2015 Best Female Performer in an Opera Nominee: Sophie Michaux as Rinaldo in Boston Opera Collaborative's "Rinaldo"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit:  Anastasia Cazabon

Photo Credit: Anastasia Cazabon

Sophie Michaux swept us away with her Rinaldo in the Handel opera Rinaldo by the Boston Opera Collaborative and performed at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston, Massachusetts. Sophie's diction and clarity in the complicated and challenging role of Rinaldo made the story come alive for us, and her transformation in the heroic warrior was stunning. 

In her Interview, Sophie describes working on Rinaldo, the challenges for the "pants role," some bucket list roles to play, and the high demands on a performer's time (it's not just singing arias!). 

Hi, Sophie, and welcome to our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? 

I was born in London, but grew up in the French Alps. I studied in Switzerland, where I started by specializing in Early Music, and then studied in Vicenza, close to Venice, for a semester to learn Italian. I came over to Boston for a change that I felt I needed, both in repertoire and environment, and I loved it!

That was a little over 5 years from now. I love to sing all kinds of styles, from Opera to Bulgarian polyphony, as well as church music, and I have a special love for Madrigals. I also just recently started playing accordion . . . we’ll see where that brings me!

How did you become involved in Boston Opera Collaborative?  How did you become involved in Rinaldo?

I saw BOC’s production of Dead Man Walking, and I appreciated the strong impact that it had on me. I thought: “This is an Opera company I WANT to be part of!” So I auditioned, and Chelsea Lewis and Lindsay Conrad gave me a chance, and I am very grateful that they did.

I was on tour with a group that sings polyphony from various countries around the world, when they were casting for Rinaldo. I sent in a recording of me singing a Handel aria in a church in the middle of Wales. Patricia Weinmann and Greg Smucker, the Artistic Directors, must have liked it because they cast me as Rinaldo. I suspect the view of the old Welsh church had its effect!

Can you tell us more about Rinaldo, your character, and the style of the opera?  What did Boston Opera Collaborative do differently?  How did this change the production?

Rinaldo was Handel’s first Italian opera written for the English stage. He wanted to make a strong impression by having many special effects in the performance, like a storm machine, and thousands and thousands of live doves flying in the theatre. It probably was really spectacular! 

Rinaldo (Sophie Michaux) in the Boston Opera Collaborative's  Rinaldo  (Photo Credit:   Dan Busler Photography  ).

Rinaldo (Sophie Michaux) in the Boston Opera Collaborative's Rinaldo (Photo Credit: Dan Busler Photography).

The role of Rinaldo was written for a Castrato, a male singer that was castrated before his voice changed, and kept a very high and flexible voice. They were well known for having the ability to sing a very fast succession of notes, and singing for 30-seconds to a minute without breathing. That might tell you a little bit about the way that Handel wrote the music for this role: Countless fast runs, with little time to take breaths. It was a challenging role in that way. But also very fun!!

BOC did a production that made this three-and-a-half-hour opera into about ninety minutes, which I think is MUCH more appropriate way of experiencing opera today. In the 1711, people would go to the opera to socialize, eat, drink, court, and do many other things rather than attentively listening to the opera itself. In today’s format, when audience members are expected to listen and pay attention, an hour and a half was the perfect length to appreciate Handel’s beautiful and exciting music, and the plot of the Opera. 

We worked with a FANTASTIC baroque orchestra, New Vintage Baroque, from New York, led by Michael Sakir, and that very exciting.

How often have you played a male role or “pants role”?  What does this require for the performer?  What do you do differently?  What is similar to other roles?

This was my first “pants role.” It requires paying attention to the physical differences and habits of men and women. I observed and imitated a lot of men and I had to keep catching myself when I inevitably held myself in a feminine stance, or had a feminine gesture. Learning to fight with a fake sword was also very exciting. And that’s not something many female roles get to do!

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? What do you wish that you had more time to do?

I enjoy making live music in my home and with friends, sight-reading through madrigals, or shape note tunes, or hosting a group-muse. I also enjoy hiking, and I wish I had more time to do that too.  I would love to have more time to practice the accordion that I picked up in August!

What is your biggest challenge as a performer?  As a person?

To keep my head in the actual art of music, away from all the things that distract me from it: Taking care of one’s appearance, keeping one’s website updated, applying for grants, or traveling for auditions, answering emails, meeting the right people . . . Sometimes, I wonder how a performer’s life would be if his or her only job was the actual music-making and acting part of it. It would be fantastic! There is so much wonderful music out there ready to be made!

Do you have any roles that you would love to play?  Do you have any roles that you would love to play again?

I would love to sing the role of Lucretia again, in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. That role was a cathartic experience for me, and I would love to do it again. One day I would love to be Carmen! One of my dream roles is about to come true though: I have always dreamt of singing Cenerentola, in Rossini’s Opera La Cenerentola, and I am thrilled that I will have this opportunity with NEMPAC in the summer 2016! 

Rinaldo (Sophie Michaux) in the Boston Opera Collaborative's  Rinaldo  (Photo Credit:   Dan Busler Photography  ).

Rinaldo (Sophie Michaux) in the Boston Opera Collaborative's Rinaldo (Photo Credit: Dan Busler Photography).

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I will sing the role of Anne in Jake Heggie’s To Hell and Back with BOC (as part of their "Family Feuds" production) in March 2016 and that will be very exciting. Then, La Cenerentola with NEMPAC in June, and taking time to develop my Madrigalist ensemble, The Cherry Street Singers . . . more about that soon!

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Go witness art and MAKE art! As much as possible! With all the uncertainties of this world, we can find a real meaning to life through the artistic process, as audiences but even more as actors. I would encourage all readers to take time to practice their instrument, be it voice, piano, accordion, acting, painting, and anything that makes may apply!