Lisa Daltirus gets to the heart of Verdi’s Leonora

Lisa Daltirus (Leonora) rehearses the opera with director José Mariá Condemi. Bill Mohn photos

Lisa Daltirus rehearses the opera with director José Mariá Condemi. Bill Mohn photos

In Verdi’s three most popular operas – La Traviata, Rigoletto, and Il Trovatore – the heroine suffers a tragic fate.  In Traviata, Violetta loses love, gets sick, and dies just after one final encounter with her beau.  Gilda, the heroine in Rigoletto, decides to sacrifice her own life to spare that of the Duke’s – her father’s tormentor and the man she has fallen in love with.  And then there is Leonora, who poisons herself to stay true to her love Manrico.  Simply focusing on the tragic end of these three women doesn’t do justice to the depth of Verdi’s characters.  They are complex, constantly changing, and determined to leave their own mark on the world.

The depth of Verdi’s heroines is what attracts Lisa Daltirus to the roles.  “Verdi’s heroines are strong women but they evolve.” She told me over coffee on a typically rainy January afternoon last week.  Daltirus, an American soprano from Pennsylvania, is in Seattle this month to sing Leonora in Seattle Opera’s upcoming performance of Il Trovatore.

According to Daltirus, Trovatore is the most demanding of Verdi’s three famous operas. “Due to the nature of the four leads, you need even casting and high caliber of casting.  Every part has a huge vocal demand.”  Because of these reasons, the opera isn’t performed as often in the United States as the other two.

For Daltirus, Leonora is the Verdi heroine most suited to her voice – firm but agile. “Gilda lends itself to a lighter voice but the same coloratura demands are required in Trovatore.”

Daltirus, however, brings more than her voice to the role of Leonora.  Trained as an opera singer, one of Daltirus’ first loves is acting.  Before she decided to pursue singing she planned to be an actress.  The singer readily admits that her background in acting helps her explore characters and uncover new ways to express their motives on stage.  “In any performance, I try to delve into the layers of the character – the dimensions of the character and their journey through the opera.”

Her acting background helps in other ways too.“In conservatory it’s all musically driven.  Acting can be a challenge for singers who are not dramatically driven too,” Daltirus said.  Because of her acting background, she knows what directors expect, how to move on stage, and also how to utilize her voice to add credibility to her portrayal.  “You need a command of technique and you need to know where your voice is going to go.”

Daltirus sees Leonora as more than just a heroine who finds her own strength and the will to make difficult decisions.  “Leonora is a teenager who just happens to be in a royal position.”  Leonora’s royal background gives the character a sophistication other Verdi heroines don’t possess. I see Leonora in a royal way.  There’s a certain class and poise even though she has a youthful essence.”

When Trovatore ends later this month, Daltirus hopes it isn’t the last time she is able to perform with Seattle Opera.  As we wrapped our conversation, Daltirus fired off a handful of opera’s she’d like to sing, freezing mid-thought when she got to La Forza Del Destino – a Verdi opera even more difficult to cast than Trovatore.  “Wouldn’t that be great?” She wondered.  It would. Knowing Seattle Opera’s track record, Forza isn’t out of the question.  “If anyone can get the cast it’s Speight.”

Il Trovatore runs from January 16-30.  http://www.seattleopera.org

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