Talking Louise with Leslie Ann Bradley

Talking Louise with Leslie Ann Bradley

Jenna Simeonov
Canadian soprano Leslie Ann Bradley is currently in Toronto to sing the title role in Charpentier's Louise, for VOICEBOX: Opera in Concert's upcoming performance on March 29th. Leslie Ann had some great things to say about the opera, singing the role of Louise, and what kind of story it tells about women at the turn of the 20th century. Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

1. Who is Louise?

Louise is the daughter of a working class couple in Paris. She lives in a tenement building with two overly protective parents, a father who adores her but treats her like a precious baby doll and a mother who hits her and shames her. Louise is in love with Julien, a penniless artist and who comes to visit her at her balcony. Julien has written Louise’s parents asking for her hand in marriage but they ignore the young couple on the grounds that Louise is their property and Julien is a worthless Bohemian with nothing to offer. Louise, however, is a young woman on the verge of discovering her own power. She has desires and wishes about love and life, she wants to open her heart to the young man she loves and discover a city that calls to her with its energy and its lights. She is not necessarily rebellious, but hungry to discover a life outside of the dress shop in which she spends all her daytime hours and the oppressive environment at home where she is completely controlled by her parents. The point of the drama is the clashes in the heart of Louise between the sentiments of duty and love for her family and her longing for liberty, pleasure, love and adventure. Louise sings, “ I will no longer be the daughter with the timid, fearful heart, but the wife with the heart of flame.” She is brave and passionate.

2. What does the opera say about women in Paris in the early 20th century?

The opera demonstrates that by today’s standards it would be almost impossible for a modern woman to not suffocate under the social limits of a working class girl in Paris in the 1900’s. You were obligated to be a pawn in your family’s welfare or else suffer being cast out and cut off from your loved ones.

3. How does it feel to sing this role, compared to all the Mozart in your repertoire?

It’s a whole different vehicle. The writing is beautiful and lyrical, but the challenges are that it is very dramatic and the orchestra is HUGE. I sang the famous aria “Depuis le jour” at Opéra de Québec’s annual gala this past December and standing on the stage with a massive orchestra I realized just how thick the orchestration is. It’s a French horn party to which the soprano just happened to be invited. It was an exhilarating experience, but also a reality check. Louise may be a young girl, but vocally you need to think TOSCA!!

4. Why do you think Louise is so rarely performed in North America?

I think it’s a logistical issue mostly. French opera in general is very expensive to produce. Louise has only four main characters, but almost 50 secondary characters, plus a massive orchestra. That’s mega bucks and mega production management. However, I believe what makes the opera so special is that it is such a personal creation by Charpentier. It is his only opera, he wrote the libretto as well as the music, and he based the story on his own personal life. Grace Moore, a famous interpreter of the role of Louise, used to work with Charpentier in his apartment in Paris before her role debut at the Opéra Comique in 1929. In her autobiography, she noted that Charpentier explained to her that he himself was Julien and that he and Louise “had had much happiness, sorrow and visions together. That he had been fortunate indeed to give back in music some of the priceless beauty Louise had given him.”

Lastly, on my own personal note, the title role of this opera is an amazing vehicle for the soprano. It has attracted many divas over the years, most notably the force of nature Mary Garden, who replaced an ailing leading lady at intermission on the 9th performance when it opened in 1900. Grace Moore in turn studied the role intensively with Mary Garden and made the role one of her signature pieces. I think what makes Louise an exciting role to play today is that there is still so much undocumented in terms of recordings, DVD’s etc., and so one is obliged to take one’s interpretation directly from the score. And because Charpentier was so invested in this title character, he has created beautiful arch in her character dramatically, sweeping lines as she discovers passion and unrelenting dramatic leaps and colors and Louise learns to stand up for her self and claim life on her own terms. It is a very exciting role and I am so pleased to be singing her for the first time.

You can also follow Leslie Ann Bradley on Twitter, @LeslieABradley.

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