We’re pleased to welcome the return of soprano Heather Buck to Odyssey Opera, this time in the role of Joan in Norman Dello Joio’s neoclassical drama The Trial at Rouen. She last performed as Aurelia Havisham in our 2014 presentation of Dominick Argento’s Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night. This new interview illuminates her approach to role preparation for her historically-based character.
Welcome back to Boston! How does it feel to sing with Odyssey Opera again?
What a delight to return to Odyssey Opera! This company is one that is always on my radar, whether or not I am one of the artists included in a particular production. The works presented within a season are always so thoughtfully curated to explore a theme or vision, and I envy the audience member who is able to travel the journey that Gil Rose and the rest of this amazing team propose as the season’s adventure. As a performer, when I am invited to be one small facet of the large picture, I fairly brim with excitement — I know the repertoire will likely be something I have never before heard, much less performed, and this kind of challenge is all too rare. It is a joy to jump into this “unknown,” knowing that every single member of the company, cast, chorus and orchestra will enthusiastically accept this challenge, bringing their absolute best to a performance and illuminating these rare jewels in the best light possible.
What is your impression of Joan? Who is she?
In this particular presentation, Joan is a deeply human mixture of strength and frailty, belief and doubt, bravery and fear — and despite her inner turmoil, she finds herself drawn inevitably back to her true convictions. We are introduced to her after she has endured already months of imprisonment and interrogation, just before being brought to public trial. We hear her, in a private moment, wrestling with the temptation of succumbing to normalcy, putting aside her masculine clothing, adopting female dress, and renouncing the voices that have directed her to act and galvanize a nation. What a difficult position – to surrender and live, or to remain true to her convictions and die — and when one considers that her divine voices seem to have abandoned her, this position seems all the more precarious. And yet, throughout her trial she confounds her inquisitors by answering accusations and deflecting charges with reasoning and logic these powerful men could never anticipate.
Do you identify with Joan?
I certainly have my stubborn side! Perhaps I am less with my own defense than she is with hers in this opera, but I very much admire and appreciate her backbone!
How will an audience of today find Joan accessible?
Joan’s courage to strive for what she believes is good and right is inspiring, especially because we don’t witness it as an easy and automatic achievement; rather, we see it as something with which she constantly wrestles to sustain in the face of enormous internal and external challenges. We experience her as a real person — in a man’s world, a mere girl who dares to challenge the status quo and alter entire nations — there is something enormously uplifting in the concept that one small, solitary person can have such a powerful effect.
Do you have a favorite aria or moment in The Trial at Rouen?
Joan’s recantation aria is a gorgeous musical illustration of her deep struggle between being true to her God and her voices, and bending to the will of her inquisitors. Her sense of abandonment is excruciating, and it is heartbreaking when she breaks before her judges.
What helps you while preparing for a role?
I have an unlikely study partner in one of my cats, a tabby named Lockwood de Forest. While I mark up my scores with highlighters and pencils, he provides endless comic relief, wrestling writing implements from my hand, walking up and down my keyboard, using me as a jungle gym, and occasionally chirping along as I sing. Giggling at his ridiculousness always helps my learning process!