Sunday, June 22, 2003

Malfitano to perform an opera marathon

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

"I'm calling this a career high for me. It's right up there with some of the greatest experiences in my career," says soprano Catherine Malfitano. "After 31 years of singing, why not? This is a new peak."

Malfitano, one of America's "hottest leading ladies" in this month's Opera News, is performing a Herculean feat in Cincinnati Opera's triple bill, opening Thursday in Music Hall. In what is basically a one-woman show, she will be singing and dancing her way through three operas: Poulenc's La Voix Humaine, Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins and Bolcom's Medusa.

"It's tough. It's going to be very challenging," Maliftano acknowledges. "But you know what? I love these kinds of challenges. This is what I live for."

Her repertoire spans more than 60 roles, through the entirety of opera history: from Monteverdi's Poppea to Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor; from The Marriage of Figaro to Berg's Lulu.

It was that versatility that attracted American composer Bolcom, who has written two other operas for his favorite leading lady: A View from the Bridge (from the Arthur Miller play) and McTeague.

"I knew she was fearless," says Bolcom from his home in Ann Arbor, where he is on the faculty at the University of Michigan. "Having watched her in a number of roles - she was probably the best Lulu ever ... She can do an enormous range."

But even for Malfitano, such an evening will be unprecedented. Not only will she be performing three operatic roles, but she will also be dancing a fourth role - that of Anna II in The Seven Deadly Sins, a part traditionally taken by a dancer.

These are her first performances of Poulenc's Woman and Weill's Anna. She sang the world premiere of Medusa in a concert production in March, but this is its first staged production.

Like a woman possessing multiple personalities, Maliftano could slip seamlessly into the psyche of each character.

• "The woman (Elle) of La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice), is definitely fragile and feminine, a femme fatale ... the Poulenc, for me it's the most difficult, because it's so personal, so intimate."

• "The two Annas are the two sides of the same woman. Anna I is the more practical, head-on-her-shoulders, gutsy woman, and Anna II is more impulsive, difficult-to-control, idealistic and inspired," she says of her roles in Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins.

• "Medusa is mythic. What is surprising about her character is that everyone thinks of the horror side of her, and - this will shock people - Medusa is a mother."

Even in Medusa, Malfitano will be projecting multiple personalities - alternating as the mythic figure and narrator. "When Bolcom wrote Medusa for me, he wanted to throw something at me that was going to challenge me to the utmost. He kept saying, 'I don't want you to be bored, Catherine,' " she says, laughing.

It will take extraordinary stamina - and the attitude that she can do anything. She learned that attitude from her parents, violinist Joseph Malfitano, who played in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 35 years, and her mother, ballet dancer Maria Maslova.

Hearing her father perform a wide array of music, from Bach to Gunther Schuller, was an early influence that gave Malfitano the courage to try any style of music. In 1973, she recorded an album with him, recently reissued as Songs My Father Taught Me (VAI).

"My career has been versatile, and it's been wonderful," she says. "Something like this is right up my alley."

If you go

What: Cincinnati Opera triple bill: Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins; Francis Poulenc's La Voix Humaine; William Bolcom's Medusa (world premiere staging). Catherine Malfitano, soprano; Nicholas Muni, director; Brian Salesky, conductor; Lucinda Childs, choreographer

When: 8 p.m., Thursday and Saturday

Where: Music Hall

Tickets: $22-$120. 241-2742 or Web site.


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