A Season of Joy and Thanksgiving: Favorite Opera Moments of AVA’s Resident Artists

Written and interviewed by AVA Administrative Associate Stephen J. Trygar
Cover Photo by Paul Sirochman from AVA’s 2018 Sour Angelica

Amidst the holiday season, we often find ourselves reflecting on what is most important to us—family, friends, loved ones, homes, professions, hobbies, traditions, etc. During this season, music, art, theater, dance, and other forms of art have a way of softening our hearts and lifting our spirits. All past, present, and future Resident Artists here at the Academy of Vocal Arts have realized the importance of opera and vocal arts in their lives and the joy it brings them to share their passion with their audiences. Although they pride themselves in sharing their talents, they also enjoy being an audience member as well. This year, I had the pleasure of being able to learn about some of the most beloved moments in the operatic genre with several of our current Resident Artists. It is an honor that I get to share those special operatic moments with you.

All Resident Artists mentioned in this blog are those who were willing to participate in the project; it is not our intent to leave any artists out of the activity. The participating artists are listed in alphabetical order by last name to ensure importance of all members. Each were asked the same three questions: What is your favorite moment in any opera? What about this moment makes it your favorite? What was your first encounter with this moment, and what was your initial reaction? Each entry is supplied with a video from YouTube that best resembles each of the artist’s favorite moment (a specific video they mentioned, a particular singer, or a general aesthetic they felt so passionately about). Wherever you find this posting, we would love to hear how you would answer these questions! From all of us here at AVA, have a wonderful holiday season!

Alice Chung, mezzo-soprano

Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore, Act IV, Duet: “Prima che d’altri vivere”

“One of my favorite moments in opera is the last duet in the Act IV finale of Il trovatore between Leonora and Manrico. She reveals to him that she would rather die than betray him. With her last breaths, she proves her undying love for him. After having cursed her, Manrico finally realizes that she, like him, would sacrifice anything for love.”

What about this moment makes it your favorite?

“This moment is one of the best examples of a wonderful marriage between text and music. Leonora sings “Prima che d’altri vivere, io volli tua morir!” (“I’d rather die than live with any other person!”) Verdi writes Leonora’s music to incorporate the efforts of the poison that she took earlier in the opera by having these long phrases that seem endless and leave one breathless. Then he breaks the phrase up with chromatic pairs to make it seem as if Leonora cannot breathe.”

What was your first encounter with this moment? What was your initial reaction?

“My first time encountering this moment was through the Met On Demand videos online where you can watch full operas. The cast was Sondra Radvanovsky, Marcelo Álvarez, Dolora Zajick, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.”

Daniel Gallegos, baritone

Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, Act III, Aria: “E lucevan le stelle”

What about this moment make it your favorite?

“I think it is one of the most beautiful melancholic arias in the tenor repertoire. The orchestra begins with a clarinet solo, which makes the perfect mood for such an intimate moment.”

What was your first encounter with this moment? What was your initial reaction?

“I saw it on video when I began studying music in the conservatoire back in Mexico. The cast consisted of Kaufmann, Gheorghiu, and Terfel, and the acting was spectacular. It was one of the first operas I ever saw in my life, and I absolutely loved it.”

Rebecca Guinello, soprano

Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, Intermezzo

What about this moment makes it your favorite?

“This piece to me is so beautifully cathartic. It is the pivotal musical moment of lulling and serene instrumentation with a lush sweep of strings. It denotes a calm moment in the midst of exceptional drama and high emotions.”

What was your first encounter with this moment? What was your initial reaction?

“It was in 2014 at the Teatro Maggio Musicale. Luciana D’Intino sang Santuzza.”

