Around five years ago, opera tenor Greg Fedderly made the decision to remove himself from the Romantic Lead category. Years of doing that thing which most romantic leading tenor roles are all about -- can make a guy think. So he calls his agent and all the brass and says something like -- I want to be a comprimario. What do you think?
"I was doing the Rodolfos and Alfredos," he says,
and realized I was having more fun doing the character roles. So I made the hard decision with my manager and also with the people at Los Angeles Opera who for a long time have been my mentors. I talked to Placido Domingo about it. Some people agreed, some didn't. I just thought it was the right idea for me.
My first view of Greg Fedderly happened right before that in his role as Basilio in the 2006 production of Le Nozze di Figaro at San Francisco Opera. It was a solid and beautiful production. The performance I saw had an additional buzz about it -- soprano Melody Moore had stepped in for Twyla Robinson as the Countess. It was her first appearance in a leading role with the Company. Melody was a sensation and Greg imparted fresh understanding to the role of Basilio.
Greg Fedderly (as Monostatos). The Magic Flute, 2010. Photo, Courtesy of Los Angeles Opera
He returned the following season as Monostatos in The Magic Flute. It would seem his decision to switch had taken hold. Greg's performance was electric, wickedly funny, and since then -- unforgettable. Monostatos is the totally disgusting character who revolts us completely. The humor in the role requires a natural Saturday Night Live-type comedian. It also contains the lyrical aria, "Everything Feels the Joys of Love" (Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden,) which allows Monostatos to be obnoxiously fresh with the innocent Pamina. Greg was a Mozartean riot. I asked him if he thought it would be one of his long-term roles.
Definitely. I've also done Monostatos quite a bit at the Met in the Julie Taymor production. The show I've done the most is the Met's old production of Marriage of Figaro. I've probably done over eighty of them at the Met.
Greg Fedderly was right. He knew he would be happier exploring a wider field for his dramatic and comedic talents. Decisions like these are not taken lightly by singers such as Greg who arrive with a strong resumé of major roles performed under the baton of world class conductors. As a principal artist with Los Angeles Opera and protégé of its general director Placido Domingo, Greg had weighed his options carefully. His decision was twice-blest this season at San Francisco Opera. His performance as Detective Thibodeau in the world premiere of Dolores Claiborne was a striking combination of vocal bravura and dramatic nerve. He is currently singing "Bardolfo" in the company's production of Verdi's Falstaff starring Bryn Terfel. Greg is his sidekick.
Greg Fedderly and Bryn Terfel. Photo, Cory Weaver
Productions like Dolores Claiborne are such surprises and give me the opportunity to really challenge myself. The tessitura of that role was a real push. But I worked on it for months and months and got my voice up to that really high place. And I enjoyed that. The Detective is a kind of character role, but more challenging. I've sung Bardolfo before and I've always enjoyed it. Falstaff is such a fun opera and for Bardolfo -- it's very physical. I performed it with Bryn about ten years ago and had such a good time. When they asked if I would do it again I knew immediately I wanted to do it, especially with this amazing cast.
Composer Tobias Picker created a beautifully complex and challenging score for Dolores Claiborne. The libretto by J. D. McClatchy captures the dramatic intensity of Stephen King's 1993 novel and its weighty subjects of incest, spousal abuse, murder and hate. Those familiar with the 1995 film starring Kathy Bates and Christopher Plummer as the detective will marvel at how a full-scale opera proved to be the perfect medium for its transition to the stage.
Greg's character, Thibodeau is righteous and smug, an irritating tenacious jerk. At the very beginning of the opera he is with Dolores in the interrogation room. He is bent on convicting Dolores for allegedly murdering her employer, Vera Donovan. Twenty years before, he failed in his attempt to convict Dolores for the death of her husband, Joe. The composer starts him off low mid-range. "Name?" No response from Dolores. Higher. "Name." She remains silent. Higher. "Name." Dolores waits for the inevitable, his drill is familiar. Within less than 30 seconds and three more repetitions, Thibodeau's frustration reaches the boiling point on a shrill high B-flat, "Name!"
"Andy," says Dolores, "you've known me since you were running around in a soggy diaper."
