Rosemary Joshua, soprano







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FF: 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 South Wales.

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 capo arias!

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 the libretto.

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....

FF: 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 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 Ken Howard



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