In this series, Artist Interviews, we hear what our artists have to say about the project they're currently part of...
Karin Weston, who sings Oberto, talks about her background in early music and what the deal is with Oberto :
How familiar were you with this opera before this project? What is the most interesting discovery you've made?
I was familiar enough with Alcina to know that the music was beautiful, the characters had real depth, and that the setting of an enchanted island was very exciting, but I was not familiar enough with the opera to be able to explain its plot. I think I can finally now explain the plot to someone who knew nothing about baroque opera, but it has certainly taken me a while. These baroque opera plots just have so much going on!
One of the surprising things that I found in my research was that Handel's librettos were not original, and were instead based on librettos of operas by Italian composers. He picked up many of these librettos on visits to Italy, and the libretto for Alcina actually came from the libretto for Riccardo Broschi's L'Isola Di Alcina, which was performed in 1728 in Rome.
We know the role of Oberto was not in the original poem/plot upon which this opera was based. In your opinion (or based on your research), why do you think Handel added the character of Oberto to this opera?
Oberto was originally played by a boy soprano, and I think the cuteness-factor of having a singing boy on stage was probably the main reason that the character was included. Think of all the child singers who have fascinated us in more modern times: Shirley Temple, Charlotte Church, Justin Bieber (when he was younger), and the endless stream of kids on America's Got Talent. We are fascinated by children who can sing, and I'm sure the London public was as well (Alcina debuted in London in 1735).
In our production, and in almost all modern productions, the role of Oberto is played by a woman, but that doesn't mean that the character loses his purpose. I think the other reason Handel included the Oberto character was to provide a contrast to the other characters and their motivations. Oberto provides relief from the scheming and love triangles of the other characters because he is pure, free from selfish motivations. His driving concern in this opera is not for himself but instead for his father's well-being. Each time he comes on stage, his character's purity and earnestness are a welcome refreshment.
What do you imagine is in store for Oberto after the opera wraps up?
By the end of the opera Oberto is now a man and he is reunited with his father. Everything seems to be working out for him: his life is on an upward trajectory. It seems like things will only get better for him from here, I see him using the bravery he demonstrated in fighting Alcina to be a great warrior and leader.
You have quite an extensive background in early music, correct?
I do come at this opera more from the early music perspective rather than the opera perspective: my master's is in Historical Performance Practice from Case Western Reserve University. I have more experience in chamber music and choral singing than in opera. On this project, it has been a treat to get to work with and learn from my colleagues who have so much more operatic and theatrical experience than I do.
What have been some of your favorite pieces of music and/or experiences?
One of the most rewarding performance experiences I've had so far occurred last fall at Case, where I had the opportunity to do a workshop with Jed Wentz on baroque gesture. I learned about posture, about how to hold my arms in a baroque fashion, about specific gestures that are idiomatic of the movement of the time period. At the end of the workshop, I got to perform Purcell's song "If love's a sweet passion," with gestures. It was amazing to experience how well the grace of baroque gesture compliments baroque music. However, it was a surprising amount of work for only a two-minute piece at the end of the workshop. The gestures look so natural and easy when you watch someone else do them, but it takes a lot of work to make them precise and natural. Though I love doing baroque gesture when I get the chance, it is so much work that I'm thankful it isn't required in most of the singing that I do.
As far as favorite pieces, I am definitely partial to Handel's operas, and in particular Alcina and Giulio Cesare. The characters and the music are just so good! I'm so excited to get to be a part of this production of Alcina.
Come see Karin in the role of Oberto on March 6th!
Event details and tickets are available here.