By Erica Miner
Patricia Racette has established a unique and familiar presence in opera houses and on concert stages worldwide. The award-winning soprano is not only known for her portrayals of Puccini and Verdi heroines, but also is admired for her ability to perform more than one role in those operas. For example, she has sung both Mimi and Musetta in Puccini’s La bohème as well as both Blanche and Madame Lidoine in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites. Racette has also famously created roles in a number of world premieres of American operas.
On Nov. 14, Racette will diverge from her usual operatic diva-dom to perform a program of cabaret and jazz favorites for San Diego Opera (http://www.sdopera.com/Operas/Racette?portal=true), accompanied by Craig Terry, who performed in recital with Stephanie Blythe last season (http://www.laopus.com/2014/12/stephanie-blythe-channels-kate-smith.html).
EM: Patricia, I’m quite sure I played your 1995 debut at the Metropolitan Opera when I was a violinist there. Very few degrees of separation! Welcome back to SDO. We’re thrilled to have you here.
PR: I can't wait!!!
EM: Tell us about your background. What was your journey from your native New Hampshire to the world’s greatest opera houses?
PR: I have always said that I “happened into opera.” My intention was to pursue a jazz/cabaret career. I attended the University of North Texas in Denton (via bus from New Hampshire), where they have always had and continue to have a wonderful jazz program. Long story short, they did not offer a “vocal jazz” degree at the time, so I was obligated to take “classical” voice lessons. My voice teacher nabbed me and convinced me via Suor Angelica and Renata Scotto that my path to opera was born!
EM: You’ve become known for portraying tragic opera roles such as Janáček’s Kátya Kabanová and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Are these among your favorites, or are there others you love even more?
PR: I am currently in London performing Katerina in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - now added to my favorite role list! Tosca, Lady M, and Salome now vie for top billing on my “favorite” list - such wonderful and complex women are always an allure to my dramatic AND musical sensibility.
EM: As a “singing actress” do you feel one is more important than the other? Which roles do you find most challenging from an acting perspective?
PR: No, I feel that my affinity for the operatic art form insists on the duality - LIVE performance is my passion, and both aspects deserve equal measure in my book. Honestly, from an acting perspective, I used to find portraying weak, oppressed women to be a unique challenge for a contemporary woman, and yet I soon realized that there is human experience in all of it - my human experience included! And the gorgeous Puccini and Verdi and Janáček that those roles brought to my life are irreplaceable. That may sound lofty, but what I really mean to say is that with my new repertory that “weakness of character” is sinking by the wayside as Salome, Tosca, Lady M and now Minnie (La Fanciulla del West) take hold!
EM: Now for SDO you will diverge from the above to perform jazz and cabaret standards. What motivated you to create this very different “Diva on Detour” program?
PR: It has to be restated that my very first love of singing was cabaret and jazz - not opera. Opera came into my life many years later (and I am of course thankful for it) but truly, singing cabaret is like returning home. I say it on the recording of the album, but it IS the truth! And the whole premise of the recording is that is WAS live, in person… as I really don't love the aspect of distance from my audience that studio recording entails.
EM: What details might you reveal about the songs you will perform?
PR: I believe our program is a wonderful combination of eclectic and interesting “story telling” pieces. There are well-known gems and a few darker secrets as well. I hope that's both cryptic and enticing!
EM: It is indeed. You’ve performed many new operas, including several by Tobias Picker. What attracts you to these new works?
PR: First and foremost, the opportunity to have a say in how music is written, how drama is realized - that's an overwhelming gift of immediacy. Certainly I like to put an “original stamp” on whatever role I sing, but when I am the one who gets to create the aural and dramatic experience of a character from literal beginnings - fabulous.
EM: Beautifully put. Do you plan on creating any new roles in the future?
PR: I am always open to new compositions - honestly, and humbly, I do receive a number of scores to peruse. I take the responsibility of these projects - past and potentially future - very seriously. There are YEARS of work that go into the “gestation and birth” on the parts of so many participants - certainly the composer and librettist, but also the companies and patrons that put their love of the art form and their MONEY behind making new works a reality.
EM: Is there anything you’d like to add?
PR: I smile to think that you were in the pit in 1995, as my Met debut - and subsequent 20 years there! - are among the most prized experiences of my life!
EM: Thank you so much for that - and for your fabulous responses. See you at the Balboa Theatre next month!
Premiere tickets to Patricia Racette’s “Diva on Detour” can be purchased at http://www.sdopera.com.
Photos used by permission of: Devon Cass, Lisa Cuscuna
Erica can be reached at: [email protected]