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Hey, Renée! Meet Jenny of The Threepenny Opera

Jul 3, 2017 10:37:00 AM
By BLO Staff

We had the pleasure of talking to Renée Tatum who will be playing Jenny in Boston Lyric Opera's upcoming production of Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera. Renée also gave an exclusive performance for the BLO Orfeo Society. Read the interview and watch the video clips below.

Meet Renée Tatum

Would you tell us a little bit about you, your background and training?

I am native Southern Californian (very proud to be so) and did most of my training in NYC at The Juilliard School and The Manhattan School of Music. I am also a graduate of both The Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artists Program and The Adler Fellowship at The San Francisco Opera. Although I spent many years of my young adult life in NYC, I am a Californian in my heart 🙂  I am also a huge advocate of music education and pedagogy.

renee 2.jpg What first attracted you to opera? 

I initially started in musical theatre as a young girl (have performed in over 20 musicals) and also took years of dance training (ballet tap and jazz), which is where many young American girls get their start in performance. I remember hearing Le Nozze di Figaro when I was 10, and my first voice teacher gave me Cherubino's aria "Voi che sapete" to work on, along with many of the 24 Italian Arias and Art Songs. My voice immediately gravitated towards this type of music and felt at home. Also, before I started with the classical repertoire, my voice was always inherently suited to the classical or standard musical theater rep. I could never really belt, and let me tell you, that made me feel that something was wrong with me! Thank goodness my voice guided me to the right vocal repertoire.

Why is opera awesome? 

Opera is the pinnacle of all art forms. It brings truth and seeks the truth. It's also an human outlet for society when they feel like they need an emotional release. It touches people at the most basic level; through the soul.

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Dalila, Renée's dog, looking regal and operatic.

Have you worked in Boston before? What is your favorite thing about Boston? 

I am a recent transplant to the Boston area, and I am loving this "small" big city! I have had the pleasure of working in Boston quite a lot recently, including Salome and Das Rheingold with The Boston Symphony, and Olga in Eugene Onegin with The Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. 

It is a town that is full of such culture, history, and music from Early Music to the modern works composed this year. I am also happy to see the community take such an active interest in keeping the arts alive in a city as vibrant as Boston, a community that recognizes the immense value of music education and humanities. 

On a side note, I have yet to walk the Freedom Trail, or visit The Harbor, but I did attend my first Red Sox game last week; I am now a convert from the Padres!

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What might an audience be surprised to know about you? 

I was adopted by my grandparents at a young age, and grew up with parents decades older than my friend's parents. They encouraged my development and involvement in the arts. One could say it's their fault I am a professional singer today! I have a great affinity for adoption, and hope to get the word out that it's one of the most humbling and rewarding things one could do for a child without a family.

Do you have any unusual hobbies?

I am a big fan of going on hikes with my guy and our dog, Saluki mix named Dalila (named after the opera character) and a rescue from Qatar in the Middle East. Concord, MA has some beautiful nature trails.

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This love is real.

Do you have a favorite TV show or movie?  

I have to confess I am a bit of a reality television addict when I have the time to decompress. I gravitate towards The Real Housewives Franchise. I also love House of Cards!

Preparing for Jenny

Could you tell us the story of The Threepenny Opera as it relates to your character?

Jenny is pulled directly from John Gay's The Beggars Opera (1728), and based on the famous pickpocket Mary Young, using the alias Jenny Diver. This creates somewhat of a moral compass and atmosphere to the piece. You say the word prostitute and every person has a immediate visceral reaction to what that means. But how did that person get there? They are so much more than the that one word; what did they mean to other people? What does Jenny mean to Mack the Knife? Clearly a lot. Most importantly in her Jenny's Lied, she has recurrent fantasies of revenge on men; is she in the position she is in based on men? What does love and monetary value have to do with each other? Are they mutually exclusive? Immorality, mortal sin and forgiveness or redemption.

Have you sung the role of Jenny before?

I have not sung the role of Jenny before, and to be honest, I am incredibly excited for the challenge of what Brecht calls "epic theatre;" breaking down that wall between the audience and performer. As an opera singer, this requires you to be much more of a "singing actor" than simply a technical singer. 

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Dalila helping with some opera score study :)

What are some of the things that are challenging in singing Jenny? What are some things that are fun about singing Jenny?

It seems she has a satirical look at morality in this piece, and she is willing to turn her former lover in for MONEY. That is what it comes down to; love and money. She is hardened in her occupation and yet she has hope and love. I am still figuring out what she is all about; an incredibly complex woman, and can turn on a dime. I am searching for the balance of text, emotional urgency and yet still sing beautifully. I may have to give up some of my idea of what beauty means in regards to the human voice, without sacrificing who I ultimately am.  

How would you describe the music? 

The music is very much "crossover" or "singing actor" music. The text is incredibly important, and one must be willing to sacrifice beauty of tone for immediacy and emotional availability and freedom. Written between WW1 and WW2 in Germany, there are influences of vaudeville, Weimar and cabaret. Many vocal lines are doubled in the orchestra, but there are also very substantial operatic moments as well. A big melting pot of musical theater!  

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Do you have a favorite aria or section of music in The Threepenny Opera?

I love "Mack the Knife" as I remember Raul Julia singing this piece (my grandparents played for me) as well as the faux-baroque overture. What a thrilling start! The audience is in for a very bumpy ride, as well as the orchestra!

What do you think makes The Threepenny Opera compelling and relevant to today’s audiences?

It is a piece that speaks to today's audience as vibrantly as it did in the 1920's (pre WW 2), as it did as John Gay's The Beggars Opera (1728) which Weill's piece is based on. A great piece of music theater always finds it's place, and never goes out of fashion. It also demands audience involvement and the performer's to break down that fourth wall of division.  


Listen to Renée Tatum 

Renee recently performed at a Boston Lyric Opera Orfeo Society Event. Learn more about joining the Orfeo Society here.

A selection from Jenny's Lied from The Threepenny Opera:

A selection from Trouble in Tahiti and Arias & Barcarolles:


Buy tickets to The Threepenny Opera & Learn More about our 2017/18 Season:

 Learn More

Topics: BLO, Interview, 2017/18 Season, #ThreepennyBLO

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