Photo credit: Steven Harris
Following on from Part 1, here’s the middle part of this interview, Lucia and Lisette’s beginnings…
Katie Mitchell’s production is radically different to most Lucia’s with Lucia on stage the entire time. The amount of acting involved which has a huge impact on both the performance and on the experience and interpretation of Lucia.
“It has made it better. It fleshes out a lot about the character that we may not always connect. Whenever I come to a role or production or whenever I’m studying a character, I always try to ask the big questions about my characters conflict. So Lucia’s conflict is between her relationship with her brother and her relationship with her lover as well as the relationship that she has to a priest who makes her sign this contract. Why did she sign this contract? What is the reason that made Lucia finally go through with it? And Katie gave us a reason, that Lucia was going to have a child. Those are the big questions and now if there was no baby and that concept wasn’t in place then I would come with that question and the director would have to answer it. Does she do it because Raimondo pressures her? Does she do it because they put a gun to her head? Does she do it because she’s weak? Or because she plans on killing Arturo anyway? Is she crazy already? All of these things have to be figured out and so I think with Katie’s production, the good thing about the concept that she has is that it answers a lot of the bigger questions.”
When it comes to the challenge of the production, the biggest seems to revolve around Lucia staying on stage for the entire duration of the opera in a combination of acting and singing. “Of course it’s challenging to be on stage all the time, you’re usually in your dressing room warming up before the mad scene or resting. But I don’t think about that when I’m on stage, I really try to be in the moment 100% and not think about oh God I still have to sing this or that. If I start thinking that the audience senses that immediately so I just have to be in the moment and be present and it just happens organically. I mean I have to have stamina for that and practice a lot. I’m glad we had rehearsals. If I had had two days of rehearsal to come and do this I wouldn’t have probably been able to do it but because we had three weeks, Katie was there from the first day just guiding the process and changing things from the original production, it felt very new and organic. So we built it and I love that.”
On her relationship with Katie, “She’s very demanding. Directors can either be sit back and let the singers have all the ideas or directors can be like micromanaging every single thing and Katie’s in the middle but more towards the side of she wants to make sure that you are 100% involved in it so if you’re rehearsing and you’re marking or out of it she will stop it and say no no I need you to really do this action or this reaction very clearly. She demands 100% concentration 100% of the time. I think the result of that kind of work, that kind of training, you get so much more accuracy, clarity, get more specificity and the audience- they’re enthralled. The reviews that I’ve read felt that it was a much stronger point of view in this production and how people liked the continuity and I really appreciate that as we really busted our butts to make that happen.”
Lisette’s mother was a soprano too, “I grew up with it at home, she used to practice all the time and she had a lot of records so I’d listen to them all the time and when I was little, I used to imitate her just for fun. I didn’t really want to sing opera, like I didn’t think this is my dream career, I didn’t have that revelation till I was about 18 years old. I wanted to be a musician at that age, maybe even a singer like a pop singer and I played the flute for many years. I just didn’t want to do what my Mum did, I wanted to do something else. Then when I was 18, I was going to university and I auditioned for the flute faculty and then for the voice faculty and the voice faculty was far more excited about me and so I did both for a semester and then voice just took off and I was having more success and I was a better singer than a flute player.”
Starting as a flutist before becoming a singer actually was actually a huge advantage, “I’d had flute lessons for years and years so I was used to that rigorous training that instrumentalists get whereas vocalists get a lot more coddling and ‘oh darling’ and ‘sweetheart’ whereas instrumentalists, especially flutists are like no, scale again, faster, so I grew up with that.”
With her familial connection to the soprano role Lisette feels like it’s come full circle, “she was [an opera singer] to an extent but she had three kids and we were all little babies and my father had muscular dystrophy so he was deteriorating and so my mother needed to make a choice about whether to be there for us and she made a sacrifice. So me having a career like this, in a way it’s like a redemption for my family. My mum sacrificed a lot for us when we were little, we had a very difficult life, we were immigrants, didn’t have much money and having that example that my mother set of just love and family and music all the time, it really gave me the right kind of background so that now I feel like every success I have, I’m more grateful for it. I don’t feel like ‘finally! I deserve this, it’s about time’, I feel grateful and thankful. My mum loves watching me perform, she’s so proud of me. She brags about me to everybody and it’s so cute, she’s my biggest fan. She’s always the first person I want to call and tell, like Mum I had a great success or Mum they asked me to come sing this.”
Steven and Lisette then recounted a story to me, which made me incredibly envious, about when they introduced her mum and grandmother to Placido Domingo (Lisette was performing with him) and how incredibly charming and lovely he is (with great cologne no less!).
And on that depressing note our final instalment – Part 3 will come on Saturday!