GEORGIA ROWE: CLASSICAL NOTES
Soprano embraces Gilda role
MARY DUNLEAVY is often praised for her penetrating voice and dramatic intensity, so it’s a little disarming when she arrives for our interview at the War Memorial Opera House looking like an ingenue. Petite and pretty, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, she’s the picture of girl-next-door charm. Is this the singer critics have called “fearless,” “scintillating,” even “terrifying”?
Dunleavy’s in town to sing the role of Gilda in San Francisco Opera’s revival of “Rigoletto,” and it quickly becomes clear that she is quite passionate about Verdi’s opera. “Gilda is definitely one of my favorite roles,” the soprano says. “She’s such an innocent character, and that’s a challenge, finding that kind of light youth and innocence in the vocal line and maturing along with her.
“I see her as very isolated, very secluded. She doesn’t have a feel for real life and relationships. She doesn’t know her father very well, she didn’t know her mother, and if she’s been in the convent, as we’re told, I’m sure that wasn’t a very loving, nurturing place either. So I think she’s not very worldly, not very aware of human nature and the tricks and evil manipulations people play on her.”
For Dunleavy, who is also a leading exponent of the title role of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” getting inside the character is as important as mastering the opera’s vocal demands. She has a dramatic coach who works with her on every role.
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