[Scene Magazine] Verdi-an Orchestral Maneuvers
By Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
In a program called "The Life of Verd" this weekend's Santa Barbara Symphony program features guest soloists on a musical journey celebrating the opera compsoer's 200th birthday
Under typical circumstances, the separate worlds of Symphonic and Operatic culture keep to their separate corners, as happens in Santa Barbara, as well. But the discrete worlds blithely collide in this weekend's Santa Barbara Symphony program dubbed, "Verdi's Greatest Opera Hits" in honor of the opera composer's 200th birthday.
Opera Santa Barbara, already a Verdi-enriched house in terms of operatic repertoire, will continue in March its Italianate penchant with a production of Verdi's "Falstaff." As an unofficial warm-up, and a specialty program of its own, the Symphony's Verdi sampler plate will feature arias and duets from "Otello," "Macbeth," "Rigoletto" and "La traviata," among other stops in the Verdi catalogue.
This weekend, joining the orchestral forces led by music director Nir Kabaretti are guest vocalists, soprano Angel Joy Blue, and tenor John Pickle. Mr. Pickle, who garnered much praise for his work in Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman" with the LA Opera last season, and will be singing both Verdi's "Requiem" and "Aida" this year, gave us a bigger picture of his expanding career and the Verdi factor in a recent interview.
News-Press: Have you worked with the Santa Barbara Symphony before, or in this area?
John Pickle: This is my first appearance with the Santa Barbara Symphony. I performed with the Los Angeles Opera last season.
NP: This is an interesting program the Symphony is offering, timed with Verdi's 200th birthday, and a fairly rare case of Verdi's operatic canon being celebrated by a symphony orchestra. Is it unusual for you to sing arias in such a context, "out of character," but also with the heightened musical focus of the setting?
JP: I have performed in many "Opera Highlights" concerts; the most recent was just last weekend with the St. Bart's Music Festival. I think concerts like this are very entertaining for the audience, and provide an opportunity for audience members to experience selections from operas that they might not otherwise hear.
NP: You have been acclaimed for your work on the turf of Wagner — including recently the Flying Dutchman with the LA Opera — which is a very different sound world than that of Verdi. Or do you see those as being very different artistic worlds within the operatic repertoire?
JP: I think the greatest differences in Wagner and Verdi have to do with orchestrations. Both composers produced beautiful melodic lines for the singers. However, Verdi tended to write wonderful, accompanying music within the orchestra, whereas Wagner wrote grand orchestrations in which the singer fits in as a part of the texture.
NP: I see that you're singing in "Aida" this spring with the Dayton Opera. Is there a particular challenge in the emotional and technical demands of Verdi?
JP: This will be my first production of "Aida," and I am very excited about it. Radam's is a difficult role, but then again every role brings its own set of difficulties, whether it be Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, or any other composer. The challenge lies in learning to perform a role in a way that best suits your particular voice.
NP: Just to get some backdrop: what was your path to life as an operatic singer? Was this something you knew you wanted to pursue from an early age, or did you take a circuitous route to this life?
JP: When I attended Stephen F. Austin State University, my intention was to study Music Education. It was my voice teacher, Dr. David Jones, who saw something in me and urged me to consider pursuing Music Performance. I took his advice and it was one of the most important decisions in my life.
NP: What projects do you have coming up which excite you, and what would you say are your aspirations for the future?
JP: Every musical opportunity for me is exciting. The upcoming production of "Aida" is foremost in my mind now, but I am very much looking forward to revisiting the role of Don José in Carmen with Opera Tampa. Looking to the future, I am keen to pursue performances in Europe.
NP: You have taken on a wide variety of roles and different styles and eras in music. Does variety of musical tasks keep things fresh for you?
JP: I think it is important as an artist to continually challenge yourself and explore various composers and genres. However, some of my greatest moments of inspiration have come when revisiting a role for a second or third time.
NP: Opera is, of course, a very expensive medium, and has been subject to the economic struggles afflicting other arts — especially in the post-2008 world. And yet, the art form prevails and seems to be pulling in audiences nicely, including younger fans — including our own Opera Santa Barbara. Are you generally encouraged by what you see in the opera world in terms of its survival instincts and an expanding audience?
JP: I am generally encouraged by the state of the business, especially when I see opera companies and symphonies using mediums like social media (FaceBook, Twitter, etc.) to reach out to the audience. I think it is important for organizations to use every tool at their disposal to bring in new audience members, while maintaining relationships with long time attendees.
For this art form to survive, performers and producers alike must embrace the future, while honoring traditions of the past.