Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Interview with Baritone Bernardo Bermudez

Bernardo Bermudez
Baritone Bernardo Bermudez makes his Union Avenue Opera debut in A Streetcar Named Desire singing the role of Stanley Kowalski. Born and raised in Venezuela, Bernardo currently lives in Los Angeles and has built an operatic career singing a variety of roles including Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Papageno in The Magic Flute, Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro and Scarpia in Tosca among several others. Phil Touchette of Operatic Saint Louis recently interviewed Mr. Bermudez on preparing the role of Stanley and his experience in this production.

What sort of artistic challenges do you encounter in preparing and performing works from the newer American opera repertoire, like Streetcar, compared with that of the Italian, French and German repertoire?
This wonderful piece is actually a lot different than the standard operatic rep, not only dramatically but also technically. Musically at the beginning it was a challenge, because there are sections of the music where the is not much connection to the orchestra, so it takes a little longer to learn the music and build it into my muscle memory. Moreover, Previn composed more rhythmically challenging music for Stanley since he is the antagonist character, in contrast to the protagonist roles which have not necessarily less challenging music but at least more lyrical.
In a production with limited rehearsal time, singers sometimes meet their scene partners for the first time and must develop a backstory and onstage chemistry--an element crucial to the passionate, volatile relationship between Stanley and Stella. How has this process worked between you and Katherine Giaquinto?
In this occasion, it has been very easy. I was lucky enough to have met Ms. Giaquito in Los Angeles prior to arriving in St. Louis, and we got an opportunity to work though some of our musical sections prior to rehearsal, and she is a delightful person to work with. In addition, our director Mr. Limber, our conductor Maestro Protopapas, and the rest of the cast have been very vocal about their relationships and backstories which makes the process so much easier in the long run. Also, all the cast members are such strong actors that is easy to feed off one another, making the piece come alive and stay energized.
Throughout the opera, Stanley and Blanche have an adversarial family dynamic. What is the source of their animosity towards one another? Why does their relationship escalate into such tragedy by the end of the opera?
I feel Stanley and Blanche come from very different places socially, but they both have very strong personalities and resort to their primal instincts. Ultimately it comes down to Blanche challenging to fracture Stanley's way of life and his relationship with Stella and his friend Mitch.
When working through the character's motivations, do you find that Stanley is deliberately cruel or merely straightforward with everyone he meets? Why does he treat Blanche especially brutally?
I feel Stanley is this way all the time. He has a strong personality and is a very likable character. In both the play and opera, he often describes himself as knowing a lot of people like lawyers, jewelers, the supply man at the plant, etc. But Blanche is here to challenge all this by disrupting his way of life and the control he has over the others--for example when Stella starts to challenge Stanley and order him around, and become more independent. This is something that Stanley does not tolerate and ultimately pushes him to his most primal physical and mental state of being.
Composer Andre Previn helps define certain characters with an aria, arioso and, most often, recitative. How does Previn define your character musically? How is Stanley differentiated from the other characters?
As I mentioned before Previn does a wonderful job at describing the different between the two types of characters. Protagonists like Blanche, Stella and Mitch have lyrical music and arias. In contrast, the antagonist character Stanley has no arias and more rhythmic, faster music, except for a small lyrical section he sings during a duet with Stella. It is evident that the music is emotionally motivated. The internal feelings of the characters define the music and tempos of the piece.
This production marks your debut with Union Avenue Opera. Have you been able to explore St. Louis in your time away from rehearsal?
Though the rehearsal process has been intense for this production, I have been fortunate enough to have been able to experience a bit of what St. Louis has to offer. I have gone on several runs through Forest Park and also a driving architectural tour of the different areas of the city. It is remarkable to see all the beautiful brick work that is present here.

You can learn more about Bernardo by visiting his website BernardoBermudez.com.

A Streetcar Named Desire opens Friday, August 1st and continues its run Aug 2, 8 & 9 at Union Avenue Opera, 733 N. Union Blvd. Performances begin at 8:00pm. Production sung in English with projected English supertitles. Tickets may be purchased online at www.unionavenueopera.org or by calling 314-361-2881.

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