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An interview with the singer who will bring the Queen of the Night to life in upcoming performances.
Soprano Lindsay Russell loves the part of the evil Queen of the Night. “She’s such a fun character to play,” she says. “She’s powerful and manipulative.”
Courtesy of Opera Roanoke
Rehearsing Pamina’s aria in Act II of “The Magic Flute” are Steven White, conductor; Judy Clark, pianist; Rod Gomez, director; Shelly Milam, singing Pamina; Michael Gallant; foreground, kneeling; and Joseph Lim as Papageno sitting at right.
"The Magic Flute"
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
The timeless myth of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” gets a historical grounding in Opera Roanoke’s production, opening Friday.
In an instance of serendipity, Scott Williamson, the opera’s general and artistic director, and Rod Gomez, the director of “The Magic Flute,” independently came up with the idea to use Colonial Virginia for the setting. This essentially turns the opera’s forces of enlightenment into American revolutionaries and its fey villains into British royals — and in one of the more curious consequences, the signature role of the evil Queen of the Night becomes an androgynous analog to King George III.
Richmond native Lindsay Russell, 28, will bring the Queen to life for Roanoke audiences. Williamson said she’s an example of the kind of artist Opera Roanoke loves to work with, “a young singer on the threshold of a really exciting career.” This is Russell’s debut with Opera Roanoke and her debut playing the Queen of the Night.
The Queen isn’t on stage nearly as long as other lead characters, but the high notes of her difficult arias have made her character one of the best known in all of opera.
It’s not uncommon for sopranos to take on the part early in their careers because of the high notes that have to be hit, Williamson said.
Williamson compared Mozart’s opera to more modern fantasies like “The Lord of the Rings.” Hero Tamino faces trials and challenges on a quest to overcome evil. “It’s great entertainment. It’s a musical comedy on one level. It’s also a profound meditation on the meaning of life.”
Williamson noted that Mozart was a contemporary of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and the Masonic symbolism that infuses Mozart’s opera would have been familiar to the Founding Fathers. Those gentlemen make appearances in Opera Roanoke’s rendition of the story.
In this production, the daughters of King George III become the daughters of the Queen of the Night.
Though Russell will be singing the whole of the Queen’s part for the first time with Opera Roanoke, she’s previously sung both of the Queen’s arias in concert with the Hong Kong Philharmonic. She also sang the role of Pamina, the story’s damsel in distress, at James Madison University.
Though born in Richmond, she grew up in Woodbridge and earned her undergraduate degree from JMU. She met tenor Eric Bowden while studying for her master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music, and the two just married — in fact, she came straight from her honeymoon to Roanoke last week to start rehearsal.
She also answered a few questions via email about the part and about her career.
What made you decide to pursue becoming an opera singer?
When I started college, I knew I wanted to be a music teacher. The summer after my sophomore year in college, my voice teacher, Dorothy Maddison, took me and three other students to Germany with her to perform in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” We got to see how a professional opera house worked, and as we toured the country I got to see some spectacular opera performances. I was inspired and knew I needed to see if I could make it as a performer.
What can you tell me about the Queen of the Night?
She’s such a fun character to play. Usually sopranos like me end up singing the innocent young girl or the sassy maid. The Queen is completely different. She’s powerful and manipulative. She’s been wronged by everyone around her and will stop at nothing to get revenge.
Is it tough to step into such a demanding role right after your honeymoon?
It’s always hard to leave family and friends to go sing. It felt especially weird saying goodbye to my husband for several weeks after only being married a week! This company has been wonderful, though, and has already made me feel like part of their family.
Opera Roanoke’s production is set in Colonial Virginia. How does that affect your character’s presentation?
Placing the story in Colonial Virginia makes my character a kind of British monarch, a la King George. I don’t act like a man necessarily, but I try to bring a masculine energy to the stage, especially in those moments where I take command of those around me. Even though she’s Pamina’s mother, she only uses her “maternal” side as a tool for manipulation. It’s fun to see the concept develop and it has helped inform my character’s motivations a lot.
What does it mean to be charged with bringing such a well-known part to life?
I’m really looking forward to sharing this opera with the Roanoke community. It’s one of my favorite shows. I remember the first time I saw this opera and fell in love with this music, and every time I perform I like to think that someone in the audience might get to have that same experience.
What other parts have you performed? What other parts would you really like to perform?
Some of my favorite roles have been Susanna in “Le Nozze di Figaro,” Laurie in “The Tender Land,” Gilda in “Rigoletto,” and Norina in “Don Pasquale.”
I’d really like to perform Lucia in “Lucia der Lammermoor” soon. She gets a spectacular mad scene in the last act.
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