The American singing school gave to the Opera world a lot of great stars and divas. Jennifer Rowley is one of the brightest stars of the last generation. She made her professional début in Cleveland Opera’s Die Zauberflöte, and she worked with the Scuola dell’Opera Italiana at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna where she made her main stage début as Magda in La rondine. She has sung in the most important theaters in the world, like the London Royal Opera House and The Metropolitan Opera. She made her Met début in 2014 as Musetta in “La Bohème”. In 2017 she sang Roxane in “Cyrano de Bergerac” alongside to Roberto Alagna. In these weeks, after a triumphal performance as Tosca, she is singing Leonora in “Il Trovatore” and we had the possibility to interview her about her career and her future projects…
In these days you are playing the role of Leonora in “Il Trovatore”…what do you think about this character, that is one of your signature roles?
I see Leonora like Shakespeare’s Juliette. I see her as a very young but also very determined character, someone with a lot of personality and passion. Unfortunately she is involved in this tragedy, because she loves a man (like Juliette) on the wrong side. She is young, impulsive and passionate, so she would give everything for him, even her life. I think that in the course of opera, she is the only character that changes. In the first act we can imagine a young girl on the balcony, in the night, where she is thinking about her love, while at the end of the opera she is a woman that dies for the men she loves. I really love her!
Leonora as other heroines commites suicide for love….what are the aspects of your own personality that you can find in these characters?
I think that all people that are involved in the performing arts are vulnerable all the time because we are in front of the public. We are involved in higly emotional situations and we are emotional and passionate people. Also in normal life we are often very passionate. We try to give all of this emotion to the audience. I’m Jennifer and I’m a very passionate person, I love my husband with all my heart and If I had to donate a kidney to save him, I would do it! An intense love can do this… I believe in it, one hundred percent.
Reading your repertoire, we can notice a special connection between you and Puccini…one of your first roles for example was Magda in “La Rondine”…
I love Puccini! As with Verdi, they are the composers of my heart! Puccini especially, because the orchestra in every Puccini opera is a character. You can really get all the information and emotions from the orchestra, and from what the orchestra is telling you. Puccini is a master of writing for the voice…He’s incredible. He is also a master of creating emotion, and puts the emotion in the orchestra as a character. The orchestra gives us what happens inside of the character, in his or her heart. Every time I study a Puccini score, I find something new about the character, even Tosca, which is a role that I’ve done a lot. Every time I understand something different to create within my interpretation, from the orchestra.
Which Puccini’s woman you’d love to sing in the future ?
Manon Lescaut and Madama Butterfly … definitely a dream! I hope to have the possibility to sing Magda again ….She is an incredible character….complex and intense.
But in “La Bohème” you have sang a lot of times Musetta….that it’s not easy as it is often said…
Musetta is incredible. She is complex, and if you read Murger’s novel Musetta is the most interesting character. My favourite scene in the book is when Marcello brought her some flowers and she tells him that she will stay in his house until those flowers die. And he wakes up in the middle of the night and catches her watering the flowers! Musetta has this crazy love for Marcello. They don’t have the same lifestyle, but their love never goes away. She is a cool character and I enjoy her very much. She is also really funny!
You said that Verdi is the other composer of your heart….what do you think about the specific skill of Verdi voice?
Verdi’s operas are so special…and so specific. You need to have the right voice to sing Verdi. What he does for all the voices (tenor, soprano…) is incredible. He writes in a way that is optimal for the voice, and also for the drama and for the orchestra. I have always dreamed to sing roles like Elvira in “Ernani”, Luisa Miller….incredibly written. Verdi’s women are so strong…these roles are perfect!
We can say that Tosca is a verismo opera….and you sang also Carmela in “Mese Mariano” by Umberto Giordano…
I love it! Mese Mariano is astonishing. I have a strong acting background, because when I was young I did a lot of musical theatre and I learned acting technique and hou develop a character. Verismo operas really need to do that. Verismo composers wanted to know the backgrounds of these characters and what makes them real, especially in operas like “Mese Mariano”: Carmela’s story is heartbreaking, absolutely! The music is also amazing. The opera lasts only 35 minutes, but what happens to Carmela is terrible and is not to wish anyone. When I studied Mese Mariano, I tried to take everything I had learned from other roles, to bring her life. I think that Verismo is about giving life to characters.
