I've just finished my week of alternate cast performances of Beatrice and Benedict. Although this show may not be considered a well-known opera, it's a show and a role (Ursule) that I've wanted to work on for a long time. I first fell in love with B&B through hearing the beautiful "Nocturne" that ends Act I at the wonderful Colin Graham's memorial concert. He had planned the programming for his own memorial concert, and included pieces of music that meant a great deal to him. I remember being moved to tears when Kiera Duffy (soprano) and Mary McCormick (mezzo-soprano) went into the second section of the duet, and I knew right then that I wanted to sing it one day.
And, that day came last Tuesday!
We sang three shows for packed houses of the most energetic audiences I have sung for in my life: two (early!) morning elementary school shows with a high school evening performance in the middle. I honestly thought we'd get the biggest response from the morning shows, but was entirely surprised when the high school night absolutely blew the other two audiences out of the water! It was so much fun to hear them "Ooo!" and "Aaah!" when Beatrice and Benedict (played by two Studio members, Faith Sherman and Beau Gibson) finally admitted their feelings for each other. I think the thing that caught me most off guard was that they actually laughed at the jokes! Not that the jokes in this aren't funny, but this is Shakespearian language which is sliced and diced into small bits of dialogue. It's not the easiest thing to follow, but they were on top of it, laughing in places that most of the regular audiences missed. Joyce DiDonato (the 1st cast Beatrice) told me earlier on that she was jealous that she didn't get the high school night, and now I know why! What fun!
I also have to say that putting this character together was a great learning process and a lot of fun for me as well. In my time as an opera singer I have done a lot of character and bit roles. However, I've never really run across such a flirt as Ursule! She is bawdy, flirtatious, and downright crass at times, but she is FUN! At first I didn't see it. Her music is just so serene and luscious (the “Nocturne” and the Act II trio are both her main pieces), and does not immediately lend itself to such a firecracker of a woman. However, her dialogue is in complete contrast! (I.e. I got to say "Twill be heavier soon by the weight of man!" in response to Hero mentioning that her heart was "exceeding heavy"... firecracker, no?) I think it took right up until the final dress for me to find Ursule's personality in full. I am an actress that really finds my character in the clothes. That is to say, when I get into costume, I feel like I am finally that person. I also got to be blonde for the show, and I decided to test drive the whole theory that blondes have more fun. I'm still up in the air about that, but if Ursule is any indication, I'm sure it's got some validity to it!
So, now that the shows are over, I have no more long nights at the opera house. I am not watching this opera every single night, and I get 8 hours of sleep (if I can tear myself away from Grey's Anatomy on abc.com.) Life is a little more back to normal, but a little less fun without Ursule in it every day. -JB
Photo by Felix Sanchez