The Florentine’s charming VenusMay 10th, 2011 |
The 2008-2009 season was Greer Davis’ Studio Artist year at the Florentine Opera. The program is meant to be a career-launching apprenticeship, but Davis found herself on the Florentine’s big stage as well as singing at school outreach events. She was a hoot as Iris, Juno’s put-upon aide in the Florentine’s brilliant staging of Handel’s Semele. Davis played the key role of Papagena in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. She charmed not only Craig Verm’s Papageno in the role, but everyone within earshot of her sweet, light soprano voice and within in view of her adorable person.
Davis is back. She will sing Venus in John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and will play Belinda, Dido’s confidante, in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas on the Florentine’s ambitious Baroque double bill. (Blow, 1649-1708, and Purcell, 1659-1695, were teacher and student and the leading composers of 17th-century England.)
In an interview Monday, Davis she is still taking the first steps in building a career. The Minneapolis native (mom is a composer, dad a violin maker) lives in Chicago. She spends her time working with teachers and coaches and singing around town. She has no agent yet. The Kansas U. (BMus) and Roosevelt U. (MMus) alumna is just 29, a kid in the opera world.
“I’m traveling a lot for auditions,” she said. “I was in nine cities in January. It’s a lot of expense. I hope I’m making some headway. For being under 30, I’m really in a pretty good place. A move to New York might be coming in the fall. I’m hoping slow and steady wins the race.
“This is a huge opportunity for me. The Florentine is a good-sized regional company. People know about it. A fair amount of exposure comes with it.”
Davis does not intend to become a Baroque specialist, but her light, agile voice fits it.
“It’s what I’ve been hired to do,” she said. “I sing some Massenet, some Verdi, a little bit of Strauss. I’m trying to sing what feels good in the voice. The danger, at a young age, is to try to sing too big. I sing what I’m comfortable singing, but as my technique improves the comfortable repertoire expands.”
All that being said, Davis’ Papagena had no trouble making herself heard in Uihlein Hall. The Baroque double bill, however, will happen in the much smaller Marcus Center Vogel Hall, with a much-reduced version of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Which is fine with any singer.
“Because of the small house, I can do a little more with dynamics,” she said. “Some people get mental blocks about Baroque music and think they have to sing it differently. My vocal technique won’t change. Just the style changes.”
Singers ought to know a little about Baroque performance practice. Davis thought she did.
“We all wrote ornaments for ourselves,” she said of the cast. She smiled as she went on: “Chris (conductor Christopher Larkin) took them all out.” You live and you learn. She understood that Larkin had to think of the big picture and make sure that the singing style worked across the cast.
Both operas sport very skimpy plots. Venus, for example, is a flirtatious comedy until Adonis manages to get himself killed while hunting wild boar. That’s pretty much it.
“In the myth, Venus begs him not to hunt, but he goes off anyway,” Davis said. “In the opera, he wants to stay and she sends him off.”
This exchange seals his fate:
Adonis: Adonis will not hunt today; I have already caught the noblest prey.
Venus: No, my shepherd haste away. Absence kindles new desire, I would not have my lover tire.
“Bill [Florescu, stage director and Florentine general director] had an idea, and I like it. For Venus, Adonis going out to hunt builds anticipation,” Davis said. “She’s kind of excited by it. And she regrets it later. But we haven’t really come up with a moral of the story. It presents a fairly cynical view of love.”
That might have to do with the fact that Charles II’s mistress, Mary Davies, played Venus, and their daughter played Cupid.
Greer Davis seeks to engage as an actor even with these sketchy characters. In Dido and Aeneas, Belinda usually resembles the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet — sympathetic and motherly. Not so in this production.
“Trish (Patricia Risley, who plays Dido) gave me this idea: The intended marriage of Dido and Aeneas is political. A line says that they will marry for empire, if not for love’s sake. It’s in Belinda’s interest to make this work. Dido and Belinda are friends, but Dido is a little wary of her. When Dido dies, Belinda not only loses a friend, she’s out of a job.”
That adds a tense twist to a relationship usually portrayed as uncomplicated affection and devotion.
“If you think that way, then everything has a meaning and you give a more authentic portrayal. A million 5-foot-three, 110-pound sopranos are out there, and they’re all good at singing. Something has to set me apart. Maybe it’s a sense of humor and a feeling of genuineness.”
Click here for bios of the cast and artistic team.
Performance Schedule: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 13-15; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, May 18-19; no show Friday, May 20; 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 21-22, at Marcus Center Vogel Hall. Tickets are $28-$108 at the Florentine website and ticket line (1-800-326-7372) and the Marcus Center box office 414 273-7206.