Talking with singers: Brenda Rae
American soprano Brenda Rae is used to spending her time high above the staff; currently, she's pairing high singing with the heights of Santa Fe, as she takes on the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor at The Santa Fe Opera.
We first heard Rae as Lulu at English National Opera in 2016, so it was a treat to chat with her about Mad Scenes, women who aren't weak, and one-of-a-kind performance spaces.
What do you find are some common misconceptions about the character of Lucia di Lammermoor?
Honestly, I don't know of any common misconceptions about the character of Lucia! I can imagine that people might view Lucia as a weak character, but I think that's a mistake...
It takes some strength and bravery to continue her relationship with a man who's in the "wrong" political party, and the only reason she's convinced to marry Arturo is because her brother tricks her (as well as Raimondo pressuring her by bringing up her dead family, especially her mother). Lucia is certainly a victim, but she's not weak in my opinion.
Do you have a method to performing a great Mad Scene?
For me, the key to a great Mad Scene is freedom. It's good to have parameters, but when there's freedom, I can do something unexpected which I think keeps the scene really fresh, and lends to the "mad" quality of it! Musically, dynamics are key, and really help to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. I performed the Lucia mad scene in a master class once, and the teacher (Regina Resnik) told me not to be afraid of silence, to really take time on fermatas, and I've also tried to take that to heart!
What do you find is special about the Santa Fe Opera environment?
Where to begin? It starts way before rehearsals even commence. There's such a labor of love here that you can just feel in the productions. People care so much about what they're doing here, and it really does translate to what people see onstage.
Also, there's simply no other theater like it. The beauty of the theater and its surroundings are really breathtaking, plus sometimes you get some extra drama with the weather, since it's an outdoor theater (although there is a roof, thank goodness)! I was surprised by how good the acoustics are in the theater, since there are no walls for the sound to bounce off of.
Between rehearsals and performances, how do you spend your free time in Santa Fe?
Now that I have a child, it's a bit different! We go to the children's museum, the pool, parks, the library... But when I actually get some free time, I love to go hiking. There are so many different trails to explore, and the landscape changes pretty drastically, depending on which direction you go. The desert terrain disappears as you go up the mountain towards the Santa Fe Ski Basin, and one of my favorite trails leads you through an aspen forest. It's a great way to unwind and re-energize!
Of course I also love going out to the many great restaurants in the area, and spending time with my colleagues, some of which are longtime friends. I know I'm working here, but it's such a beautiful place to work that it sometimes feels like vacation!
Brenda Rae sings the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor, onstage at The Santa Fe Opera until August 24. For details and ticket info, click here.