Congratulations again for a marvelous performance as Ginevra in San
Diego Opera's Ariodante. It was the company's first Handel
production ever, and what a great success it was. Indeed, many regular
opera goers in the audience thought it was the finest performance San
Diego Opera has staged in recent years. The guarantee of success was
of course the excellent cast who brought to their roles a special fondness
for Handel, and vast vocal resources that vividly showcased the beauty
of his music. And you in particular among the members of the cast enjoy
the distinction of being THE Handel specialist, having now built an
international reputation singing many of Handel's soprano roles. So,
knowing full well that your repertoire goes way beyond Handel, we'll
start off this interview with "Handelian" questions.
What first drew you to Handel and what is the special attraction to
you of his music? Handel of course is well-loved in the UK; perhaps
there's an inborn bias for Handel in your being British?
RJ: I was introduced to Handel very
early on during my training and I immediately became attracted to the
syle and form and especially to the clean expressive vocal writing.
I found studying this music helped me to develop and encourage a sound,
flexible technique and it just seemed to 'suit' my light soprano voice.
Being Welsh-there is a huge male voice choir tradition and I had many
experiences of singing the Messiah with wonderful choirs throughout
Of course I then developed an interest in opera and found Handel's own
to be inspirational.The drama is so real - he is able to capture a mood,
emotion, with the greatest simplicity and really challenge both the
artist and audience at the same time.Of course I was exposed to Handel's
music very early on due to his popularity in the UK. Since Dame
Joan Sutherland, he has enjoyed a real 'comeback' and this obviously
fed my appetite!
FF: It is not very well known that Handel was a prolific
composer of opera who dominated the music scene in 18th century England,
perhaps because his operas disappeared from the repertoire and lay in
limbo for 200 years until the German Handel revival of the 1920s. Although
he is still better known as the composer of the Messiah, the
interest in Handel's operas seems even greater and more global today,
with his lesser known works, such as Ariodante, finding their way back
into the repertory. Why do you think is Handel making a comeback in
the the 21st century? Or for that matter why does Baroque or early music
in general seem to be so "in" today?
RJ:I think today's audiences need
much more intellectual stimulation than before - they enjoy a good libretto,
they need challenging. Audiences come to the theatre for an evening
of gripping drama and I believe Handel supplies all this with his wonderfully
colourful compositions - intense drama and with the aid of first rate
librettists. He has an amazing capacity for giving each character an
emotional journey - normally during the course of maybe 8 or 9 da
I also think that with all the thrills and trills, singers can really
show off their vocal expertise which is incredibly exciting to an audience.
Baroque music is refreshingly vibrant - it is both simplistic and demanding......
There is something contemporary in Handel's music and his use of subject
matter. Modern audiences want more than the once acceptable 'park and
bark' opera experiences. Opera has evolved from a 'diva-' to 'conductor-'
to 'director-dominated' world. Handel's opera possesses a real assault
course for a director to tackle - it is never easy or straight forward
and this brings great motivation to the artists and audiences alike.
FF: Can you spell out for our viewers the unique qualities
of Handel's operas? Does his music make special demands on the voice?
RJ: The most obvious demands of singing
Handel is the sheer length of the main roles! Vocal stamina is a must!
Da capo arias require strength, incredible concentration [it
is so easy to get lost in a da capo aria - I've achieved it
many times!] and great imagination [in order to justify singing the
aria all over again] - a statement is made in the 'A' section - a reflexion
on the statement is made in the 'B' section and then a re-confirmation
in the da capo. Each artist has to personally ornament his
arias to suit the mood, emotion, style which is no easy task but leaves
one so much space for self statement and creativity - and it needn't
be the same every evening!!!! In what other music do we have this freedom?
I love having this responsibility! His music also encompasses just
about every technical demand possible. Recitatives can be terribly long
though - Agrippina is a case in point - and in order to make
them alive and interesting needs hours of work; but strangely enough,
every single word is so important it is a crime to make any cuts to
FF: Is Handel being performed today according to the
conventions of his time? Or are his operas sometimes modified to suit
today's audiences? Such as the "aria da capo" - there's a lot
of repetition there that may not make immediate sense to modern dramatic
or musical sensibilities. Are you a stickler for adhering to the composer's
original intent? Or do you feel there's room for some compromise, especially
if the reason is to grow your audience and ensure the future of opera?
RJ: Some directors today feel the
need to make 'cuts' in order for the drama to move forward which I completely
respect and admire; of course we have to keep an audience tuned in,
but I find it increasingly more frustrating when it is clear that certain,
often wonderful arias are cut in order to save the 'overtime' fees involved
in paying an orchestra. However, it is better to have 80% of something
geniune than nothing at all. Inevitably, a certain amount of tidying
up and tweaking has to be done to make these long dramas work and I
am all for it if it gets the public interested!
