April 15-21, 2004
Mezzo Stephanie Blythe apprenticed at the Metropolitan Opera at 23. Still in her young 30s, she’s a star there and internationally, but quick to credit Opera Company of Philadelphia for her first professional contracts, in Falstaff and The Rake’s Progress. She returned in full glory in 2000’s The Italian Girl in Algiers: Blythe relishes comedy, and can command a stage and a lyric like a seasoned Broadway baby. She and her husband just bought a place in the Poconos ("So we’re not too far from home."). She brings her warmth and luscious voice to OCP’s premiere staging of Offenbach’s rollicking Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, directed by Dorothy Danner. Blythe gets to play the Duchess (kind of a trial run for Mae West’s Catherine the Great) opposite dashing Canadian tenor Gordon Gietz (her chosen boy-toy, the soldier Paul) and Pittsburgh’s gift to operatic hijinks, the bass Kevin Glavin (the pompous General Boum). Plus she’ll show her gift for song interpretation in a recital for the Chamber Music Society on May 5.
City Paper: How are rehearsals going?
Stephanie Blythe: Everyone working on this show is a gem, very committed to the work. I think people are going to love Dottie's production.These days when sometimes you arrive and see Nazi stormtroopers or guys on toilets onstage, it was such a relief to walk in and think, this show looks right, it's bright and colorful and sexy, just like the piece should be. It's a very good cast, very quick on their feet. Gordon Gietz is fantastic, it's a great role for him. Kevin Glavin, Doug Perry and Dan Belcher, the three villains, are so brilliant, with quicksilver timing. I've been hearing about Kevin for years and my mind is just teeming with projects we could do together. I love doing comedy as a great way of balancing things after operas like Carmen and Oedipus Rex. It's important to not get too "musical theater-y," though the story is propelled forward by the dialogue; but you draw the line in how you sing. It's champagne, constantly bubbling.
CP: You did musical comedy in school. Would you do it again?
SB: I'd do it in a heartbeat. I'd like to do Sweeney Todd, and the Old Lady in Candide, Mama in Gypsy -- and I'd love to do Mame. Wonderful Town is a brilliant show and score. I'm amazed at the stamina my friends in musical theater have, to do the same shows every night for years.
CP: What kind of music did you grow up with?
SB: I grew up always hearing music in the house: Mom playing her symphonic records, or Dad practicing scales on the sax or the flute or clarinet. My father is a very gifted jazz musician. I can still hear those scale patterns in my head; it left an indelible imprint. I didn't develop a taste for singers until college. I'm the biggest fan in the world of Sammy Davis Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan … the singing in the '50s was so fantastic.
CP: I understand Justice Ginsburg invited you to sing at the Supreme Court?
SB: My collaborative partner, Warren Jones, was responsible for that. He has played for the Supreme Court more times than any other performer! The Supreme Court puts together a recital program as a method of getting together for a common interest other than work. They invite performers to sing or play in a lovely room at the court for the justices and their family and friends. It's a wonderful event, and I was honored to participate.
The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, April 16-May 2, $5-$155, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Academy of Music, Broad and Locust sts., 215-893-1999. Stephanie Blythe recital with Warren Jones, Wed., May 5, 8 p.m. (preceded by lecture by Wayne Conner at 6:45 p.m.), $23, Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St., 215-569-8080.