Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Opera is hilarious: Kizart is singing the St. Petersburg edition of La Forza del Destino

Remember that girl?

It's Takesha Meshé Kizart.

We had talked about Takesha a year ago when she won the Voci Verdiane Award.

A year later and Takesha has already sung Tosca in Dallas, and she is currently singing Leonora in La Forza del Destino at the Caramoor Festival.

What's interesting is that this ain't just any Forza, it is the St. Petersburg version of the opera that premiered 7 years earlier than the Milan edition of 1869 and where one can find major changes: No long overture for example! Just a prelude! And one more aria for the tenor! And at the end we have more casualties: Alvaro doesn't stay alive but jumps off a cliff (!!!).

Listen to the prelude of this 1862 version as performed in Caramoor.

Takesha as Tosca in Dallas

Takesha gave an interview regarding the Caramoor Forza where she speaks about opera, this version of La Forza but also about her approach towards music.

Takesha Meshé Kizart has a big, ready laugh.

"I'm a joyful person," she says, laughing.

The laugh goes with a big, ready singing voice, one that can permeate the lush landscape of Verdi and Puccini as well as scale the heights of Richard Strauss.

Caramoor audiences will get a chance to hear that voice for the first time Saturday when Kizart takes on the role of the loving, tragic Leonora in a concert production of Giuseppe Verdi's "La Forza del Destino."

"Caramoor is special for me," Kizart says of the Katonah-based festival. "Maestro (Will) Crutchfield is amazing. For him to take a chance on me, well, this is my first full Verdi role."

Kizart may be overly modest. She won the 2006 "Verdi Voices" competition in Parma, Italy and has sung Act II of the opera before.

That, however, was in the well-known revised edition that Verdi - having been dissatisfied with the theatrical world's initial response to the work - presented at La Scala in Milan in 1869.

What Caramoor audiences will be hearing is the original "Forza" that premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia seven years earlier. This is in keeping with Crutchfield's "Bel Canto at Caramoor" program, dedicated to laying bare the bones of mid-19th century operas that emphasize lyrical writing and tonal beauty

"There will be some surprises. In some sections of the opera, there are actual note changes and cadenza changes," says Kizart, who calls both "Forzas" "genius." "The revised version is more intricate orchestrally. The St. Petersburg version is more intricate vocally."

This is particularly true for the tenor role of Don Alvaro, a South American nobleman of Incan descent, whose passion for the more aristocratic Leonora ignites a tragedy of accidental death, revenge, mistaken identity and lost opportunity.

At Caramoor, Don Alvaro will be sung by Emmanuel di Villarosa, who has performed the part in the revised version in Germany and recently appeared in the Warsaw run of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" with Crutchfield.

The original "Forza's" meatier tenor part - with a major aria that was later dropped because of its demands - is fine with Kizart.

"I like good manly tenor with some bass in the voice," she says, laughing again.

The irony of such a high-spirited young woman singing some of opera's most long-suffering heroines - including Donna Anna in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and the titular prima donna in Puccini's "Tosca" - is not lost on Kizart.

"Opera is hilarious," she says, "the fact that in these stories, you meet someone and immediately say, 'I'll die for you.' "

Just as comedians often have serious personalities, Kizart says her humorous perspective helps in performing tragedy.

"To have a positive side, then I truly understand the negative," she says. "When you can feel that emotion, there's no greater thing."

The soprano is also attracted to the spiritual themes that she says thread Verdi's works. The sometimes-elusive peace of faith absorbs Leonora as well, Kizart says.

"It isn't her fault that Don Alvaro accidentally kills her father, and yet, it kind of is," she says. "If she hadn't felt this love, her father wouldn't have died. She then allows herself to be cloistered. She's seeking that solace and forgiveness. But she's constantly haunted. There is that running theme - her father's ghost."

Kizart has no such doubts.

"For me, I want to do whatever God would have me do," she says firmly of her career.