Tosca is the same, the places where the story is set give you a lot of informations about her. Thanks to Sardou’s drama you can know where she came from, how she was raised and what cultural background she has. All these things inform you about what she does, especially in act two, when she puts the candles and the cross next to Scarpia’s dead body. She has to do that, because she was raised in a monastery, she would be a devout catholic, she wouldn’t be able to leave that room without doing it. I think that Verismo composers want to develop these characters, and use the music to tell incredible stories. Pagliacci is an incredibile story, Manon Lescaut also, unbelievable, and also for Manon, the book inform you about all the aspects of the character. I’m passionate and I’m in love with these roles: it’s amazing what composers did with these characters!
How do you felt in love with opera?
I fell in love with opera when I was 20. I was going undergraduate University for voice, and I never actually seen an opera before. I simply come down to Teatro Colon, in Argentina, to study at the Institute of the theatre (a sort of Accademy inside the theatre). They invited me to come down for the summer and to study and learn with their teacher, with other students. I had an american host, who on my second night in Argentina, took me to see “La Traviata”. It was in a Boxing Arena, a huge arena, that they turned into theatre and on the side of the stage there are huge televisions, where they projected the opera. This was my first experience with italian opera, and I was completely blown away. I left the theatre and I said to my host: “I have to do that!”. Next day I went to the library of the theatre and I took the score of Traviata. One performance can change your life! It’s amazing!
Now you are a Met Star…what are the emotions to sing in this temple of music?
It’s unbelievable! It’s an incredible honour! You look at the back of your costume and inside there are little tags where there are the names of who wear that costume before you, and It’s unbelievable…last season I sang Roxane in “Cyrano de Bergerac” with Roberto Alagna and the costumes of Sondra Radvanovsky. Sondra to me is the Queen of Belcanto Music, She is just phenomenal! And wear her costumes is amazing! Every moment I stand on the stage and I look out to the house, I can believe that I’m here! This is my dream come true! Every day is just amazing. I feel very lucky to be a little part of this big history.
You teached in several masterclasses….What do you think about the American singing school?
American conservatory system is incredible. You learn so much informations in the four years of school and in the two years of graduate. You learn to speak same languages, to vocal technique and also acting. I remember for exemple, that in my college we did phisical acting, speaking acting, doing Shakespeare’s monologues and scenes. The wide range of the things you learn in american education institutions is incredible. The amount of singers that come out from the conservatory system in America is phenomenal…Everyone is talented! They teach everything you need. When I studied in the undergratuated they teach me how to study a character, how to make acting choices….things that I use every single day. It’s incredible.
How is Jennifer “teacher”?
I love giving masterclasses, they are really one of the highlights of what I get to do in my career. I understand the science of the voice very well, and I understand the signals of the body and what is necessary to do in order to relax the muscles, to have a free and supported sound. A lot of young singers sing too much with their minds and their fears, and not enough with science! I try very much to get them out of their heads, and get them into the muscles and the body. I have fun because I have to show where these muscles are. I like to show them how I use these muscles. I want to show what in their own bodies they are moving and using. It’s very important. Also in the other side when I teach in masterclasses about acting and characterization, I like to bring other people to what they can see on the scene. I ask them what a character is doing in a scene, and what is happening in that specific moment of the opera, who is the character and what is trying to get. I bring people up on the stage to act with them. So they feel what are the emotions to sing an aria for someone else. Opera is not just singing: It’s the words, the texts, the characterization, the back story, the orchestra and for example what instrument is with you in a specific moment, and why. We know that many composers wrote for an instrument for a very specific reason: Verdi wrote for english horn in all his tragedies. It’s important for singers to know it. I adore teaching in masterclasses!
Next engaments include also Italy….you studied in Bologna at the Scuola dell’Opera Italiana….what are the emotions to return in Opera’s birthplace?
At the end of the summer (september) I will sing Leonora in “Il Trovatore” in Florence, with Maestro Luisi, that I absolutely adore. It’s very exciting! And my Conte di Luna will be Massimo Cavalletti, who was my Marcello when I made my Met debut. So It twill be a fun reunion…he is very sweet. The emotion in very strong: I studied my italian very hard because I thinks It’s very important to pay respect to the language, and so the first emotion, that I always fear is that I want that my italian to be perfect. I have a wonderful coach from Bari, Sara Gamarro with whom we do skype coaching for everything I sing in italian. Other emotion is that Italy is the birthplace of Opera! All these things that I’m singing come from Italy! It’s spectacular to be in the streets where composers walked, ate…..It’s unbelievable! I went to Florence one time when I was in Bologna, for a weekend trip, to see a competition with other classmates and we had a beautiful dinner in a Cafè…It was amazing. I’m looking forward to return there…It’s such a beautiful city…and the wine is the best (shelaughs)….
Thank you so much Jennifer and Toi Toi Toi!