Opera Philadelphia

Q&A with Mezzo-Soprano Stephanie Blythe

By Opera Philadelphia

Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, starring in the title role of Tancredi, talks about returning to the Opera Philadelphia stage and her upcoming drag-cabaret-opera event with Martha Graham Cracker.

How does it feel to be debuting the role of Tancredi on stage with Opera Philadelphia?

This is my stage debut of Tancredi; I have performed the role before, but in a concert version for Washington Concert Opera. I have always loved this opera—it has some of Rossini's most beautiful music, and the duets are a particular favorite of mine. I am thrilled to finally have an opportunity to portray this wonderful role in a beautiful, fully staged production, and to have an opportunity to share the stage with my gorgeous, colossally talented friend, Brenda Rae.

It’s been a while since you’ve performed with Opera Philadelphia. What are you looking forward to most about the city, the Academy of Music, and Philadelphia audiences?

The city has changed quite a bit since I first came to perform with Opera Philadelphia. Driving in I got a great look at the skyline, and it is so very different! I am looking forward to getting to know the city again, in a way that is different than coming here to do a few concerts or recital—when you are in a city for an extended period of time while rehearsing an opera, you feel much more a part of the city, because you are a resident for several weeks, and can take better advantage of what that city has to offer. I have always loved my time here, and Opera Philadelphia was a major part of the first five or six years of my career. I love the Academy of Music, just the feeling of standing in that gorgeous theater, looking out into the audience—heaven. The audiences here have always been so lovely, so supportive, and I know that they have a very special relationship with this company. It is a wonderful feeling to be a part of the Opera Philadelphia family again.


Stephanie Blythe
Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe. Credit: Photo by the artist.

As a trouser role, Tancredi is a very different role from those like Fricka, Cornelia, and Ulrica, for which you are famous. Do you prepare any differently for this role compared to those other roles?

Not really. Of course, the major difference here is gender, but the character travels the same path that many characters do, including others that I have portrayed— love, deception, fear, joy, relief, just to name a few. It comes with the same challenges and rewards as with any other character. The challenge is creating a character with whom the audience can identify, so that they go on a journey with you, rather than just observe the journey. I like the audience to be invested in characters, so that we all care deeply where the story goes. The reward is having the opportunity to put on a new identity, to find all the ways that the character is like you or unlike you. Playing a role has always been the best part of being onstage for me, and Tancredi is a formidable role!

What is your favorite musical moment of the opera?

I have always loved singing Tancredi's entrance aria, "Di tanti palpiti," but I have to say that the duets with Amenaide are really remarkable. I look forward to singing them—bel canto duets have a very special feeling to them; they seem to rev up your energy, and that fabulous feeling of ensemble with one other singer—it is almost indescribable. It is a feeling that you are two singers but part of one body—not the perfect way to describe it, but that is how it feels when the pairing is right. I love to sing with Brenda Rae, so I know those duets will be a high point for me.

Tell us a bit about your role in the upcoming special event Dito & Aeneas: Two Queens, One Night. What can your fans expect?

They can expect the unexpected! I have done a good deal of crossover music, but never anything quite like this. This evening is about making dreams become reality, of crossing over many kinds of boundaries to experience pure joy, love, positivity, and wonderful energy.

What are you most looking forward to about teaming up with Martha Graham Cracker and her alter ego, your friend Dito van Reigersberg?

I am looking forward to every second of this kaleidoscope of music, light, color, sound and energy. I have been an admirer of Martha Graham Cracker for a long time, and to share the stage with her is truly a dream come true. She and Dito make me feel like an invincible force onstage, because that is what Martha is—she shares that generosity of spirit with every audience member, and I love being a recipient too.

As someone whose repertoire spans many genres of song, how do you think opera audiences can relate to cabaret performances, and vice versa?

Opera audiences love the voice. It is what draws them to the genre in the first place. Cabaret audiences also love the voice, but take part in the performance in a different way. They are a more active, responsive audience, mostly due to the environment and the repertoire. When a performer can look into the eyes of an audience member, get right down next to them and sing to one person, that creates a whole new energy for the audience. Imagine if you were sitting right next to Rodolfo and Mimì [of La bohème] in the Cafe Momus, seeing their new love come into bloom, sharing in the cacophony of the company at large, seeing Musetta make a spectacle of herself again. If the opera audience had that kind of contact with the performers, they would understand more clearly what an effect they have on the performance.

Cabaret creates that kind of energy naturally; opera has a harder time again, because of the rep and the environment. I think that the opera audience will enjoy our cabaret evening because they will have many moments of recognition paired with active audience participation that will make them feel like a part of the event. It is as much about them as it is about us, and that is a super joy for me.

Discover more about Dito & Aeneas: Two Queens, One Night.

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