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Interviews

Patricia Racette [Photo by Devon Cass]
30 Aug 2013

Patricia Racette on Dolores Claiborne

On a personal level, I feel that Dolores is almost like Emmeline grown up. Their circumstances are not exactly parallel, but they are both women at very different points in their lives whose stories involve dilemmas with life-changing outcomes.

Patricia Racette Speaks About the Role of Dolores Claiborne

An interview by Maria Nockin

Above: Patricia Racette [Photo by Devon Cass]

 

As Tobias has aptly stated, both of these women have made decisions that go against the conventions of societal propriety and acceptability, both to the peril of their own quality of life.

On Monday, August 26, 2013, San Francisco Opera announced a major change in cast for the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne which will take place on September 18, 2013. The title role will be sung by world-renowned American soprano Patricia Racette.

MN: When did you learn that you would be singing the role of Dolores Claiborne?

PR: I got official word sometime last weekend! It has been a real blur, as you can well imagine! The short answer is: NOT long ago!

MN: What is your concept of the character of Dolores? Is she more of a heroine or more of a villain?

PR: Definitely a heroine, of course! All joking aside, we all live as citizens of the world who face devastatingly difficult dilemmas. I have never personally experienced Dolores Claiborne's hardship, but I do find it relevant to address her conundrum. She DOES love her daughter; she does struggle with trying to make ends meet without the cushion that provides someone like her employer, Vera, with financial freedom. Dolores IS a victim of domestic violence, and her daughter HAS been molested by her father. Do we judge her for her actions or do we understand her reason for reacting?

MN: How does the tessitura of the role lie for you? Do many changes have to be made from the original mezzo version?

PR: This question seems to garner more response than I feel necessary! Tessitura is always a question for any role, whether for contemporary music, or for long-lived, tried, and hopefully true standard repertory as we know or perceive it. The original mezzo version is actually not definitively a mezzo role at all! It sits quite high in range with a frequent visit to the lower register, something with which I am frankly VERY comfortable. It is not unusual for a lyrico spinto soprano to enjoy great comfort with not only the upper range but also the lower extremities. Furthermore, it is typical as well as necessary for a world premiere, of which I have performed several, to involve collaboration between the LIVING composer and participating artists.

Perhaps the most exhilarating aspect of preparing (at lightning speed in my case right now!) a new work is the conversation. It's not about voice type per se, but it IS about voice and making the story tell-able. That is what any great composer does, whether in the nineteenth century or the twenty-first. The composer ultimately wants to make HIS/HER voice heard! This concept does not subscribe to the conventional categorization of what we consider vocal classification. So, to answer the question: the role of Dolores Claiborne written by Tobias Picker does not actually pose any big challenges for my voice that cannot simply be addressed with some minor tweaking to accommodate both Tobias's and my view of how to make this character come to life. Those kinds of changes were, are, and would have been relevant no matter who was tackling the title role. One might be surprised about how minimal these adjustments are. They are perhaps contrary to what you might expect!

MN: How long have you known Maestro Picker?

PR: Tobias and I go back to the genesis of his first opera Emmeline, the title role of which I originated in 1996. So what's the math on that? Seventeen years? A LONG TIME. And I, of course, also originated the role of Roberta Alden in his An American Tragedy for the Met in 2004. Apparently the first relationship lasted, which is always a positive sign in our industry!

MN: Was the role of Emmeline actually written for you? Are there parallels between Dolores and Emmeline?

PR: No, as far as I know, Emmeline was not written in its 'brainchild state' for me, but ultimately I believe it WAS written for me! My connection with that project and that part was huge for me personally and professionally. On a personal level, I feel that Dolores is almost like Emmeline grown up. Their circumstances are not exactly parallel (aside from their Northeastern U.S. settings and MINE, for that matter!), but they are both women at very different points in their lives whose stories involve dilemmas with life-changing outcomes. As Tobias has aptly stated, both of these women have made decisions that go against the conventions of societal propriety and acceptability, both to the peril of their own quality of life.

Maria Nockin

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