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In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

Backstage with John Mac Master (Part 6)

Jan 30, 2011 6:07:00 AM
By BLO Staff

I
want to introduce one of the other performers, Jamie Van Eyck, mezzo-soprano,
who has performed all over the United
States, as well as internationally.  She studied at Boston’s own New England Conservatory, and is
very happy to be back in town for her work with Boston Lyric Opera.
John :
It's been great to meet you, and to work with you in 'Emperor' where you play the
Drummer, and we have some great interactions. But you also play the principal
role in The After-Image, a piece commissioned by BLO from composer Richard
Beaudoin, who lives here in Boston.
Can you tell us a bit about the piece?
Jamie :
The After-Image was written in 2010, specifically as a companion piece to The
Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits
.  It is a 20 minute
work in three scenes.  I play The
Daughter, and I begin the show by sharing with the audience a very special
photograph of my father, who has passed away. 
The composer, Richard Beaudoin, was inspired by the fact that in spite
of the chaos and terror of war and, of course, Ullmann’s death, his
compositions were able to survive due to their ability to be preserved in fixed
form, on paper.  Similarly, when a person
is gone, we can preserve their memory on paper in the form of a photograph, and
this can actually sustain their presence in the world a very real and powerful
way.  The role of The Photograph of The
Father is played Kevin Burdette.  As I
become more and more focused on his photograph, I become aware of my father’s
presence and can almost hear his voice. 
Beaudoin set text based on poetry and letters written by Rainer Maria
Rilke, Friedrich Rückert, and William Henry Fox Talbot, and wove it all
together in the form of sung and spoken lines for The Daughter and The
Photograph of the Father.  The Daughter
describes fleeting images of people and places and the importance of capturing
them on paper (photograph paper) so that they can be held, unchangeable, in our
hands and hearts.  The text sung by The
Photograph of the Father expresses ethereal thoughts on life and death.  The effect is quite striking, as the Daughter
conjures up the memory of her father through his image, and they are able to
sense one another in a way that seems very real to them both.  The piano is the instrument that represents
The Father, and as The Daughter, my companion instrument is the clarinet.  Beaudoin chose his instrumentation based on
those available to him in the Ullmann opera, and then ultimately chose to write
for an even smaller quartet of instruments, including clarinet, piano, violin,
and cello.  He intentionally wrote for
the same small ensemble used by Olivier Messiaen in his Quartet for the End of
Time, which was written while Messier was being held by the German army as a
prisoner of war in World War II.  The
parallels between The Emperor of Atlantis and The After-Image are many, though
the two works couldn’t be more different, visually and sonically. 
John :
What is it like to create a work for the first time?
Jamie :
Creating a work for the first time is a really exciting opportunity for a
singer, but it comes with some special challenges.  There is an incredible freedom that comes
when studying a work that has never been performed before.  There are fewer rules about the way it
“should be done” because there is no history of performance upon which to judge
it.  The character is all mine to create,
and as long as I stay within the boundaries of what the composer has written,
none of my choices are “wrong.”  As
wonderful as this is, a brand new piece can be more difficult to learn and
digest than a piece which others have studied, written about, performed and
recorded.  None of these valuable
learning tools are available to me.  Nor
is there an opportunity to study the work with a vocal coach or teacher who is
familiar with it and can share their experiences and offer artistic guidance.
In
the actual performance of the piece, I have an even greater responsibility to
the audience than I might in a piece that’s more frequently performed.  As singers, Kevin and I need to present the
text and our intentions with as much clarity and strength as possible, so that
the audience can fully grasp the work on first listen, as they’ll have no prior
experience with it.  Of course this is
also a great responsibility for our stage director, David Schweizer, and he has
very creatively designed The After-Image so that it can impact the audience in
a significant way, and then immediately flow into The Emperor of Atlantis.  The most exciting part is that we get to
perform for an audience who has no pre-conceived idea of the work.  They come in with very open minds and a great
deal of curiosity, because they have no idea what they’re about to see or
hear.  This is a unique opportunity to
provide them with a completely new experience.
John :
What is singing new music or contemporary music like? Do you approach it
differently from singing Verdi or Puccini or one of the other traditional
"Greats"?
Jamie :
Contemporary music can be a challenge to learn, depending on the writing style
of the composer.  With certain new works,
it’s taken me the better part of a day just to work through a few pages of the
score.  It can be a long process just to
master the pitches and rhythms; however The After-Image isn’t written with this
kind of complexity in the vocal line. 
Beaudoin’s piece is tonal, and the vocal lines rise and fall in a very
musical way, but in a way that is different from the Romantic Era, Italian
composers that you mentioned.  As a
singer, you have to try to get into the musical world of each composer and
understand his or her musical language. 
Unless the piece calls for unusual vocal techniques, I approach the
singing in the same way I would approach a work from the standard
repertoire.  My goal is always to sing
natural, musical lines, because that expresses the most to the audience.
Kevin Burdette and Jamie Van Eyck in a technical rehearsal for The After-Image. Photo by Julius Ahn.
Read John's backstage posts or see the show for yourself!

Topics: Opera Annex, Backstage at BLO, The Emperor of Atlantis

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