Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.
Sound Bites: Brenda Rae
Photographed by Chris Corrie in Santa Fe
Makeup and hair by David C. Zimmerman
© Chris Corrie 2014
Brenda Rae returns to Santa Fe Opera next month in a double bill of Mozart's one-act comedy The Impresario and Stravinsky's Rossignol. In the Mozart, the Wisconsin-born soprano squares off against coloratura Erin Morley — a fellow alumna of the Juilliard School — as "Madame Popescu," one of a pair of prima donnas in 1920s Paris competing for roles in a production of Le Rossignol. Rae proved her prima donna mettle in Santa Fe last summer, when she knocked local opera fans back on their heels with her superb Violetta in La Traviata, presented in a revival of Laurent Pelly's edgy modern-dress staging from 2009. Rae bounded into the action of Act I with a fashion model's lanky hauteur, her strikingly pale shoulders marked with a red floral tattoo, and sang as if her life depended on it. "When we were staging the first act, Laurent kept saying, 'Be a rock star. Be a rock star! Party as if this were your last night to party!' So that's what I did. It became very natural. It fed everything — not just in Act I but in the rest of the show. It felt as if we were all on board with creating something new, even though it was a revival."
Rae's knockout coloratura skills in "Sempre libera" at Santa Fe came as no surprise to those who had noted her well-deserved successes in the past few years as Alcina in Rinaldo at Glyndebourne, Lucia di Lammermoor at Wiener Staatsoper, Zerbinetta in Bordeaux and Hamburg, Konstanze at Bayerische Staatsoper and Violetta, Handel's Cleopatra and the Hoffmann Olympia in Frankfurt, where she has been a resident artist since the 2008–09 season. Less expected — but equally persuasive — were the keen dramatic imagination she brought to Violetta's scene with Germont, and the luminous nobility of Rae's phrasing in the final act. "I really would say I found my artistic self in Frankfurt. The intendant there, Bernd Loebe, has been incredibly important to my development. He has been very generous about letting me do guest engagements at other theaters — balancing 'guest and fest.'"
Upcoming engagements for Rae include Amina in a new Frankfurt production of La Sonnambula, a project she is "over the moon about. I love singing bel canto. Love it. For me, something just seems so right and so organic about singing it. And Sonnambula is a piece that really made me decide to be an opera singer. Before I was at Juilliard, when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, I hadn't really decided to focus on classical voice. But my teachers there were pretty smart. By the end of my sophomore year, they had given me a scene from Sonnambula to do. And I fell in love with opera. I had wanted to be a rock star — another Tori Amos. But that's not what happened."
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
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