Boston Lyric Opera’s dazzling doyennes

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/03/11/boston-lyric-operas-dazzling-doyennes/

As Boston Lyric Opera readies for the opening night of Jules Massenet’s Werther, Artistic Director Esther Nelson and Mezzo-soprano, Sandra Piques Eddy, starring as Charlotte, share their thoughts about BLO’s much-heralded production and future.

Esther Nelson, BLO General & Artistic Director (Credit: Devon Cass)

Esther Nelson, BLO General & Artistic Director (Credit: Devon Cass)

Massenet’s Werther is a melodic, stirring opera, set in Paris during the early 20th century. The libretto is loosely based on Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). As part its French-themed season, BLO’s sumptuous production features tenor Alex Richardson in the title role, as well as John Hancock as Albert and Rachele Gilmore as Sophie. Music Director, David Angus, will conduct the opera’s five-performance run at the Citi Performing Arts Shubert Theatre in Boston.

Esther Nelson, BLO’s General & Artistic Director, has been involved in opera for over thirty years. Before taking the helm at BLO in 2008, she worked with opera companies in New Orleans, Nevada, Albany, Virginia, Maine, and the esteemed Glimmerglass festival. Nelson was delighted to lead BLO because of the long-standing reputation of its productions and singers.

But like most artistic directors, Nelson finds that keeping fickle audiences happy while remaining at the cutting edge of theater is a delicate balancing act. She describes a typical scenario: “I often encounter patrons who vehemently disagree about a specific production. One will feel especially moved by a particular staging when the very same staging is heavily criticized by another.”

“Music is subjective as well. We have patrons who loath Mozart and for others Mozart is good as it gets. Opera seems to arouse a lot of passion!”

The same predicament holds true for operatic music. Nelson explains, “Music is subjective as well. We have patrons who loath Mozart and for others Mozart is as good as it gets. Opera seems to arouse a lot of passion!” She also believes that the key to resolving this dichotomy is to acknowledge that theater is never a fixed medium, since it is constantly being interpreted. The problem arises when people have rigid ideas about what should appear on stage, which inexorably leads to disappointment. Nelson adds that productions inevitably reflect modern trends. “Art is a mirror of our times, and opera is a living, breathing art form, and at BLO we are making it new, and exciting.”

To keep BLO afloat, Nelson gingerly steers audiences through opera’s cross channels by respecting venerable favorites while promoting new compositions. “Whether it’s a contemporary new opera or a beloved classic, any opera we choose reflects our mission to build awareness of and support for the art form by producing them for the widest audience appeal in accessible settings,” she says.  “I’m hoping we can announce some commissions soon, as we are very much interested in developing new works for ourselves and for the entire industry.”

In a truly imaginative way, BLO combines the old with the new in Werther with David Angus’ incorporation of Massenet’s hand-written notes in the score. The result, Nelson says, “is a brand new 90-second piece of music in the form of vocal melodies during Act 4 as Werther lay dying by his own hand. The new music, which we believe has never before been performed in a professional production, is ravishingly beautiful.”

Nelson also has high praise for the selection of Sandra Piques Eddy as the tender and vibrant heroine, Charlotte. “Sandra is the perfect person to portray Charlotte’s longing and appeal. With her, it’s easy to understand the title character Werther’s obsession.”

“Art is a mirror of our times, and opera is a living, breathing art form, and at BLO we are making it new, and exciting.”

Eddy is a local resident of Dedham, Mass., and has appeared with most of the large opera companies in the U.S.  She is enthusiastic about returning to Boston, where she began her musical career. “It’s an honor to return to my home opera company, Boston Lyric Opera. BLO gave me my professional opera debut in 2000 when I was a student at Boston University as Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly,” Eddy says. “Boston Lyric has given me wonderful opportunities throughout the years and I’m so grateful to be surrounded by talented friends who I admire on stage, behind the scenes and in the orchestra pit.”

Sandra Piques Eddy as Charlotte in Werther (Credit: Devon Cass)

Sandra Piques Eddy as Charlotte in Werther (Credit: Devon Cass)

Performing Charlotte had been Eddy’s dream ever since she was a student at Boston Conservatory. “I am a product of both the Boston Conservatory and Boston University,” she explains.  “My first experience with the opera Werther was attending BLO’s production in 1997 when I was a student. I’ve wanted to sing the role of Charlotte ever since! This has been a dream role of mine and I’m delighted to sing it for the first time with a company that is so close to my heart.”

To prepare for the role, Eddy watched and listened to many live and recorded productions, while concurrently studying the phrasing, instrumentation, and text of Massenet’s intricate score. She read Goethe’s original tale for added insight, and also trained with the BLO team every day for the past three weeks. Eddy describes the intense preparation: “I’ve worked with many different coaches and diction specialists and my voice teacher in order to get a solid foundation for the role.  It’s a complex role to play; it’s emotionally intense and it’s also a major endurance tester. But wow, the reward is so fulfilling!”

Eddy particularly appreciates BLO’s rendition of Werther. “I love that this is a production that takes place as a flashback.  The audience sees, with the help of impressive staging, projections and lighting, what Werther is thinking and feeling throughout the entire opera,” she says.  “We explored Werther’s obsessive love and his emotional instability. This makes my character more aware of the threat of his unhealthy desires toward her even though she’s conflicted by how deeply she loves and cares for him.” In addition to the new music in Act IV, the dramatic character portrayal is one of the main reasons why BLO’s production is so highly anticipated.

“It’s a complex role to play; it’s emotionally intense and it’s also a major endurance tester. But wow, the reward is so fulfilling!”

As BLO approaches its 40th anniversary next year, Esther Nelson reflects on the company’s past and future. “Forty years is an impressive age for any performing arts company,” she observes. “But it’s funny how in this city, with its iconic music organizations like the BSO, and the Handel & Haydn Society, being 40 makes you the baby of the group.  Maybe the teenager.  But we are one of the strongest teenagers you’ll ever meet.”

Nelson adds that the company enjoys a solid footing, both financially and artistically, as it prepares for the future. “BLO is in the best financial shape it’s ever been in. We’re making some bold moves for our 40th Season, starting this fall, and we’re on an exciting path that is energizing us in ways I’m excited about. As we look back on four decades and plan for the next four, I envision BLO to be even more at the forefront of opera in New England, doing great artistic work, giving audiences the best possible experience they can imagine.”

Boston Lyric Opera’s Werther runs March 11, 13, 16, 18, and 20 at the Citi Performing Arts Center Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, Boston, with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.

Tickets are $25-$175 and are available online at blo.org/buy-tickets, by phone at 866.348.9738 (TTY 888.889.8587), and in person at the Citi Performing Arts Center Box Office at 270 Tremont Street, Boston. Group and student tickets are available through BLO Audience Services at 617.542.6772 or [email protected].

Contact Mary McCleary at [email protected].

 

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