UTW: What was going through your mind as you were planning this season? What were the reasons for choosing these three operas, Tosca, Lakme and The Magic Flute?
Crawford: Tosca is one of the standard operas in the repertoire and probably one of the most sensual (Giacomo) Puccini operas. And it was about time that we should do Tosca for the next generation of opera audiences. And there was a soprano I had heard about who flew to Tulsa specifically to audition, and when I heard her sing, I thought, "When I do a Tosca--I'm not sure which year--I want her." And she was available.
Isabella Mederi is her name. She's originally from Hungary, but she lives in the United States. She's a beautiful, beautiful woman, and Tosca is an opera singer. The character is actually an opera singer, so you want somebody who is gorgeous and beautiful and sings the bejeezus out of it. And she will.
And then, you know (the late) Luciano Pavarotti, right? The tenor role, Cavaradossi, was one of his signature roles. I heard him sing that at The Met. The goose bumps would just emerge. This fellow was amazing.
And here's what's interesting--the tenor we have (Johann Valdimarsson) started as a trumpet player, and Pavarotti actually started as an instrumentalist. There could be a correlation between guys who started playing the trumpet and then they turn into tenors. There's something about the focus of the voice.
And then, the character of Scarpia is a gentleman who has sung with us previously (Peter Lindskoog) who actually covered a very famous baritone named Samuel Ramey at Las Angeles Opera. Mr. Ramey is now about 60 years old and he sang at Tulsa Opera years ago, so this is a passing of the torch with Scarpia.
UTW: Tell me about Lakme.
Crawford: I observed in the past five years that this opera is being produced more around the country and for a certain kind of voice--a lyric coloratura soprano. It's a role they die to sing. There are some very famous sopranos who have sung it.
You probably don't know this name, but there is a very famous singer by the name of Bidu Sayao in the, let's say, 1940s, and there's a very famous aria called "The Bell Song." It's on the CD, so it's a real showcase for a lyric coloratura soprano. And that's a soprano who sings high with a lot of fast passage work.
I saw that some companies were producing this, and once people realize they know that duet and hear this opera--it's a classic French opera--the music is sensual in a very different way than the Italian music.
UTW: How so?
Crawford: Well, what do you eat more often, Italian food or French food?
UTW: Italian food.
Crawford: Italian food. But when's the last time you ate French food?
UTW: A couple of years, actually.
Crawford: Okay, so you order dessert at an Italian restaurant and you have your spumoni and your tiramisu or you canolis or whatever. And then you go to a French restaurant and have a divine soufflé. It's just as rich, but it's lighter in a way, more sensual. In my 14 years here, I think the Tulsa Opera public has demonstrated to me that they like French opera, the musical aesthetic of French opera. And this one's never been produced. So we have people who have been attending the opera for 10 or 15 years and they would like to see some pieces that are new to them.
I've been thinking about this opera for about five to six years. I've seen that it's had some success, and then I also produce operas in conjunction with singers that I'm interested in. Sarah Coburn is an Oklahoma native (and U.S. Senator Tom Coburn's daughter) who attended Oklahoma City University, and her career is accelerating very rapidly. She's had tremendous success with an opera called Lucia di Lammermoor, which is another great lyrical coloratura role.
But when I was speaking with Sarah and her agent and I mentioned I was thinking of doing Lakme, it was like Harry Potter zooming in on the snitch. That was the role. (Her manager said), "Carol, if you do Lakme, she will be here." Because it's not an opera that's done all the time. So it's a great showcase for her to make her Tulsa Opera debut.
UTW: And finally, The Magic Flute.
Crawford: I wondered, when I first came here, if Tulsa Opera audiences just liked tragedies, where everybody died at the end. And then we did Magic Flute in 1999, and people were laughing. And I thought, okay, there is a sense of humor in the Tulsa Opera audience. Different opera audiences in different cities have different preferences. And the track record here with successful comedies was variable.
And we finally did (The Magic Flute), and it was very well staged, and I was thrilled when I heard the audience laughing. It was Mozart's final opera, for all practical purposes, and it's a German version of a Broadway musical.