Her security may also stem from a sense of the force of her own destiny. Recently, she says, she's been researching the meaning of her name. "Takesha" means "highly favored"; "Meshé" (me-SHAY), "savior", and "Kizart," "miraculous."

A musical career seems to have been inevitable: The grandniece of blues legend Muddy Waters, Kizart was born and raised in Chicago in a family that loved to sing.

Despite this pedigree, or maybe because of it, she takes nothing for granted. She graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor's degree in music and recently received an honors diploma in performance from the Academy of Vocal Arts, an artist-in-residence program in Philadelphia.

Now Kizart is thinking of crossing the Delaware to become a Jersey girl. Home, though, is a fluid thing these days: After Caramoor, she's off to Opera North in England to do "Tosca" and Die Deutsche Oper Berlin for Puccini's "La Bohème."

"I don't look at another performance as another performance," she says. "I look at it as another opportunity to make music."

Listen to Takesha singing "Pace, pace mio Dio" in Caramoor on the 26th of July.


Download Takesha's Recital in Cannes / January 2008.

Singing Leonora in the Caramoor Forza


A Review on the Forza by the N.Y. Times:

Verdi completed the vocal parts for the premiere in St. Petersburg in 1861, but when the soprano scheduled to sing Leonora became ill, he returned to Italy, orchestrated the opera and made structural changes. That version, on which Mr. Gossett’s is primarily based, was staged in St. Petersburg in 1862. Verdi made further revisions, for a performance in Madrid in 1863, then reworked it significantly for Teatro Alla Scala in Milan in 1869.

The earlier scores differ in several ways from the more familiar 1869 version. Before the first act there is a short Prelude instead of the famous (and more rousing) Overture. Leonora, Don Alvaro (her suitor) and Don Carlo (her brother) all die in the final scene; Verdi later decided that Alvaro should live.

The ill-fated trio was admirably portrayed here, with Takesha Meshé Kizart particularly commendable as Leonora. She wielded her silky, caramel-hued soprano with impressive ease and control throughout her wide range, elegantly shaping phrases and singing the Act IV showpiece aria with chilling desperation. As Alvaro, the tenor Emmanuel di Villarosa sang passionately, with plenty of ringing top notes. Zurab Ninua used his rich baritone aptly to convey the determination of the vengeful Don Carlo.

The meandering third act is more effective dramatically in the 1862 version. The lighthearted “Rataplan” offers comic relief between Don Carlo and Alvaro’s tense scenes instead of concluding the act, which ends instead with “Qual sangue sparsi,” a difficult cabaletta for Alvaro. As the Gypsy Preziosilla (who leads the “Rataplan”) Kirstin Chávez sang with an appealing mezzo and Carmen-like sultriness, coyly flirting and fortune-telling.

Mr. Gossett’s research clarifies disparities in the way puns are used in Fra Melitone’s comic sermon in the Act III military camp. The monk admonishes the soldiers that their “peccati” (sins) are spread like “pece” (pitch), which means there can never be “pace” (peace). In the 1869 Ricordi edition he then repeats “pece, pece, pece, pece,” when the composer intended, “pece, pace, pece, pace.” Marco Nistico’s winning performance garnered plenty of laughs in that role.

Daniel Borowski portrayed Padre Guardiano with grave dignity and a booming, mellifluous voice. The able young cast also included Carla Dirlikov as Curra (Leonora’s maid), Matthew Treviño as the Mayor, Nathan Resika as the Marquis of Calatrava, Aaron Blankfield as the peddler Trabucco and Jorge Ocasio as the surgeon.

The energy level and dramatic commitment seemed to increase throughout the evening, no easy thing toward the end of a mammoth opera. Mr. Crutchfield led a beautifully shaped, bristling reading, balancing the tempestuous drama of Verdi’s score with its breathtaking moments of gentle beauty.


musicshr said...

She is a beautiful and compelling singer and performer. I loved her Leonora and hope to see her again soon in New York.

Hariclea said...

Finally a wonderful Verdian soprano!:-)