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Susan Graham experiences Dido's hard life with a lounge lizard

The mezzo-soprano and conductor Nicholas McGegan discuss the challenges of Henry Purcell's opera.

November 08, 2009|Chloe Veltman

SG: Me too. I can't tell you how many times I've had videos thrust at me in rehearsal and been told: "Do it like her!" Invariably, she's a foot shorter than I am and I have bigger feet, so this approach doesn't work. You always go into a new project wondering what the maestro is going to expect. We're just the hired help, after all.

NM: She said with a grin.

SG: Everyone works within the circumstances of the specific production. The dynamics are always different.

NM: In this run of "Dido," Performance One will be radically different from Performance Six.

SG: Things will get trillier.

NM: And faster.

SG: The witches will become sillier.

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Please tell us about the other works in the program.

NM: We're interested in showing Purcell's range as a sacred and secular composer. The concert includes the joyful sacred anthem, "O Sing Unto the Lord a New Song," Chacony in G minor, a misfit but lovely instrumental piece, the heart-wrenching sacred lament written for eight-part choir and organ "Hear My Prayer, O Lord," and music that Purcell wrote for the 1695 revival of Aphra Behn's grisly play, "Abdelazer." Today, Purcell's incidental music is better known than Behn's drama, in which nearly everyone dies apart from the person responsible for lowering the curtain at the end. Many people know the "Rondeau" because Britten used it in his "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra."

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You've performed at Disney Hall before, Nicholas. But next Wednesday's concert marks your premiere at the venue, Susan. What are your thoughts about the space?

SG: I've performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion many times. As I've pulled into the parking lot, I've had an eye on Disney Hall and thought to myself, "I want to sing there." I hear the acoustic is spectacular. For a piece like "Dido." where clarity is an asset, it will sound brilliant. I'm hoping the space will help us play with lots of colors and textures.

NM: Disney is one of the world's great concert halls. It's a big space, but because of the steep rake of the seating, the audience never feels far away. I've done chamber music at Disney, and it's felt intimate. I've also conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic there, and we made a hell of a racket. The other great thing about the hall is the backstage area. It's like a five-star hotel.

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What do you think of L.A. audiences?

NM: I was recently in L.A. conducing an all-Mozart program at the Hollywood Bowl. I like Bowl audiences because they don't behave like they've been recently starched.

SG: L.A. audiences aren't afraid to be surprised. For example, they loved "The Coronation of Poppea."

Please, can you settle the confusion about how to pronounce the composer's name?

NM: For some reason, people often mispronounce Purcell's name. It's "PUR-cell." It should rhyme with "rehEARsal".

SG: It's not supposed to rhyme with "DuraCELL" or "PurELL."

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