"The music was such a challenge vocally -- for everybody," said Greg.
I was intrigued by that at first. Can I sing this very high tessitura? The character has lots of High Cs and B-flats. My roles of Monastatos and Don Basilio are not that high. So, it was a challenge. But I ended up really loving it. It is so much fun to do a new piece, especially when the composer is right there with you. It's about getting what he was thinking as he was writing it and to realize that in your own interpretation, in your own voice.
As with the film, the opera combines the use of flashback to tell the backstory that leads to Joe's death. At that point in the story, Dolores has endured and covered up years of harsh physical and verbal abuse from Joe. His latest pounding will be his last. Their young daughter, Selena has heard the skirmish. She comes downstairs and finds her mother holding an ax, looming over her father. "You won't never hit me again," says Dolores.
The following day, Dolores confronts Selena as to why her grades are failing and that her teachers have noticed she's been keeping to herself. "I'd say you had fallen for some boy, 'cept you ain't so pretty as you were." Selena then whispers the truth to her.
The scene of sexual exchange between Selena and her father is riveting and seems longer than the version in the film. It is actually a fabulous quartet that involves two locations -- Selena and Joe at home, and Dolores confiding to her employer Vera what she knows has happened. The music is spellbinding, the stage direction by James Robinson is masterfully controlled.
GREG FEDDERLY. Photo, Courtesy of SFOpera
"How long ago did you know you would be doing the role?" I asked.
"I knew about two years ago, but they didn't have a score. Then they sent the first half, but I didn't get the second half until just shortly before I came to the rehearsals."
I am sure a lot of people at each performance were unfamiliar with both the novel and the film of Dolores Claiborne. Some may not have read the synopsis in their program. I would hope that the majority of us did. In some ways, the scene between Selena and her father is like watching repeated news footage of a plane crash. You know it's coming, but you just can't take your eyes off it.
"I felt the same way," said Greg.
James Robinson is such a great director. Our first rehearsal was in this small room. My jaw was on the floor, like, 'Oh-my-God'. I was just shocked. I was sitting next to Cathy Cook [alternate 'Dolores' on 10/1, 10/4] who was covering it at the time. We're both looking at each other and saying, 'What are people going to do when they see that?!'
The bonus of supporting or comprimario roles the size of Detective Thibodeau (and Monostatos), is that they often get an aria. Greg's rigorous preparation paid off for him in a four-page number that is loaded with dramatic content and vocal dynamics. As with his opening scene, the range of the aria just keeps climbing higher and higher. "I'm gonna get you, Dolores. Everyone knows the truth, Dolores. You've been a killer, always."
I was practicing everyday. I'm sure my neighbors were going crazy hearing it over and over. I had to get that into my voice -- singing up into that high register of my voice -- all the time, for months, everyday. My neighbors are hearing, 'Tell me why you killed her?' over and over. I vocalize all the time and definitely keep up with it. You never know what may come up. Getting through Claiborne was such a personal victory. I sang that tessitura! I would love to do more of it. What I really want to do -- and I've come close, but the production kind-of fell through -- is the Witch in Hansel and Gretel. I have fantasies of doing Peter Grimes. I don't know if that will ever happen. I've done the role of Bob Boles at the Met, at San Diego, and Los Angeles. But I would love to try Peter Grimes some day. And Death In Venice. The Britten tenors. Now that I'm getting older, that would work.
What also works for Greg is being co-owner of a charming restaurant, Off Vine, located in Hollywood near Vine and West Sunset Boulevard. Greg knows exactly what he'll be doing in his free time. With a million things to do as a restaurant owner, imagine the reaction when he says, "Sorry, guys, I'm singing at the Met."
"Oh, they know!" he says.
I own it with two good friends of mine. They are the chef and the general manager. They knew my situation -- that I leave and go off to sing and then come back. They were well aware of it. When I'm singing in Los Angeles we have lots of fun company parties.
Imagine the fun party he'd throw after singing the Witch in Hansel and Gretel!
Greg Fedderly (right). Marriage of Figaro, SFOpera 2010. Photo, Cory Weaver
San Francisco Opera's production of Falstaff continues through November 2. Click here to purchase tickets on-line.