One of Patricia Bardon's criteria for choosing projects is that they are interesting and rewarding. On that basis, singing in a rare modern revival of Rossini's challenging opera Maometto II at Santa Fe Opera would seem a logical candidate. The Irish-born mezzo-soprano has been singing the role of Calbo in the opera and I caught up with her the day after the penultimate performance.
Bardon has sung in many of Rossini's opera serias, she finds the style sympathetic offering a flexibility that she does not find in Handel. But she found the role of Calbo an unusual one; for much of act 1, Calbo has few real solo moments and participates mainly in the ensembles. Then in the middle of act 2, Rossini throws in an aria which is florid even by Rossini's standards, and this in an opera which is not particularly florid.
The role has quite a wide range (over 2 octaves from low G sharp to high B flat), and there are moments when Calbo sings as high, if not higher than the role of Anna (the soprano heroine, but a role written for Isabella Colbran whose voice was starting to decline). More than that, Rossini writes for Calbo in a very angular manner, juxtaposing extremes of range. All in all, Bardon finds the role in a league of its own even by Rossini's standards.
Calbo is, of course, a trouser role. Inevitably, with Bardon's voice being a dark-hued mezzo-soprano she does her fair share of singing in trousers. This isn't something that she particularly planned or even trained for. But playing these roles is part of what she enjoys about singing in opera; she loves creating a character by finding the layers in a particular role, getting great satisfaction acting, creating the character both physically and vocally.
Whilst her repertoire extends well beyond singing just trouser roles, there is an element of type-casting in her career. So that whilst she enjoys a role like Carmen she finds herself offered such roles less often.
Voices are not static things, so that a singers repertoire inevitably changes. Bardon has found that her voice has got heavier, but stretched in terms of range. She has sung Azucena (in Il Trovatore) and is now ready to look at the challenge of other Verdi roles. Princess Eboli (in Don Carlos) is one which she has on her horizons, requiring as it does extremes of range, Bardon feels that it suits the way her voice has developed.
Though she has Erda (at the New York Met) on her CV, Bardon suggests that at at the moment this is her only venture into Wagnerian repertoire. There are not too many Wagner roles for Bardon's style of voice, but also she comments that she likes to be out on stage. She gains fulfilment from working on stage and for her, too many of Wagner's roles require the singer to be off stage for long periods.
One composer that remains central to Bardon's repertoire is Handel. She has Handel operas in her diary until at least 2015, and she aims to continue singing Handel for as long as possible. For Bardon, as long as she can sing Handel she knows her voice is still in good shape, and she feels that the coloratura keeps the voice in good repair.
Bardon continues to perform in a wide range of music, but moving between repertoires is not just a case of flipping a switch. Changing language requires some thought, and changing from 18th to 19th century music requires a big adjustment.
Regarding repertoire she admits that she has been lucky in her career. She prefers singing in something that she believes in, and it doesn't have to be the biggest role in an opera, also interesting productions are an attraction. She is prepared to say no. Each opera production represents a considerable investment in time and energy for a singer, so she is keen to find projects which are rewarding.
Though best known for her 18th and 19th century performances, Bardon's repertoire stretches to the 20th and 21st centuries. She has had great personal success as Baba the Turk in Robert Carsen's production of The Rake's Progress at Covent Garden, being nominated for an Olivier Award. And she recently sang in Kaija Saariaho's Adriana Mater in Paris; an opera on the challenging subject of a rape victim in Chechnyia. This year is Saariaho's 60th birthday and Bardon will be singing in Saariaho's suite from the opera with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Bardon was a finalist in the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition at the age of 18, kick starting her career early on. We talked about younger singers today and she expressed concern that many are not just doing too much too early, but also singing roles which require far more life experience than the young people can bring to it.
Our enjoyable conversation ranged widely and I have to admit that I never did get around to asking about her plans for future roles. I left the singer planning a few days vacation with her family, exploring New Mexico and Arizona, before the final performance of Maometto II next week.
Further coverage of Santa Fe Opera on this blog