie Melba, the Met's Marguerite of choice in the 1890s, would have made of such an interpretation, or of the two new roles that Aikin will add to her resumé during the 2012 summer festival season — Marilyn Monroe in the world premiere of a new opera by Robin de Raaff and Marie in Zimmermann's harrowing Die Soldaten.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.
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