Moving past stereotyped femininity: singer thoughts

[Cecelia Hall & Sydney Mancasola, featured in Oper Frankfurt Magazin, Nov/Dec 2016, p. 26]

While attending the Frankfurt “Lohengrin”, I grabbed a copy of the monthly opera magazine on the way out. To my delight, I then stumbled upon the p. 26/27 interview with young Frankfurt ensemble members Cecelia Hall (Mezzo) and Sydney Mancasola (soprano), conducted by Stephanie Schulze.

I haven’t heard either of these singers yet, but after reading this feature, they’re both on my list of ‘to listen out for’.

On this blog, we do a lot of feminist talking about opera, about sexism and misogyny and gender awareness and othering and subversion. And as proven again on Sunday during the “Manon” with Petibon liveblog, nothing reels me in faster than singers who can sing and act and also have brains (and are not afraid to use them).

So while I rolled my eyes at the interview title (the girl card? Really? Don’t those two look like adult women to you?), I very much enjoyed the interview itself (full scan here, in German) and the fact that the up-and-coming, in a monthly outlet of the establishment, talk about directing, gender, and issues with male-created female characters.

In a surprise turn, I’m more intrigued by the soprano than by the mezzo in this scenario (well, not really that much of a surprise if we look at my 2016 *cough* really, what is it with me and Traviatas this year?!) because Mancasola’s answers are that astute, but then again, any mezzo who lists the Count Almaviva among their dream roles has my attention, too (it is such a damn fine aria. Plus, Crudel perché fin’ora and Contessa perdono).

I translated most of the first part – the one pertaining to gender issues – below, but before we get to that, let me point out that you can find both singers on YT (also with their own channels), here and here, and on Twitter (@cecehallsings; @SydneySoprano), if the interview perks your interest as much as mine:

Excerpts from New in the ensemble – American Girls: Cecelia Hall (mezzo-soprano) and Sydney Mancasola (Soprano) in talk with Stephanie Schulze:

[…]

CH [on working with Fassbaender on Britten’s “Paul Bunyan”]: It was fantastic to work with Brigitte Fassbaender in our first production here. I like her energy, her sheer enthusiasm, her pragmatism.
SM: I’d almost go as far as to say that I prefer working with women over working with male directors. Just as with conducting, staging is still a very male-dominated field… That sounds terrible, but I get the sensation that if men stage women characters and have a fixed idea of the character, I often cannot relate to it. Unfortunately, in my experience, that it is often about stereotypical or ‘idealized’ ideas of femininity being staged. My approach to a role is usually a different one, perhaps somewhat deeper…

SS: In your opinion, is that due to the stagings, or do we also need new operas, new women characters?

SM: Not necessarily. Also in the mainstream repertory, women could at least be drawn in more differentiated manner. This morning, I was thinking about Gounod’s Juliette. She has so many aspects that move beyond the carbon-copy image of a certain type. You’ve got to put in the work to find the small details in text and music that will make a character grow and make their interpretation interesting. That is my standard. The audience, just as well, does not always want to see the ‘same’ character onstage.

CH: Yes, but I would generalize it that much. Mozart loved the women. Or take Gluck. With Fulvia in “Ezio”, I have a very strong woman to portray.

SM: Fulvia, and also Onoria, have moments of strength, but they also get heavily manipulated. But in that, they’re not just passive, merely adhering to the patterns of the men. That’s the truly intriguing part.

SS: Are there dream roles on the horizon for you?

CH: Definitely Charlotte in “Werther”. And I will sing my first Sesto (“La Clemenza di Tito”) in 2017. Another, probably impossible dream: Count Almavia in “Le nozze di Figaro”.

SM: Juliette! And I am now looking forward to my first Violetta (“La Travata”). And I will debut in London as Gilda (“Rigoletto”). That is a party I love very much vocally, but as a ‘girl character’, I relate differently to her now.

CH: I’m very curious how things will turn out with Zerlina this year. In my first production, I hated her, in the second and third, I loved her. And even though she is billed as the most ‘lightweight’ female character in “Don Giovanni”, she is very torn, has something dark. That is what I want to portray.

SM: When I saw you as Zerlina, I was completely carried away. You were playful, but at the same time, you had something wise and deep. On the surface, she is seduced by Don Giovanni in that duet, but perhaps that is truly an option for her…

CH: Exactly, that is the deciding question. I always imagine that this man, other than Masetto, actually showers…

[…]

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