Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 28, 2021

PREVIEW: Berkshire Opera Festival, "Falstaff"

Berkshire Opera Festival, Mahaiwe Theatre, Great Barrington, MA
through August 23, 2021

Newcomers to Berkshire Opera Festival include Joanne Evans and Max Jacob Zander, who will perform in the mainstage production of "Falstaff" this August. They shared a few thoughts with ITS about the opera and the roles of these talented artists. 

Joanne, have you ever performed in Falstaff or other Verdi operas before? 
I've never performed in a Verdi opera , but I've seen Falstaff countless times. It is my favorite Verdi opera by a country mile.

What do you find most challenging about your role as Mrs. Meg Page? What do you look forward to most about your role?
Despite what was said about Verdi before he composed Falstaff, he was a brilliant comic writer. The comedy in the music comes from these fast and wordy passages, as well as certain opposing times signatures piled on top of each other. These are absolutely the most challenging moments of the role, but also the most exhilarating. What I like most about Meg is her biting humor. 

What gave you the spark in your life to pursue singing as a career? Who are your opera heroes?
Honestly, the Spice Girls were my first musical heroes, but when I eventually came around to opera, the person who really set the bar for me was Maria Callas. My heroes now are Mirella Freni, Beverly Sills, Anita Rachvelishvili and Erin Morley. I am a huge Tamara Wilson fan and have watched her YouTube channel for years, so working with her in Falstaff will be a real "pinch-me" moment.

Joanne, do you play any instruments?
I get by as a pianist. I studied jazz piano for a time, and occasionally venture into writing my own songs.

Have you ever been to the Berkshires before?
Only for my audition. I live in nearby Catskill and the drive was absolutely stunning!

Max, have you ever performed in Falstaff or in other Verdi operas before?
The first role I sang professionally was Borsa in Rigoletto back in 2014This production will mark the fifth time I’ve done Falstaff. My first production was at Indiana University in 2013 and I sang Bardolfo. I went on to sing Dr. Caius with Opera Saratoga in 2017 and, later that year, made my debut in the UK singing Bardolfo to Sir Bryn Terfel’s Falstaff with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. During the pandemic, I recorded Dr. Caius for the Social Distance Opera project, and I am beyond thrilled to be returning to Bardolfo for my debut with Berkshire Opera Festival this summer! 

What do you find most challenging about your role as Bardolfo, what do you look forward to most about your role?
I know the obvious answer is definitely the fugue, but I’ve done this show enough times to not freak out about it anymore. If I had to choose a most challenging part, it’s probably rattling off Bardolfo’s machine-gun-of-a-line in Act 2, Scene 1.

As far as what I most look forward to from Bardolfo, I would say he is super likable and such a joy to play.  ut more than anything, I am looking forward to making music with and for people again. This production’s opening night will mark my first performance in 17 months, and I cannot wait to be back at it, telling stories and making music for people again.

Max, what gave you the spark in your life to pursue singing as a career?  Who are your opera heroes?
My initial exposure to opera really came when I was a sophomore in high school. I went on a class trip to the Metropolitan Opera to see Le Nozze di Figaro. It was hilarious and I loved it. After the performance, someone told me that opera singers don’t use microphones and it blew my mind wide open! Later that year, someone donated tickets to my high school to take ten students to go see the Richard Tucker Gala. The two pieces that really stuck with me that day were the Pearl Fishers Duet and the Te Deum from Tosca. It felt so powerful and I had no idea opera could be THAT!

As far as my opera heroes, I may have to go with Charles Anthony. If that’s an unfamiliar name, you might be surprised to know that he sang almost 3,000 performances with the Metropolitan Opera. Anthony sang almost exclusively comprimario/character roles at the Met, and I think that he is one of the greatest examples of someone in that repertoire who sang beautifully, treating the music and text with the integrity it deserves.

Do you play any instruments?
I mainly play piano and guitar, but I also have a working knowledge of the string, woodwind, and percussion instruments. Before getting into opera, I wanted to conduct and compose. I conducted my first orchestra when I was 16 years old and spent a lot of time learning how the various instruments work.

Have you ever been to the Berkshires before?
I have, but it’s been a VERY long time. I’m super excited to be coming back!