Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively – You’ve performed Turandot in at least 11 different productions. You are a true specialist of this role. In a previous interview with Opera Lively, you did give us this very interesting answer about the character:
“I don't find that Turandot has to be portrayed in an unsympathetic way. I think that her youth (because my Turandot is young) and her fear make her icy. But I think that there are many opportunities to show her beauty and her vulnerabilities. I always look for the beauty in a character so that I can ensure that my vocalism maintains its beauty. I think that Turandot being alone with her elderly father and being told these horrible stories of her ancestors make her afraid of men. In that fear there is an incredible vulnerability and delicate beauty. In her stentorian first aria there still has to be soft beautiful lyric singing especially when she is talking about Lou Ling.”
Then, that answer was part of a longer interview addressing many topics, but now you are back with us doing exactly Turandot, so, please, let’s talk about her at more length. What are vocal challenges in singing this role? What arias are particularly difficult if any, and why?
Othalie Graham – I think this role has many, many challenges! To keep her beautiful is my number one priority. Vocal beauty is something that always must be emphasized when singing a role like this. Turandot is so icy, cold, and haughty if one is not careful, she can come across as one-dimensional. In order to make her transition believable in act three I think that there always has to be an undercurrent of vulnerability and fear.
Opera Lively – What you said about her vulnerability is very interesting. But given that she is often portrayed as icy, distant, and even cruel, how do you convey to the public this softer aspect? It’s got to be very difficult, from the acting standpoint. Please give us specific examples. In what moments to you try to convey this fragility?
Othalie Graham – I actually don't find it that difficult from an acting standpoint. I think that when she first sees the unknown Prince in act one she knows immediately that he is different from all of the other men that have appeared to challenge her. I also think that when she is pleading with her father to not give her to the unknown Prince that we really see her soft beautiful side. I also think that there's an incredible change in her when she sees Liu take her own life for love. Of course once the unknown price kisses her, her ice is melted.
Opera Lively – Let’s talk about the music in Turandot, more generally. The score is sometimes difficult, given its seeds of the upcoming modernism style in music. Any comments? And what do you think of the last part, completed after Puccini’s death?
Othalie Grahm – I actually really love the last part of the score. I know that there is much controversy over it but I think it's such a beautiful ending and I think that maybe the composer would have done something very similar. I think this is some of Puccini's most beautiful music aside from my other favorite Puccini opera La Fanciulla Del West.
Opera Lively – Please tell us about what to expect in this Opera Carolina rendition of Turandot.
Othalie Graham – This is a really beautiful production! There will be some incredibly beautiful singing, incredible acting, and some very thrilling moments.
Opera Lively – We last talked in October 2013. What else has happened in your career since that time? I believe you went to sing Wagner in Peru, right? Can you please tell us about that experience, and the environment there?
Othalie Graham – I loved singing in Peru very much; the orchestra was spectacular and they played with precision that is very rare. Since I was last here I sang Isolde in Tristan und Isolde in concert in Zagreb, Croatia, and an all Wagner concert to open the season for the Oakland East Bay Symphony. Also, I sang Minnie in La Fanciulla del West with Indianapolis Opera, the title role of Turandot with Michigan Opera Theater, a Wagner Gala with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Xalapa in Mexico, the Verdi Requiem with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with Lima Symphony, Essential Verdi concert with the Washington Chorus, and the Britten War Requiem with the Fondazione Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro Sinfonico di Milano Giuseppe Verdi with Maestra Xian Zhang, Aida in Sicily Italy in the Teatro Greco, and Turandot in Mexico City with OFUNAM.
Opera Lively – Wow, you were very busy, singing in many different countries! Any exciting new projects coming up?
Othalie Graham – I am very excited that I will sing my FIRST Serena in Porgy and Bess with the Jacksonville Symphony and an all-star cast, The Verdi Requiem with the Handel Society in Dartmouth, and my first Ariadne with Festival Opera in California. I hope you enjoy the show! I also hope to see you afterward!
Opera Lively – I'll certainly be there, and look forward to listening to you and seeing you!
Interview by Luiz Gazzola from operalively.com – click here to visit the full article.