Interview with Mezzo Soprano, Rachel Kelly

Rachel Kelly 5 Credit Gerard Collett. Credit: Gerard Collett.
Credit: Gerard Collett.

What’s your role in Mozart’s Idomeneo? Can you tell us a bit about the role?

I’m singing the role of Idamante, the son of the King of Crete and heir to the throne. Originally written for a Soprano Castrato, nowadays it is often performed by mezzos as a trouser role. Narratively Idamante’s journey is structured very much like an operatic Bildungsroman in which a young prince moves from naive entitlement to heroic conquest and finally to altruistic sacrifice for the good of his people – and is ultimately reward by the gods for his new found wisdom.

Are there certain character traits that you’ll pick out in your performance?

Following the structure of the traditional coming of age narrative, in the early parts of the performance I try to evoke the elements of selfishness that are inherent in youth and privilege.

As the opera progresses, Idamante strives to gain the approval and love of both his father, who is rejecting him after returning from war, and his love interest Ilia, the captured daughter of their Trojan enemy. At this point there is a desperation to his desires that guides my interpretation of the music, and also a rage at being rejected that is directed towards the serpent sent by Neptune to punish the city for Idomeneo’s cowardice.

Lastly, as he realises that true heroism requires great sacrifice over and above merely great deeds there is a wisdom in his final contribution to the drama that I hope to convey in my singing.

Do you have a favourite line from the libretto?

“Oh mille volte, e mille fortunato Idamante, se chi vita ti die vita ti toglie e togliendola a te la rende al cielo, e dal cielo la sua in cambio impetra, ed impetra costante a’ suoi la pace, e de’ Numi l’amor sacro e verace”

Which is a bit of a mouthful admittedly – but the gist of this according to Nico Castell:

“Oh, thousand fold fortunate Idamante if he who gave you life also takes it from you, and taking it from you returns it to heaven… and begs for an enduring peace for his people, then sacred and true is the love of the gods.”

What’s the process you go through to learn a new role?

This process is really threefold from me.

First, I work to translate and understand the role as fully and intellectually as I can. This involves historical and socio-cultural research too, as so often the true meaning is entangled with the context of its origins.

Secondly, I treat the text as though it were a play, in order to ensure that I can speak through it both fluently in a technical sense, and also with meaning, intent and the appropriate emotional resonance.

Thirdly, and finally, I begin to sing through the role in full with the advice and assistance of mentors, repetiteurs and my singing teacher in preparation for working with the Conductor and Director of that particular opera.

Have you ever performed with the CBSO before?

Actually, I just recently made my debut with the CBSO on May 10th with John Wilson conducting the Tudor Portraits by Vaughn Williams – live broadcast on the BBC – which was an invigorating experience and a real privilege as they are rarely performed at all, never mind with such a talented group. 

What’s the most challenging aspect of learning a new opera?

The most demanding aspect of a new opera in general, and also its most exciting element, is that each piece brings something unexpected, innovative or edifying to my life, both personally and professionally – as not only are you often working on new roles from project to project, you are also usually collaborating with a whole new variety of performers in a new location and confronting all the opportunities and challenges thereof. 

How different is it to perform Idomeneo in a concert setting, rather than a full production?

Fortunately I’ve recently performed Idamante in both concert and dramatic production. In a concert there is great purity that can be conveyed in the music as the collaboration with the conductor and orchestra are the focal point of the performance. Which is emancipating from a lyrical perspective, especially for an opera singer. However, in full performance, the textual and dramatic elements can serve to elevate the emotional impact of the material when carefully orchestrated in conjunction with the undeniably evocative music.

Do you have a favourite opera?

No. Frankly choosing a favourite opera would be like choosing a favourite child. However, like most parents I would have to admit to having an undeniable soft spot for one in particular, Pelleas et Melisande, for its beautiful impressionist colour-world.

What do you sing in the shower?

I’m a sucker for show tunes to be honest, so anything from Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin, Bernstein, Cole Porter and others. Though I will admit to occasionally feeling the irresistible urge to sing a Disney tune!

You’re stuck on a desert island, what could you not live without?

My husband! Aside from the practicalities of having him around to greatly boost my chances of survival, I know for a fact that he looks good in a coconut bra.

Which Greek god would you most like to hang out with?

Definitely Dionysus because he knows how to have a good time!