Simone Osborne will be taking the lead role of Gilda in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto in September 2011. I ask her ten questions: five about her and five about her upcoming role.
1) Which of your parents do you resemble (what’s your nationality / ethnic background)?
I think I look like my father but with my mother’s colouring. My mother is Persian and my father has an Icelandic background. I have dark hair and eyes like my mother but a big Viking head (helpful for singing!) which comes from my dads.
2) what is the BEST thing / worst thing about being an opera singer?
There are a lot of incredible things about being a professional musician. Travelling to exotic places, attending lavish parties, meeting interesting people, the list goes on. But the best thing by far is that I get to do what I love everyday. The music I sing means so much to me and I thank my lucky stars that I get to immerse myself in it day and night.
It is hard to speak negatively about a career that I feel so fortunate to have, but there are some challenges. I don’t mind all of the traveling yet (check back with me in 30 years) but sometimes I miss family and friends when I am on the road. I have also missed an awful lot of weddings, Christmases, Thanksgivings, birthdays, and special events because I’ve been off somewhere singing and unable to celebrate with the people I love.
3) who do you like to listen to? (a favourite singer or performer…can be anyone or anything)
I’ll keep this mostly classical as it is left up to my 21 year old brother to update my ipod with non classical music whenever we see eachother (usually about twice annually). Left to my own devices, I just download more opera and classical song…I love Freni, Caballe, Scotto and Callas, to name a few, but I have to say that my favourite singer is Marilyn Horne. Her recordings exhibit some of the most incredible singing I’ve ever heard. From Handel and Rossini arias filled with rapid fire pyrotechnics to Copland songs delivered from the heart with so much immediacy and attention to the words that they’ll make you cry. I may be biased since she has been such an incredible mentor to me, but Marilyn is also one of the most down to earth, honest and genuine people you will ever have the pleasure to meet. I can only dream of being equally accomplished and level headed myself one day.
4) what ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
The ability to refuse a bar of chocolate. I’d also love to be able to dance without making myself laugh.
5) when you’re just relaxing (and not working) what is your favourite thing to do?
This may seem too simple but here goes: Sitting in the sun, surrounded by a group of good friends, catching up on lost time. If a beach is involved all the better. If chilled sauvignon blanc is present, hallelujah!
Five more concerning Gilda, in Rigoletto
1) how does the role challenge you?
I think the more appropriate question in this case would be: “How does the role NOT challenge you?” The music for Gilda is extremely challenging in itself but trying to create a believable, multi dimentional, significant character is an equally difficult task. I refuse to believe that Gilda is simply a love stricken ingénue. Luckily for me (and the COC audiences), the incredible stage director, Christopher Alden, will be leading the way for us and I am very much looking forward to creating my first Gilda with him. In terms of the vocal writing, the role sits relatively high and in certain sections the orchestration is very thick. As a young singer, there is a tendency to want to prove yourself and put your best foot forward. This role will be an exercise is singing smart and not allowing the energy and excitement from the pit overwhelm my good judgement! Again, lucky for me, the COC’s own, fabulous Johannes Debus will be at the helm. One couldn’t ask for a more inspired and supportive maestro. I’m sure he’ll have a dozen solutions for every challenge that comes my way.
2) what do you love about the part?
What’s not to love? I get four costumes! Just joking (for the most part!). I love the fact that this character goes on a journey. The girl you meet in Act One is not the girl you encounter at the end of the evening. That is one of the things that is so wonderful about taking on this part as a young person. I completely identify with having one event change the course of one’s life. I understand how a person can discover so much in such a short time and change substantially as a result. And, of course, the music is SUBLIME. I hardly feel worthy of some of the incredible melodies bestowed upon me. Everything about this piece of music works. The sum is even better than it’s unbelievably great parts. The same goes for the piece as a dramatic work. There is really nothing NOT to love…
3) is there a favourite passage: something you’re looking forward to staging/singing?
The section of duets with Rigoletto and then the Duke is one of the achingly beautiful parts I was talking about. It is 50 pages of gorgeous music, each page more stunning than the last. I am very much looking forward to singing the aria “Caro nome”. I can hardly believe I get to stand up on that beautiful Four Seasons Centre stage and sing a piece of music that seemed so out of reach in the practice room during my student days. In terms of staging, I am excited to stage the storm trio and the (spoiler alert!) death scene. The trio is just so darn exciting dramatically and who doesn’t love a good death scene? If the audience isn’t crying by the end of that, we’ve failed in some way.
4) how do you relate to the character as a modern woman?
I think Gilda is exceedingly strong. I would like to think of myself as a strong person. She disobeys her father and follows her heart. If I had listened to my father, I would be a lawyer today, not an opera singer (not that he doesn’t love that this singing thing has worked out!). She certainly has a mind of her own, knows what she wants and seeks it out. She knows right from wrong and may not always do the right thing, but always does what she thinks is right. Gilda also has common flaws that make her very relatable. She’s jealous and trusts too easily when she falls in love. But can you blame the girl? She’s hardly had a reservoir of past experiences to draw on! I have found a lot of things to relate to with this character, although I’m not sure you will find me throwing myself into harms way for a cheating boyfriend anytime soon…
5) is there a recorded Gilda you particularly admire?
There’s a special place in my heart for the Scotto, Bastianini, Kraus recording for a few reasons. First of all, it was given to me by the beautiful Italian soprano Serena Farnocchia, (you probably remember her incredible performances of “Maria Stuarda” at the COC in 09/10) when I spent time with her and her family in Tuscany last summer. I must have listened to that recording 100 times as I travelled all over Italy by train learning Italian and taking in the culture, all in preparation for this Rigoletto. I just love the way Renata Scotto sings the role of Gilda here and enjoyed reading about her preparation for it in her autobiography. She was almost exactly my age when she recorded this particular version and set the bar pretty darn high! I also enjoy recordings of Anna Moffo with Solti conducting, Maria Callas with Serafin, and the live recording of Bidu Sayao (thanks to the ever insightful Alexander Neef for that one). The few clips of Anna Netrebko I have seen are pretty thrilling ….
and I had the recording of Act Three with Milanov and Toscanini on repeat in my apartment for a week straight. However, it is now time to put all of the recordings away and make this Gilda my own. That may involve locking the CD cabinet….
Simone Osborne appears in Rigoletto September 30th, October 13, 17 and 20, at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.