Spotlight on Linda Roark-Strummer

Linda Roark-Strummer is an important name in opera history whose career highlights have included Nabucco, I Due Foscari,Tosca, Attila,Il Trovatore, La Fanciulla del West, and Herodias in Salome with New York City Opera; Lady Macbeth in Macbeth with the Teatro Massimo Bellini (Catania), the Teatro Municipal (Santiago), and L’Opéra de Montréal; Giovanna D’Arco in Verona; the title role iCarn Turandot with Portland Opera; Jenufa with the Opernhaus Zürich; Maddalena de Coigny in Andrea Chénier with New Orleans Opera; the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music with Tulsa Opera. Concer highlights have included Sieglinde in Die Walkure with L’Orchestre Métropolitain; Brünnhilde in Siegfried with the Nashville Symphony; the Verdi Requiem with the London Philharmonic and the National Symphony Orchestra; and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Teatro alla Fenice. Ms. Roark-Strummer currently accepts private students for voice lessons and role coaching. For further information on this legendary singer you can visit her official website.
You sang with the best music directors like Gavazzeni, Bohm, Muti and many others. Whom did you enjoy working with the most?  

Gavazzeni was a dear, dear man and I enjoyed working with him very much.  I spent three days in Gergamo to work Foscari with him.  I’d go in twice a day to work with him.  When I got there in the morning, I’d wait outside his studio and listen to him play the piano. Charming!  A beautiful memory. I only worked with Bohm once.  In San Francisco. I didn’t really interact with him too much. But I recall running into him in the hallway once and was amused that he had on an old, gray sweater with a hole in it!I learned a lot from the General Music Director in Linz: Dr. Roman Zeilinger. I worked with him, not only in the theater, but also for several Catatas in Austria. He taught me a lot about the German language and how to sing it. Also much much much about the different musical styles. We are still in contact. I sang my first Mozart Requiem with him and it remains a very meaningful music- making memory for me.
I always felt a special musical connection with Muti and enjoyed working with him very much. I learned A LOT from him.  One of the best moments was on stage at La Scala in an orchestra rehearsal.  Dimitrova didn’t feel good and left the rehearsal just before the last scene. I was covering her in the production and singing a couple of the last performances.  I hadn’t staged that scene but had to go on for the rehearsal.  I always loved that scene and enjoyed singing it but this was the first time I had gotten to do it with orchestra.  Muti told me to just forget about staging and had me come forward and sing it at the edge of the stage.  It was like I was by myself all of a sudden – no chorus, no soloists, no tech people and stage hands – just me, the orchestra and Muti. I read off of his finger tips where he was going musically, which was where I wanted to go!  It was like we had made that music together from the beginning of time.  Too bad the rest of the world missed that moment!  It was magic!  I walked off stage thinking “Well, I can die now.  I’ve just made the best music of my life”.
Any funny telling worth remembering?
I got tickets to a performance of Nabucco in Trieste an aquaintance (a friend of a friend that I had met a couple of times).  She came to see me back stage and asked me to give her a lira (no euros at that point).  I gave it to her, somewhat surprised, and she gave me a beautiful antique pin, with diamonds (big ones!) in it.  It remains a favorite piece of mine.
What do you remember of your debut?
My Italian debut was in Venice – what could have been more ideal?  I LOVE Venice!  And with Sam Ramey!  The whole experience was unbelievable and I had the good fortune to sing there several times. At the time, I was learning Nabucco and there are places in in the music that remind me always, of where I was while I was memorizing it. I walk when I am memorizing and I would learn different sections in different Campi.  I’d sit on a well or a bench and learn another section.  In my mind, I go back to where I was when I learned that section.
Renata Tebaldi had a recurring dream of going on stage unprepared: did you ever fear anything like that?
I have had that dream a couple of times.  I have even had one where i was supposed to play a piano concerto!  I am a lousy pianist!  I was more afraid I was going to get out on the stage and realize that I hadn’t put on my costume and was standing bare assed in front of the audience.
What is the lightest soprano role you ever sang?
Adina or Ann Truelove.
Which singer did you look up to while studying?
I don’t know how to answer this, really. It was always the music that inspired me but I didn’t know enough about other singers at that point.  Later, it would have to be Elizabeth Schwartzkopf.
And what did you take from her?
Proprio nessuno. I always did it my way.
Who do you prefer: Verdi or Puccini?
Puccini.
Marschallin or Arabella?
Arabella.
What do you remember of Italy?
Tanti – Ma “TANTI”…cose. Gnocchi alla Gorgonzola; Caprese; Giolliti’s; Erice; Venice; Verona; e “tanti amici!
Which operatic character is close to your personality?
Minni – Fanciulla del West.
How does it feel to be in front of the Arena di Verona audience?
Molto piccola.
Would have you liked to sing Cherubini’s Medea?
“No, non credo”.
Are you a believer?
In a strange way, yes, very.
Do you miss singing?
“Si, ogni tanto”.  I enjoy, now, teaching young singers interpretation, diction and presentation.  I would like to try my hand at directing or straight acting.
How did you meet with your husband, who’s going to be in Rome at the Opera soon?
LONG story.  He was standing in, for rehearsals, for the Pappageno in Magic Flute.  This was in San Francisco, California.  I was singing Erste Dame. We got to know each other during the rehearsals.
Have you ever sung together?
We have sung together a number of times but after I started singing the Verdi/Puccini repertoire, we didn’t get to so much.  He has specialized in the Buffo repertoire and most of my rep didn’t have Buffi. In Heidelberg and Linz, we sang together often.  Adina to his Dulcamara, for example.
Any advice for young singers at the beginning of their career?
Know your art!  Listen more to the singers from the past – the so called “Golden Age” of Opera.  The closer you get to the composer, d the closer you get to what they really wanted from the music.  Learn to recite poetry with MEANING.  That will teach you how to color the words you are singing. Learn to look through your character not just at what they appear to be on the surface.  I see few singers today who I think really know what the character is thinking about and going through.  There must always be a bit of humanity in all characters. Even if your character appears all evil, you must find their soft spot, otherwise the audience will have no feeling for you, the character.  They won’t believe you.  Each character is going on a trip from the beginning of the opera to the end of it.  They start somewhere and end up somewhere; they learn something.  As portrayers of that character, we have to take the audience on that trip with us.  There are no neutral characters.  They are there for a reason. The best directors know how to help you find that.

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