FF: Do you have a favorite or favorites among Handel's
operas and if so, what sets them apart from the rest?
RJ: Guilio Cesare is undoubtably my
favourite! It has everything you could want for a good night out - a
tense drama, perfectly shaped larger than life characters, the most
glorious music, and just a damned good story. Cleopatra is one of those
all time fascinating females in history. Just think of all the books,
films there have been made about her - really helps the research - and
I get a chance to 'play' her - amazing! Ruthlessly ambitious, manipulating
but you just can't help finding her attractive....
You sang a beautiful Juliette in your debut with the San Diego Opera
a few years ago; you've also sung soubrette roles - such as Susanna
in Figaro and Adele in Fledermaus, as well as such
lyric roles as Ilia in Idomeneo and Sophie in Rosenkavalier,
the title role in Cunning Little Vixen, Ann Trulove in The
Rake's Progress, and a Rhein Maiden in Rheingold! These
roles, and there are more to be sure, are enough to tip off opera lovers
about your versatility as a singer. Indeed, given the breadth of your
repertoire (from Handel to Stravinsky!) and the rate at which it is
growing, it seems inappropriate to "put you in a box" as a "Handelian"
soprano. Is there a method (or a philosophy) to your choice of roles?
Are there roles you haven't sung yet that you would love to sing in
the near and distant future?
RJ: I have been incredibly lucky to keep
my repertoire rather 'mixed'. It has been a determined choice that although
I have become known as a 'Handel' singer, I continue to sing a
varied rep in order to prevent being pigeon-holed. It keeps my brain
stimulated and keeps me busy at the piano - and mainly I don't like
being told what to do very much! I can't imagine anything worse in life
than constantly playing 'safe' In order to reach your potential. You
just have to explore it and be willing to take the rough with the smooth.
I found Wagner to be liberating vocally - extremely well written for
the voice and not at all overpowering as one would expect. Stravinsky
was a revelation to me. The genius of the score was overwhelming and
I felt so privileged to have an opportunity to absorb some of its brilliance.
Janacek pulls at my heart strings and requires me to really find the
legato and lyrical side of myself... this is what makes my work so interesting
to me. I can't think of anything worse in life than having to
label myself. I am still keeping my options open and plan new repertoire
from Britten[Titania] way back to Gluck[Euridice] and would love
to tackle some Bellini roles at some stage.
FF: Could you tell us what got you interested in opera,
who your role models were, if any, and what have been the defining moments
in your career?
RJ: In Wales there is a great love of music and a real tradition
of choral singing. I was lucky enough to be encouraged by my familly
and at school to follow my instincts. I led the school orchestra for
2 years [badly], took classical guitar lessons, sang in a choir, went
to drama groups, etc,etc. I fell into opera as it combined the two art
forms I loved - acting and singing. It could so well have been musicals,
but my mother refused to send me to tap-dancing school and my hopes
of being Bonny Langford quickly dissappeared! I loved being the centre
of attention and performing was a part of every day life. I didn't choose
it as much as it chose me.
FF: And - you've probably been asked this many times
before - what is it about the Welsh and music? It seems every Welsh
who ventures into opera soon becomes a star?
RJ: The Welsh are exposed to Music from the word go - it is
just our culture. Just think of the Eisteddfod. There's no escaping
it.......even if they're tone deaf every Welshman enjoys a 'sing-song'
even if it's just celebrating the Welsh rugby teams triumph on the field
[although not for a while!].
FF: And what is it in Rosemary Joshua that makes it
seem easy to balance a successful career and a lovely family?
RJ: I suppose I am a determined person who never likes
to sit back and take the easy options in life. Having a young familly
and 'juggling' my time between them and a career is sometimes overwhelmingly
exhausting but, ironically - I feel I subsequently bring the best to
both roles. Working in such an artificial world, it is important for
me to keep my feet on the ground - the experience of motherhood and
the love exchanged is life changing. I would definately say it's
the most testing and uplifting role i've ever had to play...my children
have helped me to see things more clearly, be more objective and open
and not re-live neurotic re -runs of a bad performance. Maybe being
a Libran means the balance is terribly important. I feel honoured to
have been given the gift of a voice as a means of communicating....and
I enjoy every moment of my professional life. I also have great respect
for my private life too and I feel blessed to have a wonderful familly
who will see me through this tough career and be there to catch me at
the other end!
Production photos: © and courtesy