Monday night’s was the final in a run of six performances of Mozart’s very last opera, La clemenza di Tito, at the Met. It was also the very first time French mezzo-soprano Géraldine Chauvet set foot on the world-famous stage. On a day’s notice she stepped in, taking over for an ailing Elīna Garanča, to fill the main character’s Roman shoes. And so simultaneously occurred the newcomer’s Met debut and role debut, that of Sextus (Sesto).
Any initial disappointment over the necessary replacement quickly dissipated—at the latest, by the opera’s third number, “Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso, amico mio fedel” (Let me warmly embrace you, my faithful friend), a 54-second duettino with Annio, exquisitely sung with American mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey. The enthusiastic audience of this sadly under-attended performance had to realise by that point that they were witnessing a rare exciting event.
With the help of Ms. Chauvet’s agent, Robert Lombardo, rootshed.com spoke to the debuting artist about her resounding triumph, her discovery by talent scouts at the Metropolitan Opera, and her already impressive career, which began just four years ago.
rootshed.com: How did you feel Monday night when you sang your first words at the outset of Act I?
Géraldine Chauvet: I tried very hard not to think about it. I tried to keep my mind focussed on my voice. I don’t know if I can find the right words to describe how I felt—you have to excuse my English; it’s not so good. But it was a very big emotion. The acoustic was fantastic!
E: What is your favourite moment for Sesto in the opera.
GC: I’d have to say it’s his Act I aria, “Parto; ma tu ben mio” (Okay, I’m going; but you, my dear). It is such a lovely aria, so full of feeling.
E: What moment did you most enjoy of last night’s performance?
GC: Oh, that is difficult to say. I enjoyed everything. It was all so wonderful. When I first stepped onto the stage and saw the public… When I opened my mouth to sing my first notes… Because I had no idea what I was going to sound like. Everyone was so helpful to me, from Harry Bicket, who is a wonderful conductor, through the entire cast. They made me feel very comfortable. It has been an unforgettable experience.
E: Were you contracted as cover for the role of Sesto?
GC: Yes, I made my United States debut in January this year with Opera Orchestra of New York. I sang the role of Adriano in Richard Wagner’s Rienzi at Avery Fisher Hall. They liked me very much and asked me to come to the Met in November to cover for La clemenza di Tito.
E: I saw Maestro Eve Queler [founder and creator of Opera Orchestra of New York] last night in the audience.
GC: Yes, I had worked with her in January with the concert presentation of Rienzi. And she wanted to see me as Sesto. It was very sweet of her to come to the performance. It was a very big emotion to see her.
Note: About 35 years ago, Maestro Queler debuted on short notice with New York City Opera, both conducting and playing recitatives for Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. She quickly responded to rootshed.com’s telephone message and returned the call, sharing these observations regarding Géraldine Chauvet’s performance at the Met:
I was very happy with how she did. I have never heard “Parto; ma tu ben mio” sung better. She had not been on the stage, she had not tried those steps, which can be formidable for a first-timer. She had not had a rehearsal with the orchestra. Considering the ensemble, her confidence is just amazing. Mozart operas are so difficult to perform. It doesn’t take a professional ear to hear when it’s off. I am excited for her and think there should be great things in store for her.
[Resuming the interview]
E: In 2009 you debuted at Arena di Verona [audience capacity 15,000] as Carmen no less. How did that debut differ from last night’s as far as preparation is concerned?
GC: Vocally I prepared the same way, learning well the score, first at home by myself, then with my vocal coach. I also had to prepare my body because the stage of Arena di Verona is very big and I might have to do a lot of walking as I sing. But I concentrated on my voice and tried to enjoy every minute of it, trying not to sing too big. I tried to sing like I am singing all the time. Also, I spent a week in Salzburg, Austria, working intensely with Grace Bumbry because she has sung the role of Carmen at Arena di Verona, and I wanted her input on how to perform there. She is a woman of immense class, and she is funny too, a very elegant lady. She is a great artist.
GC: What’s next on your schedule of appearances?
E: My next engagement is in Bordeaux as Mère Marie in Dialogues des Carmelites, another mezzo-soprano falcon role.
Agent Robert Lombardo helped from the sidelines, occasionally answering her questions about vocabulary while she spoke to him in rapid-fire Italian.
By far Monday night’s biggest ovation rightly and justifiably went to Géraldine Chauvet. She has no plans to return to the Met—yet. Let’s hope the folks there will get busy and find a way to have her return very soon.
– – – – – – – – – –
Feel free to leave a polite comment about your opera-going plans or any performances attended. Also, subscribe for free to my three columns so you don’t miss an article.
- Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts column
- Newark Performing Arts column
- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) column
You will receive a free E-mail message each time I publish, providing a link directly to the article. You will never be charged for subscribing or reading.