Cleaning out the Figaro notebook: Ruxana Donose

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One of the interviews I’d hoped to include in my feature on the Atlanta Opera's production of The Marriage of Figaro in this week’s issue was with Romanian mezzo-soprano Ruxana Donose (pictured, at left). Like Sandra Piques Eddy, the internationally renowned Donose has performed the role of Cherubino several times, including a tour of Japan with the legendary conductor Seiji Ozawa. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the interview done in time for the print edition, so I thought I’d include it here.

What in your mind is the greatest challenge to capturing just the right spirit of a trouser role such as Cherubino? Is there a danger in over-playing the masculine nature of the role?

In theater, everything is an act. Whoever wants to play a bad guy, a traitor or a hero doesn’t have to be one in real life. When a woman plays a man, it is the same situation. It’s not about becoming a man, but about making visible certain typical masculine behavior characteristics — for example, the direct way the men look at the women, the way they sit with their legs open, or the way they walk. Of course there is always the danger of overdoing it, but this kind of danger would be the same for any other role; it’s the danger for any actor as soon as he stepped onstage, and it makes the difference between the good and the bad ones.

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MAN CHILD: Ruxana Donos (left) as Idamante in Mozart's Idomeneo

How did you approach the role? Had you performed in a “trouser role” previously? If so, how if at all did it help you in preparing for Cherubino?

The first trouser role I ever performed, as a student, was Prince Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus, and in fact the most serious challenge as I remember it, was to sing the aria in the second act while dancing the Russian kasachok with a glass of vodka in my hand! Afterwards came Cherubino and then many others. [Two weeks] ago I sang in Berlin, as Octavian from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. Octavian and Cherubino are two very similar characters in very similar situations: Both of them are aristocrats without financial or other kind of worries, both of them love older women at the beginning of the opera but end up loving girls their age. Also, for neither of them is it clear where their journey will eventually take them — they have both not only the charming capability of loving and celebrating love with enthusiasm, but they also already carry in themselves the negative potential of becoming a woman consumer and despiser, like Count Almaviva or even Don Giovanni.

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In listening to the two arias by Cherubino — at the end of the first act and at the beginning of the second — they seem like two distinctly different arias. One feels fairly masculine and spirited, while the other is more gentle and loving, more feminine perhaps? What do you think about the contrast of these two arias?

Psychologists say that every person carries in them masculine as well as feminine traits and behavior elements at the same time. Trying to trace this other side of oneself, to hear its echo, can be a very interesting and exciting search. The two Cherubino arias reflect this polarity almost in an unadulterated way. Cherubino is both exalted and gentle, daring and shy, naughty and well behaved — he is man, woman and child at the same time.

Can you place the challenge of performing in a “trousers role” in context for female opera singers? Do they relish the chance? Do they dread it? Is it “just another role”? Is it a chance to be daring? A chance to make a name for yourself? A vocal challenge?

In my opinion, a trouser role is indeed “just another role,” and if one prefers them or is reluctant to approach them is entirely a question of personal taste and inclination. Vocally they do not challenge the singer more than any other role that has been written for their particular type of voice. Additionally, I believe that theater, opera, art in general, live from discovering things that we may not meet or notice in the everyday live, and is in fact a real privilege that the actor is virtually indebted to take a look behind these daily seeing habits.

(Photos courtesy Ruxana Donose)

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