Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Interview with Soprano Katherine Giaquinto

Katherine Giaquinto
Soprano Katherine Giaquinto makes her Union Avenue Opera debut in the St. Louis Premiere of André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire singing the role of Stella Kowalski. Originally from Canada and now residing in Los Angeles, Katherine's background was in television and film acting before discovering and pursuing opera, in which she has sung the roles of Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte and Musetta in La Bohème, among many others. Phil Touchette of Operatic Saint Louis recently interviewed Ms. Giaquinto on preparing the role of Stella and her experience in this production.

In a production with limited rehearsal time, singers meet their scene partners often 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 Bernardo Bermudez?
This was something I was very aware of coming into the production, knowing that the relationship between Stanley and Stella is so central to the story. I knew that Bernardo and I were going to be "getting up in each other's business," so to speak. Usually what happens in a production is that on Day One of staging you have a little conversation with each other and just check in, asking permission to get close, to touch, hug or kiss as the scene requires. I also like to express that I'm okay going with whatever instinct my scene partner would want to follow. I'd much rather discover something amazing in these characters' relationship than play it safe during staging because it might feel a little awkward at first. For Bernardo and I, we had a publicity photo shoot right before we began staging in which we recreated the embrace right after the infamous "STELLLLLAAA!!!" scene, and that helped to break the ice a little. Then we continued to get more comfortable with each other as staging went on. Bernardo is such a kind person that it's very easy to trust him in any scene that's either romantic or even violent between these two characters. 
The sisters Blanche and Stella grew up in southern aristocratic society in which chivalry and manners are paramount. Why, then, do you think Stella married a man given to less than gentlemanly behavior which repulses her sister Blanche?
Though Stella comes from a genteel background, I think she is really quite a bit more grounded and earthy than Blanche. When we meet her in the time frame of the story her behavior shows her to be a lusty woman who is quite happy in this rough and tumble world of New Orleans. I think in Stanley she found the first man who made it okay for her to embrace her sensuality, rather than be ashamed of it as Blanche is. I think she's thrilled by Stanley's strength and exaggerated maleness. She also brings out a tenderness in Stanley that no one else does - something probably only she gets to witness behind the closed curtains of their bedroom - and this gives her a certain feeling of power. We actually see very little of their love story as it was, before everything is soured by Blanche's arrival. But I think Stella and Stanley are really madly in love with each other.
Stella has been portrayed in a variety of ways. Kim Hunter in the Elia Kazan film seems feisty while Elizabeth Futral in the opera's premiere tends towards the submissive--though both were warm towards their respective Blanches. How has it been to balance the devoted wife and protective sister in Stella?
Stella's main struggle is having to choose between the man she loves beyond reason, and her sister. In the end she chooses Stanley, and it's part of Blanche's downfall. I think that's Stella's tragedy. Often I hear people describe Stella as passive, and I recognize it's hard to compare her to the towering literary figures of Stanley and Blanche. But I don't see her as passive at all. I think she's massively conflicted and presented with an impossible task - she can't keep both of these people happy. Also, one way to view the story is that Blanche and Stanley are basically fighting for Stella's soul - her love and loyalty. In that case, she's the pivotal point of this relationship triangle.
As you sing through the score, what musical passages fascinate or intrigue you about your character?
Stella actually has the first aria of the show. It's short and sweet, and the text is taken from the passage in which she describes how hard it is for her when Stanley travels away for business. She says, "I can hardly stand it when he's away for a night. And when he's away for a week I nearly go wild." The music is lyrical and sensuous, and for me it was a big clue into her character. I think we often have a hard time imagining a woman from the 40s as a sexual being, but it's right there in the Williams' text, and Previn has brought it to life in Stella's music. After all, the title is A Streetcar Named Desire, and I think that applies very much to Stella as well.
How does Stella compare musically or dramatically to the roles you have previously sung, if at all?
Stella is new territory for me in some ways because I often play strong, smart, self-possessed women like Fiordiligi, Musetta, or Susanna in Figaro. Stella is much more feminine, in the deepest sense of the word. She is often more receptive than active, and I've had to work to find out how this character would express things like anger or upset in less overt ways than are my natural instincts. Musically, we've all had to work to find the natural inflections of speech within the prescribed rhythms of Previn's music. The opera is basically sung conversation, with a few lyrical moments inserted here and there. The maestro has been so generous with us musically, always encouraging us to find a natural way of expressing the text, rather than be worried about being robotically accurate.
Katherine & Lacy Sauter in the
Central West End
'Streetcar' marks your debut with Union Avenue Opera. How has the UAO experience been so far? Have you been able to explore St. Louis in your time away from rehearsal?
Honestly, I've been having such a fabulous time here. Everyone at UAO has been welcoming, generous, and totally on top of their game. My host family is wonderful and has made me feel right at home. I've been so impressed with the abundance of history, art and culture in St. Louis. I'm staying right by Forest Park and I can't wait for our week off so I can go explore the art museum, the zoo and the science center. It's also a fabulous coincidence to be performing Streetcar in St. Louis, which is so rich with Tennessee Williams history. On our first day here Lacy (Blanche) and I stumbled across a bronze bust of Williams just a few blocks from where we're staying. We took pictures with it!

You can learn more about Katherine by visiting her website KatherineGiaquinto.com, following her on Twitter @OperaKat and checking out her Facebook page.

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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