Claire Stadtmueller of Greenwich is a rising young opera star. On June 27, she will make her role debut as Tosca with the New York Grand Opera (NYGO), which for the past 39 years has been holding fully-staged and costumed opera performances free to the public every summer in Central Park.
On May 4, she will bring a taste of NGYO to Greenwich for the first time, when she and fellow cast members, under the direction of Maestro Vincent La Selva, will perform excerpts from "Tosca" at Christ Church Greenwich. That appearance is part of a celebration of the NYGO's 40th anniversary.
Stadtmueller moved to Greenwich three years ago from Rhode Island. She describes herself as a country girl who grew up on a horse farm. But she has been singing soprano since third grade, and graduated with a degree in vocal performance from the New England Conservatory of Music. She has studied voice in Italy with Luciano Pavorotti's teacher and has performed eight major roles at Carnegie Hall.
With her move to Greenwich came a new "gear change" in her career, she says, and the challenge to take on roles in the major operas.
As she prepares for her role debut, Greenwich Citizen caught up with her to learn more about her singing career and how she landed the role of Tosca.
How did you manage to bring the New York Grand Opera to Greenwich?
I learned that New York Grand Opera was doing a 40th anniversary benefit concert in New York, and I had the idea that we should hold one in Greenwich also. Since I've lived in Greenwich, I've met such lovely people who also have a real interest in opera.
I wanted to share my excitement about working with such a legend as Maestro La Selva with my new community. I also think Greenwich residents, as philanthropic as I've seen them to be, will appreciate Mr. La Selva's mission to bring opera to all, regardless of their financial means. Since its founding, more than three million people have attended its operas in the parks of New York City and New Jersey for free; thousands of these were seeing opera for the first time.
How did you land the leading role of Tosca?
When I was dropping off a hard copy of my demo CD to the engineer who recorded it, I noticed that Maestro La Selva's office was next door. I slipped a CD under his door with a note that his concertmaster, Franco Genarelli, had been concertmaster for all eight of my Carnegie Hall performances. When Maestro called Franco, I received a good endorsement -- and an invitation to audition.
But then I realized that I didn't have any Puccini or Verdi repertoire except for "La Boheme!" Maestro has conducted 50 operas in the parks, but these days focuses on Puccini and Verdi. So I quickly learned Desdemona's "Ave Maria" from Verdi's "Otello."
Desdemona will have to wait until 2013, Verdi's 200th anniversary year. Meanwhile, every week, Maestro gave me a different aria to try, to find what role would suit me in this new repertoire. When he suggested Tosca, I was rather shocked, as I'd thought that was too dramatic for my voice.
But he and my teacher, John Macurdy, helped me find a gear I didn't realize I had, and it feels great! Maestro La Selva has conducted the great legendary singers such as Renata Tebaldi, Zinka Milanov, Mirella Freni, Licia Albanese and Franco Corelli, so he really knows voices. He also has the deepest respect for the composers' wishes, and conducts with great attention to what the composer wrote in the score. It must be this that causes the profound visceral effect on listeners that I've read repeatedly in accounts of his performances.
What can you tell us about Vincent La Selva?
In addition to being recognized as the greatest living conductor of Verdi and Puccini, Mr. La Selva is a great human being. He spent eight months teaching a blind soprano how to move on stage so that she could sing Mimi in his production of "La Boheme." Because she walked stiffly with a guide dog, she'd never been given the opportunity to use her beautiful voice to sing opera. He devised sound cues to guide her across stage, and she was able to perform the opera convincingly.
You speak of having a "gear change" in your singing. What led to this?
I am so fortunate to have studied these past three years with John Macurdy, leading bass at the Metropolitan Opera for 39 years with more than 1,000 performances.
At 84, his voice still sounds so healthy and powerful; a credit to his secure technique. His guidance prepared me to sing my best for Maestro La Selva, so now I have this opportunity to sing the great role of Tosca in both Greenwich on May 4 and in New York City on June 27 in front of 10,000 people.
Lots of high drama and high Cs! My Carnegie Hall debut was in Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis," considered to be the most challenging work in the concert repertoire, so I suppose it is just another trial by fire to perform Tosca in Central Park!
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On May 4, at 7:30 p.m., at Christ Church Greenwich, Claire Stadtmueller will sing excerpts from Tosca, along with her co-stars, Reamond Martin as Scarpia and Alejandro Olmedo in the role of Cavaradossi, with commentary by Vincent La Selva. Concert tickets including the reception are $150. For more information, email NewYorkGrandOpera@gmail.com, call 212-245-8837 or visit www.NewYorkGrandOpera.org.