It's called a Singspiel, which translates to singing play. The Speilhaus in Germany is like the theater, and Mozart had extensive dialogue and Mozart was a free mason, so as one of his final works he decided he would look at issue of love and fidelity but cast them in the framework of what I could only call the pre-Broadway musical, Mozart style.
It's sung in German, but the dialogue we perform in English, and that's pretty standard in the United States now. It's very bizarre when you do a comedy and you have dialogue and you have it in the foreign language. The timing of the laughs is very different.
UTW: Because they're reading it above them.
Crawford: Yes, it's very bizarre.
UTW: Would you say this is similar to The Little Prince, where younger people as well as adults will enjoy it?
Crawford: Yes and no. This is more sophisticated. The Little Prince was all in English, was composed in a musical idiom that's definitely more contemporary and had a lot more children involved.
But I think your question is quite perceptive because both Little Prince and The Magic Flute try to comment on what is spiritual, what leading a good life means. In two entirely different approaches, but I think both are good for young people and good for people my age, too.
UTW: Is there anything about the principals in these latter two operas--you spoke of some in Tosca--that you're particularly excited about or would like to speak about?
Crawford: Well, the tenor in Lakme I've heard audition twice, and he's strikingly handsome and I think he's very talented. And I want to support him with the repertoire he is finding. I think he's going to go all the way, and so I like to get some singers at a certain level.
Kyle Pfortmiller has performed at TO previously. He was last seen in Faust. His voice is very well-suited to French music. And this character isn't listed, but I had a singer in Carmen last year named Marcus DeLoach, who I think will sing the role Nilakantha very beautifully.
For the French operas, you need singers who are subtle musicians, who know how to turn a phrase. Italian is sort of in your face. It's just raw passion. French operas are a bit more sophisticated in general in terms of demands on the singers. I'm not talking about vocal power; I'm talking about artistry.
UTW: A little more understated.
Crawford: Take someone like Mariah Carey. She'd be the equivalent of an Italian opera singer. Then take someone like k.d. lang, the way she phrases things. She would be more like somebody singing French opera. k.d. lang's not just about (being) in your face. Maybe she was early in her career, but k.d. lang has now entered the territory of the Barbara Streisands and Barbara Cooks, where the way she can spin a phrase and utilize words and text . . .
UTW: Means more than just hitting the high notes and going up and down with your voice a lot.
Crawford: Absolutely. The Magic Flute takes that to another dimension in terms of the artistry, but because it's a Singspiel, it needs singers who are really, really fine actors. Not that you don't need them in Tosca and Lakme, but when it comes to speaking and dialogue, opera singers spend years and years training their voices to sing this music and project over an orchestra, and when you talk about reciting dialogue in a 2,400-seat theater, that takes a different kind of skill.
I've cast some singers whom I know can do that. I'm waiting to hear a tenor I've had my eye on. He's on hold, but I have to hear him audition. So I can't tell you his name yet. I've heard about him for two years, but I have to hear him sing, so we're in the process of arranging that now.
UTW: Last year, when The Crucible and Trail of Tears were cancelled, there was talk about them being performed this fall. Will that still happen, and why were they cancelled?
Crawford: With Trail of Tears, I had a meeting, which I can only describe as an epiphany, with Chief Chad Smith in December. For me, coming from the East Coast, we weren't reared learning about the Trail of Tears. I think that's different for Oklahomans, right?
Crawford: To hear the Chief share with me, "We, the Cherokee Nation, don't regard ourselves as victims of the Trail of Tears. We feel that this is a story of our survival and flourishing." The project grew and grew, and what was very important to the chief of the Cherokee Nation was the text, and so what I thought could be simple--not that anything is-- finding preexisting texts, began to assume a dimensions that would just grow and grow. And the Cherokee Nation is also working on its own project about the Trail of Tears.
Now, I'm not Native American, but it's imperative I have respect for the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee culture. It's far preferable for me to postpone the premier of the piece and get it right and that it's the message the Cherokee Nation wants to send and not something I want to send because I think it's interesting.
We want to do something that will coincide with what the Cherokee Nation is doing to honor the Trail of Tears, so we will postpone it until then.
UTW: What happened with The Crucible?
Crawford: Budget concerns. I would have loved to have done it, but it just wasn't possible. There wasn't enough interest in the community.
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