With a surprisingly compelling and virtuoso turn in the iconic role of Cinderella, Sadie Gregg impressed and amazed with her rich mezzo-soprano voice and nuanced acting in the Boston Opera Collaborative’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella), earning her a nomination for Best Actress in a Musical (Opera). Sadie answers some questions about her approach to opera, her diverse hobbies (who knew that opera singers also snowboard?), and who is the lucky singer to share a desert island with her.
Sadie, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you make your way to Boston? What is a brief performing history?
I’m originally from Vancouver, Washington, and moved to Boston when my husband got a job here. I grew up performing; my mom was a dance teacher for many years. I sang in my high school’s musicals and fell in love with opera in college.
How did you prepare for the iconic role of Cinderella in La Cenerentola? What challenges did you face? What was your favorite moment?
I read the critical edition of the score, which includes historical information about the opera and first performances of it. The music is virtuosic, and includes a lot of vocal gymnastics. Tricky to learn, but, like a back-flip, awesome to do once you know how to safely! My teacher, Bradley Williams, and Maestro Andrew Altenbach were wonderful support in this process. It’s hard to pick a favorite moment. Probably listening to the beautiful overture played by Grand Harmonie as the curtain goes up. That’s when I realize I get to spend the next few hours performing the greatest music with good friends, onstage and in the orchestra pit.
How was La Cenerentola different from other productions or stories about Cinderella? How was your Cinderella different? Why?
There are lots of Cinderella stories in other cultures, stories of good triumphing over bad, and everyone living happily ever after. I hope that I can reflect that in my performance, that there’s a little something that everyone can relate with. There are many different Cinderellas, but everyone knows what it’s like to go through difficult times and hopefully have the strength and the help to get through to better times.
What is your traditional vocal part when performing? How have others described your voice (feel free to use any reviews, etc.)?
The Boston Musical Intelligencer has described me as “a mezzo-soprano with a rich flexible instrument.” In opera as a mezzo-soprano, I usually play friends of the lead character, and sometimes “pants roles” (when a female mezzo plays a young man). I had a lot of fun playing the title character in La Cenerentola, and I’m thankful Rossini wrote a lot of his heroines as mezzo-sopranos.
Have you performed in musicals? How are these two mediums different for you? Do you prefer one or the other? Why?
I got my start singing in musicals in high school. Though the vocal music may be less challenging than in opera, the drama in both are important. Opera just happens to be in someone else’s native language rather than my own most of the time. I get tunes from both musicals and operas stuck in my head equally.
What has been your most challenge role? Why? How did you conquer this challenge?
Cinderella was very difficult because the vocal gymnastics and staying true to the character. I just sang Ottavia, Queen of Rome, in L’Incoronazione di Poppea with New England Conservatory, and I think this may have been my biggest challenge yet. The opera is written by Monteverdi, and is very exposed as there are few instruments with which I sing. Spoiler alert: the story isn’t a happy one for Ottavia. This drama and the style of music requires a heightened kind of focus and intensity that I’m learning. It’s exhausting but exhilarating.
Are there any roles that you would like to play? Why these roles?
I’d love to sing Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos. It’s an opera about an opera, and has some of Strauss’ most beautiful music in it. Composer is very focused on his work (it’s a pants role), but gets a little distracted by love, to say the least. He sings this anthem about how music is the most holy art, how it makes everything good again. It’s how I feel about music too.
If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only sing one song, what would you sing? If you could only bring one person, and they had to sing a duet with you, would you bring, and what you would you sing?
I would bring my lovely soprano friend, Danielle Barger, who just sang a fabulous Poppea at NEC. We would split all the boy and girl parts equally and then sing the last duet together. Does an opera count as one song? It does on my desert island.
Of what are you proudest? In performing? In life?
I’m proud of my work ethic. I’m proud of the awesome friendships I have with other musicians. I’m proud of my relationship with my husband. I’m also really thankful for all of these.
I have given you a time machine (you’re welcome!). To when (and where) are we traveling? (Yes, you have to take me with you).
I’d like to travel into the future and see where Opera as an art form is headed. There are lots of new operas, and lots of great revivals of classics. I’m interested to see where the business will be in 100 years.
It’s your birthday (no, not really). What would you most want to receive?
A surprise party with all my friends and family in attendance.
Performing, especially opera, must be extremely exhausting. How do you relax? What do you do in your spare time?
Opera is both exhausting and exhilarating. It’s hard to go to sleep after a great show. In my spare time, I like to cook and snowboard. I like exploring New England with my husband. I also love Netflix. I can’t wait for Season 2 of House of Cards.
Have you ever had a difficult co-star or director? How did you deal with the situation? Did you learn anything about yourself?
If I find myself having difficulty with a situation, I try to see what’s happening from the other person’s point of view (easier said than done at times!). If I can’t understand, I take it as an opportunity to ask questions and focus on the task at hand. We all come to opera because we love it, and sometimes we have strong, different opinions on how we want it done.
It’s opening night (no, still, not really)! Talk us through how you prepare. Do you have any pre-show routines? Special warm-ups?
I like to stretch and have a bunch of little snacks around. I like to get to the theater early to make sure everything I need to have is in place. I do my warm-ups, run through tricky passages, check in to see if there are any notes from Maestro or the director. Then I’ll have a little dance party to get the nerves out.
Do you have anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
Go see an opera! There are so many wonderful companies in Boston creating really compelling theater. Everywhere has English supertitles, or at least an English translation in the program. The stories are timeless, and it’s amazing to hear the human voice live and unplugged.
Sadie, a student of Bradley Williams, will be performing her New England Conservatory Master’s Recital on Saturday, April 12, 2014, at 8:00pm at Williams Hall. Admission is free. You can also find more information about her work and performances on her website: www.sadiegregg.com.