Soprano Amanda Forsythe voices her love of opera
Soprano Amanda Forsythe has sung so often with baritone David Kravitz that she was only mildly surprised recently when she Googled her name, and up popped a reference to "Amanda Kravitz."
Tonight and tomorrow afternoon, Forsythe is paired with Kravitz again for Pergolesi's delicious little opera "La Serva Padrona" ("The Maid as Mistress"), presented by Boston Baroque as part of its annual New Year's Eve/New Year's Day gala at Sanders Theatre.
In the opera, the spirited servant girl Serpina tricks her boss Uberto into marrying her. As it happens, Forsythe is busy planning her own wedding this summer -- but not to Kravitz. Her fiance is Edward Elwyn Jones, the new university organist and choirmaster at Harvard.
The soprano, who is in her 20s but is pointedly vague about just which birthday she has passed, arrived in Boston a few years ago as a graduate student at New England Conservatory. Her star had been conspicuously rising ever since. Martin Pearlman, artistic director of Boston Baroque, gave her her first professional break in 2001 and has repeatedly re-engaged her; she has also sung with Emmanuel Music and the Handel & Haydn Society.
Forsythe was elegant, poised, focused, and determined as she talked recently about her emerging career. She grew up on Roosevelt Island, alongside Manhattan, and sang in high school choirs without ever taking her vocal potential very seriously.
"I thought I wanted to be a marine biologist," Forsythe says, "and that lasted until my sophomore year at Vassar. I wasn't very good at it, and one day I was standing there in hip waders surrounded by leeches and decided that this wasn't a particularly glamorous thing to be doing."
She began to develop her light lyric voice, and by the time she went to the Conservatory, she knew she wanted to be a singer. She didn't get into the opera workshop, but didn't mind because exciting things were beginning to open up for her. She appeared in Cavalli's baroque opera "Il Giasone" at Harvard -- which is where she met both her future fiance and Pearlman, who was so intrigued by what he had heard that he went backstage to meet her and arrange for an audition.
"She was still in school when I first met her," Pearlman recalls, "but she had a beautiful voice and was already singing on a very professional level, technically able to handle really fast music, and she was very quick musically, too. I hired her first for some small private fund-raising events -- she did 'La Serva Padrona' at one of them, and she turned out to be a really compelling actress onstage."
Pearlman then advanced her in small roles in the cycle of Monteverdi operas he did in Jordan Hall. Her professional debut was in "L'Orfeo" in 2001. Last year, Pearlman gave her a leading role in Handel's "Alcina," which was a big hit for her.
Pearlman says that Forsythe's most dazzling performance to date was actually in a dress rehearsal. Boston Baroque was taking the Monteverdi Vespers out to the new Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles last year when one of the sopranos came down with laryngitis, and it wasn't clear she'd be able to sing.
"The day before we left for California," Pearlman says, "I called Amanda and asked her if she would come along in case of an emergency -- at that point she had never seen the music. She flew out with us and sang the dress rehearsal perfectly, not just every note, but every detail I asked for, which was a phenomenal feat." The scheduled soprano was able to go on after all, so only the rehearsal audience heard Forsythe.
The soprano has spent most recent summers in educational or apprentice programs at Tanglewood, the Chicago Opera Theatre, and the Caramoor Festival. At Tanglewood, she sang in the world premiere of Osvaldo Golijov's "Ainadamar." Dawn Upshaw took the starring role of the Spanish actress Margarita Xirgu in her 80s; Forsythe was the young Margarita, and also understudied Upshaw. Forsythe has since gone on for Upshaw in the larger part.
She admits that being out of town in training programs or on the road "gets lonely," so she is looking forward to her summer-long honeymoon in Tuscany. She plans to use some of the time to prepare for European singing competitions -- in this country she has already won the George London Competition and took second prize in the competition sponsored by the Liederkranz Foundation.
Forsythe is focused now on getting better known, and on making her way in opera. "I don't want to be just an early-music singer. I know I can sing Mozart opera, and I want to try Rossini and maybe some of the bel canto composers. . . . There are some things I have learned not to try -- I once sang a scene as Nedda in 'Pagliacci,' and it was just plain wrong."
She enjoys her artistic partnership with Kravitz; last year for Boston Baroque they did Bach's "Coffee" Cantata. "La Serva Padrona," she says "is a great little show. Although it was written in 1733, it is still funny, still pertinent, and the music is just great."
Forsythe sets great store by being properly prepared. When young singers ask her for advice, she tells them to sing in choruses to develop their musicianship and to learn to play an instrument too.
"I studied piano for nine years and it has been very helpful to me since. There are singers out there who cannot learn a part on their own. I find that coming at the music from many different directions helps me to memorize quickly -- not just singing, but translating the texts, writing out the words, playing my music on the piano. Too many singers can nail two arias in an audition but can't make their way through any complete opera."
Boston Baroque, under the direction of Martin Pearlman, presents Pergolesis La Serva Padrona with Amanda Forsythe and David Kravitz, along with works by Handel and Bach, tonight at 8 and tomorrow at 3 p.m. in Sanders Theatre. Tickets $27-$63. Call Boston Baroque at 617-484-9200 or Sanders Theatre at 617-496-2222 or go to www.bostonbaroque.org.