Marilyn Horne has no plans to travel to Martha’s Vineyard this summer, but her influence and musical genius will arrive in the brain and muscle memory of mezzo Eve Gigliotti and producer Wendy Taucher.
Ms. Gigliotti and Ms. Taucher met with Ms. Horne, legendary American opera artist, for three sessions focused on developing the role of Isabella in Gioacchino Rossini’s L’italiana over the spring months. Ms. Gigliotti will star in a Wendy Taucher Dance Opera Theater production of a remix of L’italiana the first weekend of August.
The last of the sessions, like the first two, was held in Ms. Horne’s apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan. She and Ms. Gigliotti rehearsed the arias, sang duets and discussed the motivations of the character.
The part is known for its strenuous arias and demanding coloratura.
“It’s not child’s play, is it?” Ms. Horne asked rhetorically, after Ms. Gigliotti finished singing a particularly difficult part. “But it’s coming.”
Ms. Gigliotti has performed the role before in a one-act version of the opera done on the Island a few summers ago. “It’s the process of getting it back in my body, in my brain and in my voice, to have my body remember what’s happening,” she said.
“The muscle memory,” Ms. Horne interjected.
Seated in an armchair, Ms. Horne peered through her spectacles at the worn copy of the Rossini score, published in 1960. Ms. Gigliotti stood with her back to an impressive Manhattan panorama, her feet turned out from each other on the carpet. Ms. Horne marked the pages with a pencil and delivered praise wholeheartedly and criticisms unapologetically, but with a sensitivity to the difficulties of the music.
“She was candid with her opinions and her knowledge, but was supportive and positive,” Ms. Gigliottis said. After all, Ms. Horne has performed it at least 100 times, she estimates.
“The role nearly belongs to Marilyn Horne,” Ms. Gigliotti said later, with audible reverence in her voice. A New York Times review of Ms. Horne’s performance of the role at the Met Opera in 1981 remarked that Ms. Horne “smiled her way through the most convoluted roulades and embellished caballetas, never forcing a note or slipping off pitch.”
Ms. Horne is well-known for being a Rossini aficionado, Ms. Taucher said, as well as for raising the standard for American opera singers worldwide.
“Miss Horne has been this glowing presence in my early time discovering opera,” Ms. Gigliotti said. Watching Ms. Horne, an American, “transform the international stage,” helped her relate to an art form “heavily identified with European traditions,” she said. The mentorship she received on the role has meant a lot to Ms. Gigliotti, who felt honored to be given “that stamp of approval from someone who basically pretty much owns that role,” she said. “That is always a good confidence boost to have that support.”
While singing through a duet with Ms. Gigliotti, Ms. Horne commented on the relationship between the characters. “You know they’ve just had a fight,” she said. She turned to Ms. Taucher. “I would imagine you would have them on different sides of the stage.”
Ms. Horne also wanted Ms. Gigliotti to express more passion through her singing. “I don’t believe you for a second,” she challenged at one point. “You sound so sweet.”
“I’m trying to start sweet...” Ms. Gigliotti said.
“But you’re mad,” Ms. Horne corrected.
Ms. Gigliotti reconsidered. “I can do the whole thing angry.”
The production will take place at the Featherstone Center for the Arts on August 2, 3 and 4. All performances begin at 6 p.m.
Ms. Taucher said she will try to create an environment that rivals an opera house. “When [the actors] are completely involved and committed, they create a reality that then becomes believable and a playful use of the space,” she said. “It’s a kind of conundrum. You are not trying to pretend you are somewhere else, you are where you are, but that then becomes a kind of a reality.”
The setting is Algiers, a port town like Oak Bluffs. And Featherstone, with its wide field and attentive cow who often grazes with one ear cocked to the music, might have surprised but pleased Mr. Rossini, a man with a healthy sense of humor.
“I really believe that if Rossini was to come back, he’d say that was fun, let’s go have a drink,” Ms. Taucher said. Mr. Rossini wrote the opera in 1813, at age 21. Ms. Taucher has sought an accessible production that respects the original operatic tradition of L’italiana. She wrote an English narration to help guide the audience through the story.
The tent accommodates 120 seats. “It’s a nice intimate feel, so you don’t feel like you are singing to the back of the tent,” Ms. Gigliotti said.
The production also stars tenor Glenn Seven Allen as Lindoro, bass Branch Fields in the part of Mustafa, and soprano Hallie Silverston performing the role of Elvira. At the opening night performance and gala on Friday, August 2, Wendy Taucher Dance Opera Theater will present the annual Inspiration Award to Debbie Brown, longtime supporter of the arts on the Island.
Bringing in Ms. Horne for guidance on the difficult role of Isabella, “is a way of handing down traditions and soaking up opinion, and artistic license, artistic impulse and also artistic necessity,” said Ms. Taucher.
Ms. Horne said teaching allows her to continue to learn. “I get great satisfaction and in a way I can live again through the music.” She spends her summers in Santa Barbara, Calif. where she teaches at Music Academy of the West.
“I think she is going to be wonderful in it,” Ms. Horne said of Ms. Gigliotti
Tickets for L’italiana Remix: Rossini’s Take on Love, Sex, and Disaster are available through ticketsmv.com or by calling 646-872-7249.