09 Sep 2010
Jacques Imbrailo, Malatesta at the Royal Opera House
Jacques Imbrailo sings Dr Malatesta in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at the Royal Opera House, London
In October 2014, the Oxford Lieder Festival - under its imaginative and intrepid founder, Sholto Kynoch - fulfilled an incredibly ambitious goal: to perform Schubert’s entire corpus of songs - more than 600 - and, for three marvellous weeks, to bring Vienna to Oxford. ‘The Schubert Project’ was a magnificent celebration of the life and music of Franz Schubert: at its core lay the first complete performance of Schubert’s songs - including variants and alternative versions - in the UK.
Lyric soprano Elizabeth Caballero’s signature role is Violetta in La traviata, which she portrays with a compelling interpretation, focused sound, and elegant coloratura that floats through the opera house as naturally as waves on the ocean.
Maria Nockin interviews baritone Brian Mulligan.
I arrive at the Jerwood Space, where rehearsals are underway for Garsington Opera’s forthcoming production of Idomeneo, to find that the afternoon rehearsal has finished a little early.
With its merry-go-round exchange of deluded and bewitched lovers, an orphan-turned-princess, a usurped prince, a jewel and a flower with magical properties, a march to the scaffold and a meddling ‘mistress-of-ceremonies’ who encourages the young lovers to disguise and deceive, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring has all the ingredients of an opera buffa.
Kathleen Kelly is an internationally renowned pianist, coach, conductor, and master teacher. She was the first woman and first American named Director of Musical Studies at the Vienna State Opera.
Atsuto Sawakami is a slightly built man in his late sixties with impeccable, gentlemanly manners. He communicates a certain restless energy and his piercingly bright eyes reveal an undimmed appetite for life.
‘Lieder v. Opera’? At first glance it might seem to be a pointless or nonsensical question.
Last year's Oxford Lieder Festival made something of a splash when it encompassed all of Schubert's songs, performed in the space of three weeks. This year's festival, the 14th, which runs from 16 to 31 October 2015 has a rather different, yet still eye-catching theme; Singing Words: Poets and their Songs.
For a company founded in 2013, Odyssey Opera has an astounding track record. To take on Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is ambitious enough, but to do so within only a year of the company’s founding seems almost single-minded.
American tenor René Barbera is fast making a name for himself as one of the top bel canto singers in opera houses around the world.
I’m interviewing Stefano Mastrangelo in the immediate aftermath of his conducting La Traviata for the Chofu City Opera in Tokyo on 22 November 2014; he conveys an air at once of tiredness and exhilaration.
Sara Gartland is an emerging singer who brings an enormous talent and a delightful personality to the opera stage. Having sung lighter soprano roles such as Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata, Gartland is now taking on the title role in Leoš Janáček’s dramatic opera Jenůfa.
American composer Jennifer Higdon has won many awards for her imaginative music. Her percussion concerto received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.
Bratislava in Slovakia might seem an unlikely place to come across the opera I gioielli della Madonna (The Jewels of the Madonna) a 1911 rarity written by the Italian/German Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, a composer best known for his one-act opera Il segreto di Susanna ( Susanna’s Secret) and his comedies based on Goldoni.
Last year’s Strauss anniversary year — 150 years since his birth — offered, at least in the United Kingdom, a typical number of opportunities and frustrations.
Julia Noulin-Mérat is the principal designer for the Noulin-Merat Studio, an intrepid New York City production design firm that works in theater, film, and television, but emphasizes opera and immersive site-specific theatre.
Anita Rachvelishvili recently performed the title role in Carmen broadcast by The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. Here she drops by for a little chat with our Maria Nockin.
"Although there are now more people on this planet than there have ever been before, there are fewer dramatic voices. Something is wrong with that equation. I thought there needs to be some sort of helping hand so that dramatic voices don’t fall through the cracks in the system as they advance through their various stages of development."
Anna Prohaska sings Sister Constance in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the Royal Opera House. In the same month, she’s also in London to sing a recital with Eric Schneider at the Wigmore Hall, and to sing Henze with Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican Hall.
Jacques Imbrailo sings Dr Malatesta in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at the Royal Opera House, London
“Don Pasquale is elderly, so people assume his friend Dr Malatesta must be old too”, says Imbrailo, “but he claims his sister is young, straight out of the convent. So maybe Malatesta is not such an old man”.