Emily Margevich, soprano

Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, Act I, Aria: “Casta Diva”

“I have oh so many favorite moments in all of my favorite operas. There are a handful of very special pieces, and of course learning a new role or aria, and listening to a plethora of different top-notch recordings creates those magical moments with that certain artist. Opera is the best source to go to when looking to feel or release whatever you can’t put into words, so there are certainly different favorite opera moments for different emotional releases. Hearing Pavarotti sing “Ah! mes amis” for the first time, hearing Amelita Galli-Curci for the first time, or (true story) when I found AVA’s recording of soprano Maria Aleida Rodríguez singing Olympia’s Doll Aria from The Tales of Hoffmann on YouTube; there are so many of those memorable musical moments when you cannot stop listening to this amazing artist. I do find that Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata is always somewhere in my ear. I listen to Germont’s Act II aria “Di provenza il mar il suol” almost every day. Currently, my favorite baritone to listen to for this aria is Joo Won Kang. I would be remiss to not include Violetta’s Act I aria “Sempre libera”, as it is another absolute, powerful favorite. I also LOVE Germont and Violetta’s Act II scene, “Madamigella Valery…” from start to finish. (I have a lot of favorite baritone arias to listen to over and over again!) If I wasn’t going to pick something from La Traviata or any of the melodies or Act IV chords of La Bohème, and since you asked for an opera moment, I am going to choose an opera moment that completely inspired me: Sondra Radvanovsky singing Norma in Vincenzo Bellini’s “Casta Diva”.”

What about this moment makes it your favorite?

“I love this aria when all of the greats sing it, and it is absolutely a favorite moment of mine for its beauty, the majestic atmosphere with the chorus, and this gorgeous, golden line of vocal elegance. Opera is perfect for delivering those moments of beautiful legato acting as the front for the character’s inner turmoil, as Norma torments over love vs. homeland while she stunningly holds it all together for this act.”

What was your first encounter with this moment? What was your initial reaction?

“I went to go see Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena at The Lyric Opera of Chicago a few years ago, and I had the pleasure of hearing and experiencing the grace of Ms. Radvanovsky’s performance. I was so moved by her emotional sincerity. A few years later, also at the Lyric, I went to see a rehearsal of her singing Norma, and her pianissimi triumphs were incredibly stunning and amazingly powerful. How could something so quiet be heard so clearly? It’s such a big house, and I remember thinking, “I wonder if I could ever do that”.”

Timothy Murray, baritone

Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Act III, Isolde’s Liebestod: “Mild und leise wie er lächelt”

What about this moment makes it your favorite?

“It’s such a monumental moment of resolution in the opera, and it’s just the most glorious music that feels utterly cathartic.”

What was your first encounter with this moment? What was your initial reaction?

“I first discovered it going down the rabbit hole that is binge watching YouTube, jumping from one opera video to the next. It was a concert performance of the aria with Nina Stemme from a number of years ago. She was wearing this epic green dress with an endless train and a massive orchestra. I was totally mesmerized. It’s a fantastic recording. She just sails over the orchestra and it’s an epic, sweeping experience.”

Renée Richardson, soprano

Giacomo Puccini’s Suor Angelica, Finale

“My favorite moment in opera thus far would have to be the finale of Suor Angelica after she takes the poison and realizes her fate of eternal damnation.”

What about this moment makes it your favorite?

“One has to pour so much emotion into these last bits of the opera, yet maintaining a beautiful sound! The music is heart wrenching and glorious… very hard not to cry.”

What was your first encounter with this moment? What was your initial reaction?

“I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to perform it here at AVA. First time encounter: watching Patricia Racette perform with the San Francisco Opera on YouTube. It was as if she poured her entire being into that performance. #GOALS”

Griffen Hogan Tracy, bass

Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd, Act I, Duet: “Dansker, old friend, glad to see you!”

What about this moment makes it your favorite?

“This entire last scene is in constant, steady crescendo. The contrast between Dansker’s increasingly anxious vocal line and Billy’s free, confident bravado are intricately woven together. It’s a ton of fun to sing and thrilling to watch from the audience.”

What was your first encounter with this moment? What was your initial reaction?

“I sang this portion of the opera at Central City for their scenes program. Then, the next summer I was able to go back up to Central City and watch it on their main stage.”

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