Tuesday, January 22, 2013

ARTISTS CORNER: Soprano Maria Natale

ARTISTS CORNER:  Soprano Maria Natale will make her Sarasota Opera debut as the slave girl Liù in this season's opening production of Puccini's Turandot opening February 9th.  We asked Ms. Natale to answer a few questions about her life as a singer and what she is looking forward to in the upcoming season.   

Q. What drew you to become a singer? Was there a specific “Aha!” moment of clarity?

A. Well, I knew I wanted to be a singer since I was pretty young. My grandfather sang opera and every time I would go to his house I distinctly remember opera playing. He would usually be playing Tosca, Aida or Wagner. The “ah ha” moment was probably when I was ten years old. My grandfather gave me a CD of Joan Sutherland singing “Casta Diva” from the opera Norma. He always would say that I would be an opera singer one day, so I should start listening to it. I listened to that CD every night to fall asleep. I remember thinking her voice sounded like and angel. Ever since then I was hooked. About that time I started singing in school musicals. I sang Snow White in a production in 5th grade and received a note from the directors which read, “see you at the Met in the next twenty years or so." I came home and remember asking my mom, “What’s the Met?” I keep that note in my wallet to this day.

Q. What are you looking forward to most about performing this particular role?

  I have wanted to sing this role for such a long time. It is so emotional and brings so many tender moments to the opera. Every day I feel like I have to pinch myself because I can’t believe that I get to sing this beautiful music! I am also really looking forward to my death scene (not to sound morbid or anything). This is the first time I have ever “died” on stage, I am kind of excited out it!

Q. Is there something unique about your process when preparing a role for performance?

I don’t think that there is anything really unique about my process when preparing a role. I first make sure that I read the libretto and translate so I know every word. When I start learning the music, I usually begin from the end of the score and work my way backwards to the beginning. If I start at the end, I tend to memorize more quickly and don’t get to caught up in the first few pages for too long.

Ms. Natale in rehearsal for Turandot at Sarasota Opera
Q. Beyond the musical work, what other kind of preparation/research work do you incorporate in the learning process? Historical? Character study?

I always find historical background of the opera very helpful. If there is a play that the opera is based on, it helps me to read it to understand the story and characters even more.

Q. How does your preparation process differ between a role you have performed before and a role you are doing for the first time?

Learning roles for the first time is all I really know at this point! Every role I learn has had a different process. I am still trying to figure out what works best for me.

Q. What knowledge about the character of Liù do you want the audience to leave with after the performance?

I don’t want people to leave feeling sorry for Liù. She makes a stand for herself, and in some ways, she gets what she wants. In the beginning, Liù wouldn’t have dreamed about even speaking to the Prince as a lowly slave girl. At the end, his fate and the fate of Turandot are in her hands. That’s an impressive accomplishment for a slave girl. For one moment in her life, she has all the power.

Q. Do you have any pre-performance rituals? Performance superstitions? Good luck charms? If yes, why?

When I was younger, I used to get wrapped up all on pre-performance rituals, like thinking that I MUST eat pineapple before every performance, like it had “magical powers” to help me sing. Now I just make sure that I am well rested (sleep is key!) I stay hydrated and try to do some sort of physical activity the day of a performance. A nice relaxing walk or yoga helps me get ready for an upcoming performance.

Q. How do you relax in between performances? What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?

I love yoga. It really helps me relax since I can be high strung at times! I also love to cook and entertain for my family and friends. Nothing beats cooking a big Italian meal with a nice glass of wine.

Q. People are sometimes shocked when they find out opera singers don’t just listen to opera exclusively. Do you have other types of music you enjoy? Any other types you enjoy singing?

For the most part I listen to classical. I listen to a lot of instrumental music. I could listen to the Brahms symphonies all day long. My husband and I also like to listen to Italian pop music and the old classics of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

Q. How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road”? Do you keep a blog? Website? Facebook? Twitter?

I always stay connected with my family either through phone, text or Facebook. I am a very social person, so I like to be in contact with my friends and family. It is very easy for me to get lonely! I talk to my mother every morning without fail and my husband and I recently started using Facetime through the Ipad and Iphone.

Q. As we have people that travel from around the United States to attend performances at Sarasota Opera, are there any towns or cities that you have a strong connection with whether from growing up or attending school?

A little piece of me will always be in San Francisco. I went to the music conservatory there and it is the place that I first fully immersed myself into music. It is so beautiful there, especially if you can get a day without the fog! Every part of town is so unique and special. Currently I live in Knoxville, Tennessee, which is a drastic change from California, but I find it to be a very charming city. The people that I have met in Knoxville will always be close to my heart. It has been such a supportive place for me to be at this point in my life.

Don't miss Ms. Natale as she makes her Sarasota Opera debut in this season's production of Puccini's Turandot.  Get your tickets today at www.sarasotaopera.org or by calling the Sarasota Opera box office at (941) 328-1300.

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