Imbrailo will be singing with big names like Paolo Gavanelli, Barry Banks and Íride Martínez. Since he’s still only in his early 30’s, this is quite an achievement. Nonetheless, his reputation is built on solid foundations.
Imbrailo’s been associated with the Royal Opera House for quite some time. While he was still a member of the Jette Parker Young Artists Scheme, he shone as Benjamin Britten’s Owen Wingrave. In June 2010 he created the first ever Billy Budd at the Glyndebourne Festival to great acclaim. He’s appeared many times at Covent Garden, most recently as Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro.
“It’s interesting that people assume Dr Malatesta is a bad man”, says Imbrailo thoughtfully. “He’s a friend to Don Pasquale, Ernesto and Norina and wants the best outcome for them. In the end, he is helping them even though he goes about it in a devious and manipulative way. He’s slimy, and might even go for Norina if he had a chance. He’s an opportunist who likes to give things a nudge, then sit back and see how things unfold. He’ll push events towards an outcome that suits him. The only one who really gets hurt is Don Pasquale, but he’s saved from a much worse fate. Dr Malatesta’s intentions are good, though he thinks the ends justify the means”.
In this Don Pasquale, director Jonathan Milller aims for lyrical realism. “Not too flowery, he tells us”. says Imbrailo, “Naturalness is good even though it’s bel canto”.The focus is on acting as well as on vocal display.
For a man whose star is most certainly in the ascendant, Imbrailo comes over in person as remarkably humble and sincere. This spirit contributed greatly to his portrayal of Billy Budd. Billy’s good-natured but also strong enough not to be pulled into mutiny. He’s hanged, but forgives his Captain.
“I’m quite reserved” says Imbrailo. “I’m not a people-pleaser, but I like getting on with people. I’m always eager to take on board what others think, in a healthy way. Maybe sometimes it’s to my detriment because there are times when you need to stand for what you believe in, whatever others say. Maybe I have the “pleasing” side of Billy’s character”.
Thinking himself into Dr Malatesta is interesting. “I try not to put on anything artificial. I’m not a mimicker. If I had to fake anything, I’d be rubbish. I like to get inside the personality, and think how a person would react in those situations. I want to be natural, but no-one has the same personality traits. I have to tweak things so I can react to emotions expressed by completely different personas.”
Imbrailo’s voice broke fairly late, and is still maturing. He’s wise to chose roles that develop his voice as well as his career.
“I’d love to sing Pelléas” he says, “What a lovely role!”. Imbrailo’s clear, lyrical style would fit it well. “And Papageno. There’s not a huge lot of singing, but there’s so much potential in the part”. “Possibly Posa in Don Carlos, but definitely Wozzeck,one day in the next few years”.
“Wozzeck is a gift to learn”, says Imbrailo. He’s already been offered a Wozzeck, but wants to grow further into it. “Wozzeck is disturbed because he’s been battered so much that it becomes his frame of mind, and he loses control. I asked Simon Keenlyside, because he also sang the part when he was quite young. Straight away he sent me a huge email, full of wonderful and sensible advice.”
“I’ve been blessed”, says Imbrailo, “I’ve had so much help and support” He cites Gerald Finley, for example, and his former voice teacher in South Africa, to whom he can always turn. He has a South African mentor in London, who gives good advice, and a wife who keeps him grounded. “I’m one of those guys people come up to and say, ‘Well done! You’ve hit the jackpot’. They’re both committed Christians which helps them keep their priorities centred, whatever the stresses of the opera business.
Soon, Imbrailo takes Glyndebourne’s Billy Budd to Amsterdam at De Nederlandse Opera. In summer 2011, he’ll be singing a lead in Judith Weir’s premiere, Miss Fortune/Achterbahn at the Bregenz Festival.
Imbrailo also was one of the founders of The Prince Consort, a very well respected vocal ensemble. They appear regularly at the Wigmore Hall and the Oxford Lieder Festival, and have released a CD of the Songs of Ned Rorem. It’s won several awards and praise from the composer himself. It’s very good indeed, highly recommended.
Donizetti’s Don Pasquale will run at the Royal Opera House from 12 September to 21st September. For more details, please visit the Royal Opera House website.