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Arts Desk

Stephanie Blythe: Now This Is a Death Scene

Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe

Rossini’s Tancredi is seldom heard, so opera audiences may only be curious. But the singers can’t wait, and the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns tells why. Stephanie Blythe sings the title role in Opera Philadelphia's production of Tancredi on Feb. 15, 17, and 19.

[Music: Rossini, Tancredi Overture]

David Patrick Stearns: Judging an operatic character by its death scene might be unseemly, but with Tancredi, mezzo-sopranos rarely have it so good.

Stephanie Blythe: We never get this kind of music. We never get a death scene, first of all, that includes an aria. We get our throats slit. It’s real quick. End of the show. Boom. Dead.

DPS: That’s partly what brought Stephanie Blythe back to Philadelphia after a long absence. Metropolitan Opera goers are used to seeing her make those single-scene Wagnerian characters, like Fricka in Die Walküre, unforgettable. But Blythe started in the more vocally ornate Handel/Rossini repertoire...

[Music: Handel, Semele, “Iris hence away,” Stephanie Blythe]

...and like many artists in the middle years, she’s turning back to it for good vocal health. Unlike Wagner, Rossini lets her blend her voice with others. In Tancredi, it’s soprano Brenda Rae.

SB: The beats in our voices match very very well. We get this wonderful overtone series when we sing in thirds in particular. You can hear this really divine buzz that comes over our voices.

DPS: It’s top-drawer Rossini with a death scene like none other. Music director Corrado Rovaris hears it like this:

Corrado Rovaris: It’s like the body of the main character is leaving the stage in the music.

DPS: It’s spare, and quiet.

DPS: It must be particularly demanding for you because it’s just you and your voice.

SB: It’s always just me and my voice (big laugh).

DPS: Because without the voice, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this.

[Music: Rossini, Tancredi Overture]