Operagasm Exclusive: Interview with Takesha Meshé Kizart
by Melissa Wimbish
The 65th Caramoor International Music Festival is held annually at the Caramoor Center for the Music and the Arts 90-acre garden estate in Katonah, New York. The summer festival runs from June 26 to August 8 and features repertoire from the classical, jazz, Latin, bluegrass and pop music genres. Director of Opera Will Crutchfield will conduct the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in the 14th annual Bel Canto at Caramoor series featuring Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan on July 24 and two performances of Bellini’s Norma on July 10 and July 16.
Soprano Takesha Meshé Kizart will be singing the title role in Maria di Rohan and graciously agreed to provide an interview for Operagasm in the midst of her busy schedule! Have a gander!
You will be performing the role of Maria in Donizetti’s opera Maria di Rohan next month. How do you approach a brand new role as far as musical preparation is concerned? About how much time on average do you have between your other commitments to sit down and learn the role? Does it ever become frustrating or stressful? If so, how do you bring it back to productivity?
That’s a rather interesting question. For me, EVERYTHING at this point in my career is a NEW role. I have been going, going, going non-stop since January of 2008 with no foreseeable end; this is truly a BLESSING! There is no better way to prepare a role than simply to START. First, I research the original period’s culture, other interpretations, and other inspirations through visual art, theatre, film, dance, etc. I then prepare my score by translating the text, highlighting the musical markings, and digesting ALL of the provided information. Finally, I PRACTICE… focusing on any specific challenges in the music, text or vocalism. I also transcribe all of my lines in a poetic meter. This assists in memorization and naturalism in the flow of the text. Stress nor frustration are my foci, learning and solidifying the role to the point where it is as organic as possible ARE. I actually LOVE music, and expanding my knowledge and prowess in it brings me great joy. To quote my dear friend and extraordinary actor, Nic Few, “Love makes things happen… FALL IN.”
I had not heard of the opera Maria di Rohan before beginning this interview. Can you tell me why you think this particular work is not one of the more standard parts of the repertoire like Lucia di Lammermoor or Linda di Chamounix for example?
Honestly, the only reason I can fathom is its need for more flashy arias for the title character!?!? (Hahahaha!) But seriously, out of Donizetti’s 75 Operas only a handful are even known, let alone considered “standard.” Yet the operatic repertoire is so limited that only this handful are performed regularly. I can only say that two requirements lead to the “popularity” of any opera, or artistic work for that matter: ARTISTS and AUDIENCES. As long as it is simply notes on a page, music will lie dormant. Donizetti said of the first Maria di Rohan, Eugenia Tadolini, “She is a singer, she is an actress, she is everything.” Only this type of artist who is popular and talented can breathe life into “written” genius, making it palpable for all to appreciate. Yet, alive and PRESENT “witnesses” are PARAMOUNT to any success; the analogy of the tree falling in the woods comes to mind. If no one is pining to see it, it will not be performed. Personally, I believe that Maria di Rohan deserves a stake in our current operatic canon. It actually reminds me of Verdi’s earlier works, and his Un ballo in maschera and Don Carlo seem to be heavily informed by it. Maria di Rohan is a taut political drama placed in the court of King Louis XIII of France with razor-sharp action, caressing melodies, and an ability to showcase any vocal artist by adding spicy bel canto embellishments. I am honored to become a part of a great “resurgence” of the piece.
When you were on the educational track still figuring out your voice, what was the most difficult technical barrier for you? What was the solution to this barrier?
I don’t believe in barriers, I believe in learning lessons that lead to attaining the wisdom needed in future decision-making. My most profound lesson learned was simply to trust myself and my own unique vocal instrument. There were several who weren’t convinced, and still may not be, that what flowed out of my mouth was natural and organic in its color, size, and ability. At times, I allowed THEIR conflict to hinder the expression of MY God-given gifts. Releasing oneself from the judgment of others and genuinely communicating ones artistry to the world is not only freeing, it is absolutely empowering!
How do you feel singing and opera have shaped your personality? What kind of person might you be without it in your life?
My first public performance took place at the age of two. Singing and music are my PASSION, my soul’s communion with my Creator… nourishing my soul, enlightening my life, allowing me to learn better, live better, and love better! I continually thank God for blessing me with such an awe-inspiring creation!
Describe one of your most memorable experiences abroad and the impact it has made upon your fabric as a singer.
I have been BEYOND blessed to have had so many memorable experiences, and I pray to never take these people, places, and opportunities for granted. I excitedly await many more. The most memorable experience thus far was performing the title role of Tosca in a new production with Opera Australia at the world renown Sydney Opera House December 2009 through January 2010. The entire engagement was simply MAGICAL.
(1) I received the offer while I was on a float in a Christmas parade dressed as an angel of the Lord… yes, seriously. Amazing things can happen when we choose to honor The Source of ALL that is AMAZING.
(2) It’s Australia!!! Aside from New Zealand, it’s the furthest away from EVERYTHING. Traveling to the other side of the world may have taken 24 hours, but the first class accommodations made it a bit more pleasurable. (smile)
(3) My apartment was in the center of it ALL… shopping, scenery, food, culture, attractions, beaches, etc. We were even able to witness the most jaw-dropping fireworks display in the world along the Sydney Harbour while ringing in the New Year 2010!
(4) My Mother and Cousin were able to join me! There is nothing like ones OWN family… the love, support, and laughter were priceless.
(5) The people were simply AMAZING. I had previously developed relationships with the director, production designer, costume designer, and conductor, so it felt like coming home. Additionally, I was able to expand that circle to include an “Australian family” who warmly welcomed me with open arms and now continue to be a major part of my career and life.
(6) There was loads of publicity EVERYWHERE. Television, radio, buildings, billboards, buses, taxis, etc. All overwhelming, yet exciting! I found it delightfully ironic that just a month prior to my arrival, the radio broadcast of me singing the title role of Respighi’s Marie Victoire in its German premiere with Deutsche Oper Berlin had just been presented there… my VOICE was known before my BODY had even arrived!
(7) Finally it was a MAJOR success in my rising international career resounding with critical acclaim and I look forward to returning for more astounding encounters.
Soprano Takesha Meshé Kizart, lauded as the next great Verdian Voice of her generation, has been praised for “blasting star quality all over the stage with her stunning voice and sensational good looks” (Opera News); her “powerful, lustrous, silky, caramel-hued soprano wields impressive ease and elegant control” (New York Times). She has been awarded the Grand Prize at both the Concorso Internazionale Voci Verdiane and the Concurso Internacional de Canto Montserrat Caballé (by Caballé herself) in addition to top prizes from numerous other organizations and competitions. Having appeared with opera companies and orchestras across world in roles such as Marie Victoire, Mimi (La Boheme), Donna Leonora (Il Trovatore), Tosca, Donna Leonora (La forza del destino) and Lucrezia Contarini (I Due Foscari), Cio Cio San (Madama Butterfly) among many others, she has made her way onto the radar of the industry’s premier institutions. A performer since the age of two, she is also the grand-niece of Music Legends McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield and Tina Turner!
Takesha astounded audiences at Caramoor International Music Festival in 2008 with La forza del destino, and she returns this summer for the title role in Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan.
Photo credit: Maja Slavec & Empera