Meet Anya Matanovič, a “Fresh Young Voice” in Seattle Opera’s Fidelio
Anya Matanovič starts pulling on green rubber boots as I get up to leave from our interview backstage at McCaw Hall, and bewilderment overcomes me for a second, before I remember that, as Seattle Opera‘s production of Fidelio opens (at McCaw Hall through October 27; tickets), her character Marzelline is tending a tiny flower bed overshadowed by the prison fence.
Matanovič, a former Seattle Opera Young Artist (and former Issaquah resident), has been back to McCaw Hall for mainstage productions a few times now. She made her official Seattle Opera debut as Nanetta in Falstaff, where I pronounced her “perkycute incarnate.” Opera companies are always in search of brunettes who can project that sweet-and-spicy temperament that runs so strongly in the heroines of say, Italian comic operas or Mozart’s confections, so Matanovič has a Gilda, Pamina, and a Zerlina coming up after Seattle.
In Fidelio, Marzelline is not a major singing role, but she’s the audience’s guide into the belly of the beast where resistance fighter Florestan is imprisoned. Incongruously, Beethoven’s opera begins with the rhapsodizing of teenager in love, but there’s a dramatic method to this madness.
“I think that Marzelline is really the little spot of brightness and hope–ultimately, hope is a word that is repeated by almost everybody in this opera. I sing it, whatever, like…eight times in that first aria,” explains Matanovič.
There are two prisons here–the one you can see onstage, and the one that keeps people from being themselves. Director Chris Alexander instructed the cast that every one of them is fearful of something, and to find out what that was. “That’s what he talked to us about at the beginning, to try to make this very real, to find this fear beneath things,” says Matanovič. ”For me, I think it would be the fear of being stuck in this dark place, so I have found, pinned all of my hopes on, this new guy [Fidelio] who comes in.
“I see him as…well, you know when you’re madly in love, head over heels in love, and you feel you’re actually…insane? Marzelline is feeling that way, it’s all she can think about, all she talks about. It’s this beautiful, exciting hope about what her life could be.” After that aria, of course, things go downhill for pretty much everyone.
“It’s a big day, I get engaged to a boy, I find out it’s to a girl, my dad almost dies–I mean there’s a lot that happens,” she sums up, smiling. “But what I learn from that is that I see this woman [Leonore/Fidelio] who has so much courage, so much love, that that’s what I aspire to be.”
To catch you up a little, Leonore (Christiane Libor, making her Seattle Opera debut) has disguised herself as a man, Fidelio, to infiltrate the prison where her all-too-mortal beloved, Florestan (Clifton Forbis, last here as Tristan), is being held before execution. Somehow she has to outwit the prison’s commandant Pizarro (Greer Grimsley) and Marzelline’s father, the jailer Rocco (Arthur Woodley)–you might have seen that duo in the same roles at Portland Opera.
Marzelline could be just an innocent, unschooled bystander, but Matanovič is representative of a younger group of singers who don’t let small roles–or opera plots–keep them from finding emotional authenticity. “I try to approach my characters always from as honest a place as possible, but at the same time, we can only do what the composer has written, there’s only time for that,” she says, judiciously.
“I have my own little journey that I take, and I don’t know who will see that at all, because that moment is all about Florestan and Leonore reuniting. But I think when I see her unchain him, and I see the look that they share, and I realize everything that she’s gone through, that at that moment I stop being hurt about myself and I see how strong love can be.”
It is just like the maverick Beethoven to write an opera that has a transcendent, happy ending. After the war, conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler wrote with agreeable German overstatement that “Fidelio is a Mass, not an opera–its emotions touch the borders of religion….” It’s a famously challenging work to sing (Beethoven seeming to take singers at their word that their voices were just another “instrument”), but perhaps that is why singers invest so much emotionally in the work.
“Beethoven to me is a composer that got something on this other level. Whatever you want to call it, God, or a spiritual level, he wrote that, his music is that,” attests Matanovič. ”It transcends anything we can say about it. It’s why I wanted to sing in the first place, because there are certain things that I just cannot express with words, and I think Beethoven’s music encompasses that.
“With this cast…I was watching [rehearsal] the other night, and I just thought if Beethoven were he he’d be really proud. This cast that Speight [Jenkins] has assembled is the best you’re going to see. Not only do they sing it beautifully, but they live it. I feel very honored.”