By Kelly Maxwell
At first thought, you may not think that the modern-day sitcom has a lot in common with opera. But as mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy points out, there are actually a ton of similarities between the two genres. In Opera Colorado’s fast-approaching production of Verdi’s Falstaff, Eddy plays the cunning Meg Page, one of the Merry Wives of Windsor who’s at the center of the shenanigans. Throughout the course of the show, the characters find themselves in circumstances similar to what we might see in a multi-camera sitcom today: mistaken identities, clever disguises, scheming lovers, and so much more. Today on the blog, Eddy dives into her role in Falstaff, shares the moment she fell in love with opera, and explains how the light-hearted lesson in Verdi’s last opera is one she has taken to heart.
So your character, Meg Page, is at the center of the action. Tell me a little bit about her and what diving into this show has been like for you.
I think she’s great, even though she’s a bit of a gossip and likes to be in charge. She has a really strong relationship with her girlfriends; Cynthia Clayton (Alice Ford) and I describe our characters almost like Lucy and Ethel because we play off of each other and our characters take themselves just a little too seriously. In the show, Falstaff writes two identical letters to the two of us—these married, middle-class women—and of course we think it’s because we’re beautiful and alluring… But Falstaff just wants our money. I read somewhere that Falstaff is the great-great-grandfather to the modern TV sitcom because the show is all situational comedy and a lot of silly shenanigans. I am also so pleased that my first time performing Falstaff is with a cast of people who have done it before. It’s a luxurious way to enter into this world of Shakespeare and Verdi.
This is such a talented and experienced group of artists. What has it been like working with director David Edwards and Opera Colorado Music Director and conductor Ari Pelto? Have you previously worked with either of them?
I’ve worked with Ari before. We did Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. It’s one of my favorite operas and I sang with an extraordinary cast like this one: a talented group of real salt-of-the-earth people. Ari is one of those people; he’s fantastic. The thing I love about Ari is that he knows this piece inside and out—the text, the harmonies, and the story. He knows the music so well and has really high musical expectations, but it’s all in service to telling the story. As singers, we admire him so much. We want to do well because we want to serve the piece that Verdi wrote, but we also want to raise our stakes and rise up to Ari’s expectations.
Speaking of musical challenges and high expectations, I’m thinking about the fugue at the end of the show. Not only is it a complicated musical form, with the entire ensemble singing different imitations of the initial theme, but the subject matter is also challenge. Librettist Boito wrote, echoing some of Shakespeare’s most famous words, “He who laughs last laughs best.” What do you have to say about that message, especially at the end of Verdi’s long and storied career?
Director David Edwards actually just spoke about this very thing. It was so brilliant because he was describing how the fugue, even though the words are Boito’s and Shakespeare’s, is almost like Verdi himself—this 78-year-old composer at the end of his career, in his last opera—is saying to the audience, “Hey, you know what? Life is a joke, and let’s not take ourselves so seriously.” When David was saying that I was like, “This is the meaning of life, right here!” We all make mistakes because we’re all human. Let’s be lighthearted and not take ourselves so seriously. I think it’s great. I have to remember that for my everyday life! It makes you wish Verdi had written more comedies. His tragedies are just so beautiful. I’ve only sung two other Verdi roles, one tiny role and one cover, so getting to sing this kind of music feels like a really substantial thing. Since it’s Verdi, in my mind I’m like, “Okay. I’m singing Verdi so this has to be weighty, but Falstaff is so light, frivolous, and fun. It’s complex and simple at the same time.” I don’t quite know how to explain that…
Why did you personally want to embark on this journey and become a professional opera singer? When it came to making that decision, was there one particularly influential moment?
I remember exactly where I was, the first time I heard an opera aria. I remember the moment I fell in love with opera: I was in in a form and analysis class at Boston Conservatory, where I was a music education major. I always thought of opera as kind of an elitist thing and I thought it was something for very fancy people, with lots of money. But the teacher played Janet Baker singing Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and I just was blown away. I come from a musical theater background, so the fact that it was in English made it very accessible to me. When I heard it, the music was so poignant and it did something to me. I fell in love with it right away. I went to the school library, and I listened to it on a record over and over and over again.
Then, coincidentally, our school was doing the opera that semester. My boyfriend at the time, who is now my husband of 24 years, was in the chorus of Dido and Aeneas. Initially, my whole purpose of going to that opera was to see my hot, young boyfriend in his toga. But while I was there, I fell in love with the opera because it seemed to me—and this is not a slam against musical theater because I still love it; I sing it around the house with my daughter who’s 8 years old—it was like a musical, but heightened. The emotions were deeper and soared higher. After that, I started to put my foot in the door for one class and then another. Before I knew it, I was totally hooked. I love the idea of being able to lose yourself in a character and in a story. I remember a singer said to me, “Opera is the closest thing to flying.” It’s so true! Sometimes when you’re singing, you do lose yourself a little bit, and you feel like you’re soaring. It’s the most amazing feeling.
So what are you doing after Falstaff? Anything exciting on the horizon?
I’m making a debut, doing a concert version of Carmen with good friends of mine at the Rochester Symphony. Then I’m going back to my friends in Portland, Oregon, to sing a role debut as Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. That is another piece that I’m just thrilled to sing. I got to sing Dido two gigs before this, and that was a dream come true. Now with this Orfeo, I’m completely in love. This music is just stunning; total goose pimple music.