The Icelandic baritone Olafur Sigurdarson makes his Opera Omaha, and United States, debut in our upcoming production of Falstaff. Read the interview below to get a better sense of what brings Mr. Sigurdarson back to the role of Sir John Falstaff time and again, what he's looking forward to in this production, and what he's enjoying the most about his time in Omaha!
Since you have performed the role of Sir John Falstaff in several different productions, how has your interpretation of this role changed throughout your experiences? Is there an essence to the character of Falstaff that you’ve tried to incorporate every time you perform this opera?
There is most certainly an essence to the character that remains from one production to another. Falstaff’s lust for life is certainly something I wouldn’t try to take away from him, regardless of the situation. It would be impossible not to incorporate his buoyant behaviour and cheekiness in any setting of the piece. Nevertheless, each production calls for a different approach in many ways. The setting in time and place for example will always be of importance and have an effect on the characters behaviour. But underneath it’ll always be good old Falstaff. I’m not sure my interpretation has changed dramatically between productions despite what I mention above. But every new production is an opportunity to explore the role better and every time I find nuances that I hadn’t spotted before. And every time I’ll try and sing the old man better. I still haven’t come out of a performance of Falstaff thinking I’ve done him justice, and I don’t think I ever will.
What is it about this opera, and the character of Falstaff, that has brought you back time and again to perform in it?
It would take a lot for me not to accept [an] offer to sing Falstaff. This role is any baritones dream. It is tremendously challenging in every way, both from an acting point of view as well as vocally. Falstaff has been interpreted by some of the greatest singers in the history of opera, so there is a lot to live up to. Even though Falstaff is first and foremost an Ensemble Opera, taking on the lead role is still a huge responsibility and an honour. I hope to be able to fit in his shoes for many more years to come.
Is there a specific scene or moment in this production (Opera Omaha’s) that you want audience members to pay special attention to? Why?
Falstaff is such a roller-coaster ride from beginning to end making it hard to point out specific scenes being of more interest than other. I would still encourage the audience to pay special attention to the big Ensemble scenes. The scene before the end of Act 2 is a spectacular example of Verdi's genius writing. The women plot away singing their own tune while the group of men sing another. At the same time Falstaff is in hiding with his musical outburst, and the young lovers go about their business. All this happens at the same time, in perfect musical harmony. Same goes for the famous fugue at the end of the opera. The voices join in, one by one, and come together in an explosive ensemble of joy and reconciliation.
What have you enjoyed most about your time so far here at Opera Omaha, working with this cast and creative team?
I really have enjoyed my time here at Opera Omaha. The company has gathered a first-class creative team and cast, and the staff are very pleasant and most helpful in every way. With such an ensemble piece it is vital that both cast and team work well together. We’ve been able to throw ideas back and forth with everyone bringing something to the table. I do believe we’ll deliver a great show as a result of the creative work during those past few weeks. I am thrilled that my US debut is with Opera Omaha.
Outside of rehearsing, how do you like to spend your time in Omaha? Do you have a favorite place to visit? (Coffee shop, restaurant, neighborhood, park, etc.)
I guess I’ve spent less time out and about than usual because of the cold weather. It is ironic that the Icelander in the cast complains about the cold, but funnily enough it is colder here than in Reykjavik. That still hasn’t stopped me exploring the local restaurants downtown and at the Old Market. I am pleased to say that I have found some lovely places. Real favourites are Kitchen Table and Culprit Cafe on Farnam Street. I have also enjoyed visiting the museums and am hoping to find time to go to the Zoo which I have heard so much about.
After performing with Opera Omaha you will make your debut with Minnesota Opera as the title role of Rigoletto, and perform as Falstaff once again with Opera Colorado. What are you most looking forward to about your first professional roles in the American opera scene?
Performing in the US has always been a dream of mine. The fact that I now have three contracts in a row is simply wonderful. I am very much looking forward to visiting Minneapolis and Denver after my time in Omaha. The best part of my job is getting the opportunity to travel, something I’ve always enjoyed. I certainly hope this is only the beginning of my US outings, fingers crossed!