Meet Rebekah Gray, graduate student studying vocal performance and Casilda in her fourth leading role in the upcoming Colorado State University Opera Theatre production of The Gondoliers.
Gray received her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Colorado State University. She is now continuing in CSU’s vocal performance Master of Music degree program, currently in her second year. Her performances include Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Kim MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie, Annina in La Traviata, Adele in Die Fledermaus, the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, Clorinda in La Cenerentola, Mrs. Fiorentino in Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, Nanetta in Falstaff, and Musetta in scenes from La Bohème. In addition to playing the role of Casilda in The Gondoliers with Colorado State University Opera Theatre this spring, she will also play Despina in Cosi fan tutte with Opera Orvieto this summer in Orvieto, Italy. Other recent engagements include the soprano soloist in selections from Handel’s Messiah, the soprano soloist in the Poulenc Gloria, and a performance of American composer Michael Daugherty’s What’s That Spell? at the Rocky Mountain Contemporary Music Festival. Ms. Gray is an Apprentice Artist with Opera Fort Collins and participates in their education and outreach program.
How did you prepare for the lead role as Casilda in The Gondoliers? What do you think of the character?
When I prepare any role, I begin by listening to a variety of recordings to get a feel for the style of the music, tempos for different pieces, and how the ensembles fit together. I then spend some time with just my score and the piano, trying to perfect notes and rhythms without allowing myself to get stuck simply replicating what I hear a certain performer do. When the musical elements are all in place, I go back to listening and singing along to recordings as I get the music memorized, then head to rehearsals with the rest of the cast. Since this show is in English, there wasn’t the additional step of having to translate all of the text to make sure I knew what I was singing, but some of the British humor took a bit of looking into to make sense of it.
In developing my character, I’ve had a bit of a struggle deciding exactly how I want to portray Casilda. At first glance, she can easily be taken as a very entitled young noblewoman who has a bit of a temper. Even though the story and the characters are very exaggerated, as they often are in Gilbert and Sullivan and many other operettas, I still try to find as much connection to my character as possible and portray that character as honestly as I can. For Casilda, I have leaned more toward a love-struck young girl, who becomes excited and perhaps a little distracted by her sudden “access of dignity,” but ultimately wants to stay true to her first love.
Is there anything particularly challenging about your character or the opera itself?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge in just about any Gilbert and Sullivan opera is not in the music, but in communicating the humor behind the story. Comedy is often harder to perform successfully than pure drama, so actually trying to make the show as funny as it can be has been the biggest challenge for me.
The Gondoliers has a lot of history behind it, what do you think about the history of the opera?
I think it’s interesting that, despite the success it had when it was first premiered, this show is not performed nearly as often as other Gilbert and Sullivan operas, such as The Mikado, Pirates of Penzance, or H.M.S Pinafore. It was the fifth longest-running musical theatre piece at the time it closed in 1891, but since then has not been seen a whole lot on the stage. While some of these other shows may be more popular and commonly-performed over all, I’m excited to introduce the audience to a story and some fun music they probably haven’t heard before.
What attracted you to vocal performance and performing in operas?
At first vocal performance was something I started to do just because I was good at it. Not amazing when I started out by any means, but it was something I had a knack for – it came pretty naturally, and I mostly thought, why not? My reason for joining opera was even worse: most of my friends were involved and I felt sort of out of the loop not doing it. As I started to overcome some of my fears of performing, I realized how amazing it was to be on stage and be a part of that kind of work. It’s such a grand production, collaborating with so many singers, an entire orchestra, and adding a set, costumes and staging. When it all comes together just right, it’s such a wonderful thing to be involved in.
How has the Department of Music/Opera program at CSU cultivated your growth as a performer?
The music program here has been very beneficial to my development as a performer. I began my classical music education here at CSU, studying under Dr. Todd Queen and earning my bachelor’s degree in vocal performance in 2009. As a beginning singer, I learned so much about my voice during that time, figuring out how to sing more consistently, more easily and more expressively. As I started opera, I sang in the chorus for several shows, getting the experience of singing with the orchestra for the first time and getting used to singing, dancing and acting on stage. Throughout my four years in the music program for my undergrad, I worked my way up to becoming a better singer and better performer over all, and started being cast in roles in the operas. The experience of learning and performing a role is so incredibly valuable, and thanks to these opportunities, I grew so much, both vocally and on stage.
After having a great experience in my undergrad, and starting to do some work with a new teacher, I decided to stay at CSU for my graduate studies, and I am now working with Dr. Tiffany Blake. As a graduate student, I have been given even more performance opportunities, this being my fourth leading role in my two years here.
My experience has been one of much guidance and support from both the faculty and my colleagues. I can’t imagine a better environment to have developed as a performer.