Vancouver Opera is thrilled to welcome back John Cudia, whose recent VO credits include roles in Otello and Evita. VO caught up with the Broadway star ahead of his role debut as Count Danilo Danilovitch in The Merry Widow.
Are there any character traits that you share with Danilo?
Well I think we all have something in common with Danilo. He feels unlucky in love at the very least. At worst, the victim of a romance gone wrong. Heck, we’ve all been there. He seems to me to be taking shelter in his role in Paris; he needs a break for a bit and I know we all understand that too!
It is often said that operetta is light opera music. Does that mean it is easier to sing an operetta role compared to an opera role?
Singing is singing is singing. I think perhaps the thought that the style of music may be described as more “popular” or perhaps “accessible” to a wide swath of the public would mean a different kind of singing but it does not. A difficult role to sing would be a difficult role to sing whether it be opera, operetta or “legit” musical theatre.
Count Danilo is a foil to the widow Hanna and also the subject of much conspiring in this opera. What are your favourite moments of this role?
Anytime that Danilo must confront his jealousy or his love for Hanna are the moments that appeal to me most so far. That is actually the crux of the whole role. How can I contain my love? How can I contain my jealousy? How long can I resist what seems to be the inevitable reunion?
How would you rank the role of Count Danilo Danilovitch amongst the roles in your repertoire?
That would be difficult to say until I have some experience in the role on stage and in front of an audience. I think that because it reads to me as a character that will rely on the interactions with Hanna and the rest of the company. The relationships that we establish and our stage play will tell me a lot about what the role will feel like versus other roles that may be more “solitary”.
Are there any particularly difficult challenges to singing the Count?
The Count can be cast as either a baritone or tenor. As a tenor myself, it is important not to push in the lower range in the role and maintain my individual tenor-y sound. I imagine the reverse would be true for a true baritone in the upper range of the role.
Do you listen to other interpretations of the role when preparing your interpretation?
I always listen to as many versions of the role as I can get my hands on. For this role that includes performances by both baritone and tenor. Also I have listened to a performance of the role that was almost spoken. Listening for me is more important for learning purposes than for interpretation. It is always interesting to hear other different versions of pronunciation and phrasing and try to determine why those choices were made. Ultimately for me those kind of interpretive decisions are made with the conductor and director during the rehearsal process.
Who is your favourite Count Danilo Danilovitch (living or dead)? Are there any previous interpretations that have inspired or informed what you bring to the role?
I don’t have a favourite. Not yet anyway. I did enjoy watching Rodney Gilfry’s interpretation with Opera Zürich on YouTube. I thought his presence was strong and charming. He had a great sense of humour for the role and he and Hanna had great chemistry. I think the key to the Opera is whether or not you enjoy the idea of Hanna and Danilo together and are willing to go on the journey with them to see if they will end up back together. My relationship with Hanna will be the most important thing in my effort to interpret this new role.