Madeline, a recent graduate of Harvard University, joins the Red cast of Justice or Mercy (an immersive modern adaptation of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito) as Sarah (Sesto). We caught up with them to chat about their take on this conflicted character.
POP: Where are you from? How did you first get interested in opera or musical theatre?
Maddie: I'm originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, but my family moved to Maryland when I was a kid, which is where started voice lessons during high school. I continued to study voice privately at Harvard, and I was extremely lucky to be part of several operas as an undergraduate there, both through Harvard College Opera and Lowell House Opera. I'd seen professional operas before, but actually being part of these operas was what introduced me to the idea that opera wasn't some sacred thing. It could be hilarious, devastating, or tragic; its characters were just as full of life and laughter as the people who would portray them. But mostly I realized it was something I could actually do, which I could mold and make my own, and that was what pulled me in.
POP: What are your dream roles?
Maddie: Sesto from Giulio Cesare and Nicklausse from Les Contes d'Hoffman. And Octavian from Rosenkavalier.
POP: What's a role you would never sing that you would like to sing?
Maddie: Don Giovanni!
POP: How should we as interpretive artists deal with works that are highly politicized and potentially sexist?
Maddie: As performers we walk a difficult line - on the one hand we want to be faithful to the intentions of the composer and librettist. But on the other hand, it's important not to perpetuate sexism or racism through our performance. In my opinion, if we do our job as interpreters, we can explore not only the ways in which the work reflects its time, but also the ways that our interpretation inevitably reflects the problems and biases of our own time.
POP: What do you think is the best way to make opera relevant to the next generation?
Maddie: I think we need to find ways to teach kids about the stories that opera tells that no one else can tell. Above all, I think it's crucial that we tell people know why we love and make opera, even when we have to work outside of established structures to do it.
POP: Who is your character and how do you see them?
Maddie: Sarah (Sesto) is someone who can be very loyal, but who can be manipulated into doing things that she knows are wrong. From the beginning of the opera it's clear that she's been resisting Victoria's (Vitellia) demands for a long time, but she's ultimately willing to do anything to keep Victoria from leaving her. So throughout the opera she struggles with an enormous amount of guilt for betraying her friend, which makes her a character it's easy to relate to. She does the wrong thing, but it's out of desperation, not cruelty.
POP: What do you love about this interpretation of Tito? What’s challenging?
Maddie: I'm so excited to be part of the retelling of a classic story in a modern context, and I hope that it will engage a wider audience than typically attends traditional opera performances. In terms of challenges, I think that moving smoothly between spoken and sung sections might be difficult for me. I don't have a lot of experience with straight acting, so I'm excited for this opportunity to work on those skills.
POP:What’s your favorite moment in the opera?
Maddie: My favorite moment comes when Sarah is on her way to assassinate the president. She's struggling with the act she's about to commit, and her grief and desperation are tangible.
POP:What do you think will be special about doing this as a promenade adaptation?
Maddie:I'm looking forward to sharing this with the audience in such an intimate way. I think that placing the audience at the physical center of the space will allow them to see the action from the perspective of a performer, which is an unusual occurrence as an audience member. I hope it'll allow us to connect with the audience in a way that doesn't normally occur when the stage acts as a barrier.
POP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Maddie: I'm so excited to be playing this role for the first time and honored to work with the talented and passionate folks at the Promenade Opera Project!
POP: Most importantly... which will you vote for: Justice or Mercy?
Maddie: I suppose I'm biased, but even when my head's not the one on the chopping block, I'm a pretty big softie so I'll always choose mercy (except when I'm watching an episode of Dexter...)