Featured Artist: Laura McHugh (Soprano)


Laura will play Victoria (Vitellia) in the blue cast Promenade Opera Project’s production of Justice or Mercy (an immersive modern adaptation of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito). We sat down with her to see how she is approaching playing this power house role.

POP: Where are you from? How did you first get interested in opera or musical theatre?

Laura: I’m from Quincy, MA- very local. I started dancing at age 3 (tap, jazz, and ballet), and my love for that that led pretty easily to musical theatre and lots of singing with local groups. I had a wonderful teacher in undergrad who nudged me toward opera.

POP:  What are your dream roles?

Laura: I’d love to play the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro and Mimì in La Bohème.

POP: What’s a role you would never sing that you would like to sing?

Laura: Leporello, hands down (Don Giovanni). He has great music, gets to be comic relief, and when role’s done well he takes the opera and runs away with it.

POP: How should we as interpretive artists deal with works that are highly politicized and potentially sexist?

Laura: Vitellia/Victoria is not a nice person. She is manipulative. This aspect of her character is woven through the music and cannot be changed. I didn’t feel that either watering her down to make her more sympathetic or reducing her to a “bitchy female” stereotype were options. Instead, I thought about what choices and experiences led her to the point she’s at now, which hopefully (if I do my job right) makes her multi-dimensional.

In the real world, we very clearly see that not everyone is good, and not everyone is bad. That should be reflected in our art form.

POP: What do you think is the best way to make opera relevant to the next generation?

Laura: I think the way we speak to audiences needs to change. Particularly for an art form like opera, people need to understand that it’s within their grasp and has relevancy. The way people consume and interact with the arts will continue to change and we need to roll with that. I don’t think anything will replace live performance. Though arts patrons look different than they did 50, 20, even 10 years ago, we’re all still clamoring for beauty, truth, and the genuine experiences the arts can give.

POP: Who is your character and how do you see them?

Laura: I’m playing Victoria (Vitellia in the original libretto). She is a woman who knows what she wants, willing to use whatever resources she has at her disposal to serve her ends, yet she’s unwilling to get her own hands dirty. She’s an interesting woman, because she doesn’t quite have a truly redemptive moment in the opera. Despite eventually deciding to make amends for her own wrongdoing, she can’t help but ask several times “what will they say about me?” To me, fact that she’s not a clear-cut good guy or bad guy makes her more real.

POP: What do you love about this interpretation of Tito? What’s challenging?

Laura: I like the fact that the traditional pants roles in this opera (roles written for and sung by women, but whose character’s gender is male) are female characters in our adaptation. As a soprano, I often will be paired with a pants role mezzo as a couple, and there is sort of an unspoken sexuality to these pairings (google ‘mezzosexuality’ if you don’t know what I mean). Having both characters be female brings that to the surface.

For me, some of the changes that have been made to modernize and adapt this production are challenging! The recitatives are so rich in advancing the story that it’s hard to lose most of them, and the name changes are tricky when the characters’ names are written into the music. Also, the aria that establishes Vitellia’s/Victoria’s character and Sesto/Sarah’s pull to her is cut, so it certainly gives me more work to do in terms of communicating what this central relationship of the opera is like to the audience.

POP: What’s your favorite moment in the opera?

Laura: Hard to choose. Vitellia’s/Victoria’s recitative “Ecco il punto…” where she makes a major decision about her fate and clearly showcases her humanity for the 1st time, is beautifully set and the text is to die for. It’s so juicy for the singer 

“Vengo… Aspettate!” is a total delight for my character both dramatically and musically. She realizes that an act of vengeance carried out on her orders is totally unnecessary, but is too late to stop it. Her resulting panic is so clearly reflected in the music.

POP: What do you think will be special about doing this as a promenade adaptation?

Laura: Eliminating the 4th wall is both terribly scary for me as a performer and very exciting for the audience! A raised stage feels safe and familiar for the performer, but having the audience so close in a promenade production creates a unique kind of intimacy between the performer and guests.

POP: Anything else you’d like to add? 

Laura: My grandfather Joe McHugh played female roles in the Gilbert and Sullivan productions at his school St. Eunan’s in Ireland, so I can’t help but feel with this production we’re bringing it full circle, in a way 

POP:Most importantly… which will you vote for: Justice or Mercy?

Laura:Agreeing with Mozart and the original libretto, I say Mercy