Dion Mazerolle: the quick study
Baritone Dion Mazerolle is getting ready to sing the title role in Antonio Salieri's Falstaff, presented by Voicebox: Opera in Concert on Sunday, February 7th at 2:30pm at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. Mazerolle's Falstaff has been a lesson in quick study, having had less than a month to learn the notoriously verbose role; it's a position in which many opera singers find themselves, and it's no small feat to learn and find comfort in a leading role when the countdown is on.
Despite his busy month, Mazerolle found time to tell us about what it takes to speed-learn an opera, and what audiences can expect from this lesser-known telling of the tale of Sir John Falstaff by Salieri.
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What did you take into consideration before taking this "quick study" gig?
I think the first thing to take into consideration for a "quick study" gig is to make sure that your standards as a performer can be met. By this I mean, "Is it a role for me? Am I singing out of my comfort zone? Will I be able to learn this so I look comfortable, singing in front of an audience without losing my cool?" And most important of all, "Will I be able to perform this role for the audience that has no idea that I have had the music for only a short period of time?"
Opera lovers go to the opera to hear a story and to feel for the character that is having this larger than life moment on stage, not to see someone struggling with unfamiliar music!
What changes with your learning process when time is of the essence?
When I learn a new opera role, I usually read the literature that the opera based on. I like to do some research on the composer, when and why the opera was written. I love to listen to as many different singers singing the role to see the performance traditions if any. I like to take time to have the character and music sink in.
For a quick study, you pretty much have to fast track everything so that you can be in control of the music and trust your instincts as a performer to bring that character to life in a short period of time. Normally, we have months to prepare a role. I am bringing this character to life within just one month.
Salieri’s Falstaff is not a very well-known work but I was enough lucky to get my hands on a recording fairly quickly and listen to it as much as possible (while travelling to and from another gig) so the music has a chance to get in my ear.
The biggest challenge for this work is to get the massive amount of Italian recitative flowing, so it sounds like speech. As we all know, recitative can be quite a challenge but its function is to drive the story line forward. For this role it was very important to get the words flowing, so I spoke the text until it rolled off the tongue with ease.
How common is a "quick study", and how can young singers develop the skills to succeed?
This kind of thing can happen from time to time, singers sometimes must cancel due to illness, family crisis, that kind of thing. This leaves the presenter scrambling to quickly replace the singer as soon as possible. One's reputation for being a quick study can help a lot. If artistic directors know that you are reliable and work well under stress, this will likely lead to you being contacted.
When you help a company like this, it is a wonderful way to strengthen the relationship with a engager for future possible contracts and if ever they are called by other companies they can speak about you in a positive way. As a singer, we know that the best compliment that we can get from a company is to be rehired.
What can we expect from Salieri's Falstaff?
Salieri's Falstaff is lesser know version of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor which has been also been put to music by Verdi, Nicolai and Vaughan Williams.
This story follows over-sized Sir John Falstaff, trying to seduce two married women, Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Slender, for their money. The two ladies, with the help of their husbands and maid Betty, teach Falstaff a few lessons. He gets put in a basket and thrown into the Thames, and gets beaten while trying to sneak out of Mrs. Ford's home dressed as a woman.
It’s a really fun opera, and I'm delighted to have the opportunity to sing with such a great cast, and to work with Larry Beckwith, leading Aradia Ensemble.
Undeniable allure from a Knight of a certain girth and panache few comedic figures could rival. Salieri places himself centre stage among his peers, even Mozart.