31 Jan 2011

Elizabeth Futral — An Interview

Elizabeth Futral has established herself as one of the major coloratura sopranos in the world today. With her stunning vocalism and vast dramatic range, she has embraced a diverse repertoire that includes Vivaldi, Handel, Mozart, Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, Verdi, Glass, and Previn.

At this season’s production of The Tales of Hoffmann by Florida Grand Opera, she takes on a tour-de-force portrayal of all four of Hoffmann’s loves. She spoke with Sarah Luebke.

SL: Offenbach intended that the same singer play the four female roles, for Olympia, Giulietta and Antonia are three facets of Stella, Hoffmann’s unreachable love. However, most houses use separate sopranos, a coloratura for Olympia, a lyric for Antonia, and a dramatic soprano or mezzo for Giulietta. What was the impetus for you to essay the music of all four Heroines?

EF: I was asked to do the roles once before in the past, about seven or eight years ago, but had questions about the stamina aspects of getting through it all. After I had done several performances of Traviata along with bigger, more dramatic roles, I felt ready to sustain singing for the whole role [in Hoffmann].

SL: With your voice classified as a fuller lyric coloratura soprano, what have you found to be challenging vocally executing these roles in one performance?

EF: It actually works really well. I have found in rehearsals that climbing down from heights of Olympia to middle tessitura of Antonia can be tricky. Between Olmypia and Antonia, during intermission, I need to allow my voice and my mindset to settle, relaxing breath and body and throat, and allowing the middle voice to come in easily without pressing. Guilietta is a little lower, but not out of reach. She is more episodic, with recitative-like passages, which is very different from the aria and trio of Antonia.

SL: Italian Bel Canto and Verismo opera seem to be your go-to styles as of late. How has the shift to Offenbach’s style and the French aesthetic changed the way you approach your musical and dramatic preparation?

EF: I think [Hoffmann] falls into the world of the lyrical, romantic style with a comedic edge. I have always loved singing in French; something to do with the language helps with a natural vocal placement for healthy production. The coloratura of Olympia is akin to Lakemé’s “Bell Song” with lots of fireworks, but it starts with a healthy sense of humor, especially in the out of control coda! Antonia is much more beautiful melodic music. It’s very singable with sweeping French romantic lines — very fun to sing.

SL: Anything unpredictable happening in Florida Grand Opera’s production of Hoffmann?

EF: What I couldn’t have predicted with this production was how difficult the costuming would be. It takes the whole intermission to take paint off [of Olympia], and completely changing elaborate costumes, for both changes from Olympia to Antonia and Antonia to Giulietta. I begin getting into costume, and once I start I never have a moment to sit down; I’m on go the whole time. It’s been a little crazy and more challenging that trying to sing the thing! I really like [Florida Grand Opera’s] production. It’s really fun and entertaining, and moving when it needs to be.

SL: In the beginning of your career in the mid-nineties, your career took off with your performance of the title role of Lakme with New York City Opera. Many of those early roles included Lucia, Violetta, Guilda, and Susannah. Will your success in the Hoffmann Heroines give you the go-ahead to essay more dramatic or fuller lyric roles?

EF: The natural maturation process of one’s voice leads to some different things. This role has confirmed that I can do a broader range. Some things I’m considering that might be more of a stretch include Blanche [Dialogues des Carmelites], Marguerite [Faust]… also the bigger Bel Canto roles such as Anna Bolena might work well for me. It’s fun to think about new possibilities. I’ve always had a great time learning new roles, and I love the challenge of creating a new character. I get bored doing the same five roles over and over. This keeps me ticking, and I’m thrilled that new things are opening up.

SL: You have such an interesting background embracing and premiering a variety of new operas, including Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Brief Encounter, Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus and Euridice and Ernst Krenek’s Die Nachtigall. You have also appeared opposite Placido Domingo on a 2007 Met Live in HD broadcast of Tan Dun’s First Emperor. Do you have any upcoming plans for premiering new works?

EF: I’m learning a new opera by Finnish female composer Kaija Saariaho, Émilie. This is a one women show I’ll be doing at the Spoletto Festival USA in Charleston, SC. It’s a daunting piece to learn…it’s all me, 80 minutes, 8 scenes. I’m on stage the whole time. The music is challenging, and it’s a little challenging to learn. But I’m just getting cracking at it now in between rehearsals and performances. This is definitely exciting and a big thing for me.