Astoria Music Festival: Soprano Angela Meade sings Bellini’s Norma

By Angela Allen

Angela Meade was originally approached to sing the title role of Vincenzo Bellini’s tragic opera Norma for the 2010 Caramoor Festival in New York’s Westchester County. The Northwest native knew it would pose an immense challenge. The role “requires so much of a singer vocally, technically, emotionally,” Meade said. “Norma is consumed with so many different emotions. She’s betrayed by her best friend who is sleeping with the father of her children. She has so much anger that she wants to kill her children. She has a crazy amount of emotional demands.”

Moreover, Norma’s vocal range and dynamics are immense. Meade would have to sing loudly and quietly. She would have to focus on her legato and coloratura runs. And, of course, she sets herself on fire.

“I thought it was slightly insane, but then again, I prefer a challenge,” Meade told Oregon ArtsWatch. “I tried it on to see how it fit.”

It fit fine.

After her debut performance, reviews were over the top. “A brilliant new interpreter of Norma” the New York Post review gushed, adding “as a first attempt at this Mount Everest of a role, it’s simply a miracle.” Opera News was as effusive: It called her “Casta Diva” aria “nothing less than a revelation.”

And for the 34-year-old winner of the 2012 Metropolitan Opera’s Beverly Sills Artist Award, a plum prize that came with $50,000, Norma shines the brightest in her growing opera repertoire, says the rising star.

This weekend, Meade, whose soprano voice has been wildly praised as astounding, electrifying, powerful and plush by such New York heavyweight critics as Alex Ross and Anthony Tommasini, returns to her Northwest home as the darling and diva of this month’s Astoria Music Festival, where she’ll sing her favorite role at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at Astoria’s Liberty Theater.

Meade can move her voice with aplomb and precision. After studying at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, at University of Southern California and at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, she has taken her voice across many stages and played diverse roles since her high-school-age karaoke days.

Best described as a light dramatic coloratura soprano, Meade’s agile, versatile voice is suited to bel canto, Mozart, and higher register Verdi roles. She has sung Donizetti’s Anna Bolena and Lucia di Lammermoor, and Elvira in Verdi’s Ernani. She covered Renee Fleming in Rossini’s Armida. She performed the countess in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. And she’s thrilled audiences and critics with each of these roles in the past four years at the star-studded Metropolitan Opera, though we’ve yet to see the New York City resident on the Portland and Seattle opera stages.

Still, Norma, the driven and dramatic Druid queen betrayed by love, is Meade’s most beloved role, she said recently from her parents’ home in Centralia, Washington, after returning from singing in Kiel, Germany.

Norma is “an immense role,” Meade said. “It takes a lot out of you. It’s emotionally draining. You want to do it again, [because] it’s such a high, but then you want to fall on the bed after singing it.”

Meade’s Norma has role models. When learning a part, she listens to several sopranos and multiple recordings. She studies Joan Sutherland’s top notes and coloratura technique. Listening to Montserrat Caballe, the Spanish soprano, helps her to refine her pianissimo. What does she get from Maria Callas, the Greek diva?

“I always turn to Callas when first singing a role,” Meade explained. “She expresses such emotion through her words. I like the way she colors phrases. I get a better understanding of the emotional impact.”

And Meade has been compared to the late Welsh singer Margaret Price, whose voice was described as “voluptuous,” “pears and cream” and “an extraordinary instrument.” Meade says she is “totally flattered “by the comparison to Price, who is perceived as more of a second-tier opera singer than are Callas, Caballe and Sutherland.

Bel canto operas have been in and out of vogue. At the moment they are in. “It’s strange,” Meade said. “There seems to a resurgence, and I hope I’m at the center of that.”

Right now, she is finding herself at the center of the opera world, although she has endured discrimination about her body type. “We are a 100 percent visual society,” Meade said. “Often the stage director decides who gets a role. And the better singer is pushed aside for the less ideal singer who has the character’s `look.’ I’ve lost roles based on appearance. I deal with this every day. But I’d never trade my vocal gift to be a size 2.”

Meade is booked through 2017, though not every date is taken, and none is booked in Portland. At the moment, she is working consistently performing bel canto roles. Meade’s bel canto concentration is just a beginning, she says. She plans to add more Verdi, Strauss, Mozart, Rossini — and possibly lighter Wagner, down the line. Her versatility serves her well, as it does opera fans scanning the stage for the next great voice.

“I hope to have 80 roles under my belt in the future,” she said. “I have a friend who sings Carmen non-stop. That’s a blessing and a curse.”

NOTES

Read Angela Meade’s guide to Norma here.

Watch Angela Meade (along with Marcello Giodani, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Ferruccio Furlanetto) on the small screen on Sunday, June 17, when PBS will broadcast Verdi’s Ernani on THIRTEEN’s Great Performances at the Met. Check local listings. Here’s a clip.

Watch Angela Meade in Ernani on PBS. See more from Great Performances.

Angela Allen has been writing about opera and music for 20 years for Concertonet and for The Columbian in Vancouver, Washington. She teaches creative writing and photography through Literary Arts, Wordstock and Right Brain Initiative. Oregon ArtsWatch recently published her stories on Garth Fagan Dance company and Portland Opera’s Madame Butterfly. Find her work at AngelaAllenWrites.com.


One Response.

  1. redipen says:

    short of flying to NY or Germany – this is ones only chance to hear this unearthly voice any time soon – Angela Meade’s altissimo, pianissimo is beyond description – you simply have to hear it – unforgettable!

    http://www.astoriamusicfestival.org/

    Astoria Music Festival has lots more to offer as well…

    Some of the greatest big-city classical music talent in the world (think NY, Paris, London, Berlin), at small-town prices (starting at $15.00). One of Oregon’s best kept secrets.

    Avoid the crush, dust and sunburn of an outdoor music festival with a boomy sound system and smelly porta-potties.

    The Liberty Theatre is a plush victorian-era theatre, beautifully restored and fully modernized for comfort, with great natural sound – beautiful music from the world’s greatest composers – pouring off the wide thrust stage, filling every corner of the hall – a superb sight line from every seat.

    Come to Astoria for a great concert, fine meal, stroll along the old waterfront, a room with a view; then head home pleased at how little it cost you – enjoy the memories for years to come.

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