Saturday, 3 May 2014

An encounter with Rosalind Plowright

Rosalind Plowright
Rosalind Plowright's solo recital CD, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, comes out on the Romeo Records label on 6 May 2014. Amazingly it is her first recital disc. I caught up with her last month, on the phone from Lyon where she was rehearsing Mrs Sedley, to talk about the new disc in particular and her long career in general.

It is perhaps not simply the longevity of Rosalind Plowright's career which is remarkable (later in our conversation she talks of John Tomlinson and Ann Murray as contemporaries at college), but that fact that she has had two distinct careers. Initially she came to prominence as a lyrico-spinto soprano whom I can remember seeing at English National Opera as Desdemona in Otello with Charles Craig and Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda with Janet Baker (both captured on disc), and later as Leonora in Il Trovatore at Covent Garden (a role she recorded with Domingo and Giulini). Vocal problems led not to retirement, but to re-training as a mezzo-soprano with a darkly dramatic voice. Her Fricka was very notable in the early performances of Das Rheingold and Die Walkure in Keith Warner's production at Covent Garden. Her lively Twitter feed now pronounces that she specialises in Witched, Bitches, Bags and Hags.

David and Elizabeth Emanuel evening dresses 1988
David and Elizabeth Emanuel
evening dresses 1988
During her soprano period there was talk of doing an album of arias but it never happened, and this seems to be the closest that Rosalind got to a recital disc. In fact, she loves giving recitals and finds it very different to singing in opera. She talks of how recitals give an audience insight into who a singer is, and that they should be an important part of every singers repertory. A song recital is another form of singing, different to opera, and has the advantage that the singing is not directed by a director or conductor, they are in control of themselves and all eyes are on them. She gave lots of recitals when she was younger with pianist Geoffrey Parsons and always enjoyed it though never became, as she puts it, famed for it.

The new disc is completely her own initiative, planned and organised by Rosalind and her husband and offered as a package to the recording company. The programme is a diverse mix of songs, by Stradella, Brahms, Falla, Tchaikovsky, Weill, Britten, Ernest Kaye, Quilter, Stanford and Bridge, all chosen simply because they are songs that Rosalind loves. She has always worked this way when preparing recital programmes, preferring to chose songs she prefers rather than having a theme. She also comments that at her age she also feels that she also doesn't have to stick to the rules.

She likes the variety and diversity in the songs she has chosen, with every song sounding different. Also, she is performing the programme live at a number of festivals in the Summer and finds that this is the type of programme which goes down well, which people want her to sing.

Rosalind Plowright and Alan Woodrow, Salome, Portland Opera 2013
Rosalind Plowright and Alan Woodrow,
Salome, Portland Opera 2013
When I mention the fact that the disc has six different languages on it (Latin, German, Spanish, Russian, French, English) she laughs and admits that it was not planned that way, but also talks of languages as being part of the job. German, Spanish and Italian are languages that singers are expected to sing, and though not a linguist she works on these with a coach. She also loves singing the Russian songs, and find the Tchaikovsky ones on the disc suit her voice, but admits to finding Russian hard. She does not speak the language so for the last 25 years she has worked on Russian music phonetically with a coach.

When I ask if there is likely to be another disc she says that she doubts it, they had such difficulty placing this one. She finds that none of the record companies are interested in recitals unless you are a major star. Though Rosalind and her husband produced the recording themselves, every record company that they approached was uninterested even though it would involve just packaging and distribution.

After the launch she is performing her recital programme at the Buxton Festival and a number of other festivals this summer. But she also talks of the summer as an awkward gap as it is a summer without an opera role. Rosalind has had a a busy two years, but she is a natural stage creature, and finds it wonderful to be on stage and in character. But she admits that it has become harder and that there is an element of 'Rosalind Plowright, is she still around'. Opera Houses are closing and there are many singers vying for the roles, including younger singers who might regarded as too young to sing 'old lady roles'.

Rosalind Plowright as Klytemnestra in Elektra, Madrid 2011
Rosalind Plowright as Klytemnestra
in Elektra, Madrid 2011
When I ask what her favourite operatic role is, she talks of Klytemnestra in Elektra, a role which she has sung three time and which she describes as a wonderful role and she also has enjoyed Kostelnicka in Jenufa. But asking Rosalind about a favourite role, involves the question of which voice. As a soprano her favourite role was Cherubini's Medee, a role which she did so many times both in French and Italian including at Covent Garden and at Lyon (in 1985). She then comments that there are still some people in Lyon who remember her performance. Rosalind loves the classical element in Cherubini's music, and the Greek drama element in the piece. At the time she really identified with the role, and regrets that there hasn't been a similar role in her present fach.

When I ask which roles she would like to sing, if she could pick any role and she comes up with Elektra and Brunnhilde. These are role which Rosalind just might have sung, if she had not concentrated on the big Verdi and Puccini roles.

She regards herself as lucky with her present voice, as it gives her access to her present roles. She finds them great fun, and enjoys not being at the helm. She prefers to take a back seat, and quite likes the old lady roles. Luckily there is still plenty of opportunity to hear as hags, bags and witches. She is currently singing Mrs Sedley in Lyon and will be doing the Countess de Coigny in Andrea Chenier at Covent Garden in December. It is a small-ish role, but she calls it a fun part and is very happy to be sitting next to Jonas Kaufman singing her favourite aria.

La belle Dame sans Merci - Rosalind Plowright (mezzo-soprano) and Philip Mountford (piano)
Romeo Records  7302   Released - 6 May 2014

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