Why did you choose to play this role in the opera?
Frederica von Stade
FREDERICA VON STADE: Jake has written such beautiful music for it, and it's so simple and touching that we haven't done anything really but sing through it. I was just thrilled to be part of it, and he asked me to be in it. It was a part I wanted to play because the worst thing that's asked of any parent is to lose a child in any way, at any age. But one step worse is to feel that you're responsible in some way for your child's fate. And here's a woman who has really no control over what's happened to her children, to a great degree, and that's something that affects every parent at some point and it was something that I just wanted to explore. And it's virtually unfathomable how a woman would feel knowing - it's bad enough to know a child has been taken, but knowing that it's about to happen? I almost can't fathom it. So it's marvelous to be comforted through it with Jake's beautiful music.
How does the music for this opera differ from others?
He's done something very touching in the last scene when she says good-bye. This [is a] woman who is I think fairly mousy and has struggled and life has just been one problem after another and she's exhausted. She's not very old, but she becomes quite courageous. And she is able to pull out a beautiful memory. So he's written this lovely tune that's almost like a little gospel song, that's, "I'm remembering you as a little boy and how you loved to do this and all the things you did." And it's just a beautiful way for her to find that little moment of courage before, to be courageous for your child. Everyone has to do that at some point for their kids. But I think what I love about it, what I've heard so far of all the operas, it's very straightforward and it's very honest. And it's so marvelous to be in a contemporary situation. Opera is so much about the past or about very arch situations, and here we're in something that is blatantly current. It's a political issue. It's a daily issue. It's part of our lives. And to approach it through music is marvelous.
What do you have to consider when tackling hot-button issues and contemporary speech in an opera?
From what I've seen recently, opera has a couple of demands. It needs action and it needs to have events and it has to have strong feelings about those events. That's why sometimes very cerebral operas, like Chekhov operas, don't always translate into opera. There has to be an incredible script, especially in English, a book, that is easy to get across, because the melody can't interrupt the flow of the sentence. We have a point to get across and I think it's terrific that we are doing contemporary ideas. I think there are many of them out there. They don't all have to be socially stimulating but it's marvelous that this one is a great story. It isn't a story about the death penalty, it's really a story of redemption and forgiveness.
How do you approach a role in an opera that has no precedent?
The demands on a singer in a new commission are, first, to be as loyal as possible to what the composer has written. In this particular instance we're blessed and lucky that we have the composer and the librettist, one of the greatest American playwrights, Terrence McNally, sitting there with us all the time. And there's two men who are in love with words and in love with phrases and in love with theater. So this is a bigger present for us, we're receiving it rather than giving it. Yesterday at rehearsal is the first time Jake has heard some of it realized. It was a fantastic workshop of it as well.