Mezzo-soprano Naomi O'Connell returns to Opera Omaha this season as Neris in the upcoming production of Medea after appearing last season as the Stewardess in Jonathan Dove's production of Flight. Read the article below to learn more about Ms. O'Connell's life on and off the stage.
Where do you spend most of your year?
I travel a lot in this job, and packing up suitcases for a couple of months of hopping around the country is a given, but I share an apartment with my husband in New York City, which is where we call home.
What is your all-time favorite opera?
Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmélites is a masterpiece. The music and the theatre of it are fully intertwined, the characters are fascinating, and the inexorable march towards that stunning final scene drives the show forward with a great energy. It’s about living under oppression, finding courage in the face of death - huge, human stories. I feel transformed after watching it, which is what I look for when I go to the theatre. Poulenc stipulated at the front of the score that the opera should be performed in the language of the audience watching it, which brings the story that much closer to home. If it’s done well, it’s the ultimate operatic experience.
What has been your favorite opera role to play?
I loved playing Offenbach’s La Périchole - she’s feisty and streetwise, can think on her feet and has a healthy disrespect for authority. She shares the stage with her love Piquillo, and though their relationship is full of potholes, they adore each other. She gets drunk and sings a fabulous little number called the Tipsy Aria in the first act, and the music throughout the whole show is fizzy and full of joy. It was such fun to play her.
Do you have any hobbies outside of opera?
I practice yoga when I’m being good, bake cakes when I’m being bad, and have a huge love of cringe-worthy, one-liner jokes.
Do you have a secret talent (we all know you can sing)?
I can recite a good portion of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes by heart.
Describe the best or most rewarding part of your job:
I love being in the rehearsal room creating art with people who are honest in their character work and open to collaboration. There is nothing more electrifying than speaking truth to each other through whatever medium we happen to be in - music, spoken text, or body language. As Brené Brown says, we are hardwired for connection, and in performance this becomes a multi-layered experience: a connection to the performers onstage with you, to the musicians in the orchestra, to the audience in the room, to the character you are playing, to the music (which sometimes has been composed hundreds of years ago, yet still feels fresh and alive today)… I’ve been addicted to that heightened sensation ever since I first experienced it: it was as though the world went from B&W to suddenly technicolor.
If you’ve previously spent time in Omaha, what’s your favorite spot for a meal or a drink?
I love Kitchen Table on Farnam Street. It has a comfortable, friendly vibe, the food is great and the staff are lovely there.
If you’ve previously spent time in Omaha, how would you describe it to a new visitor?
A happening city with a thriving arts scene, great restaurants and very friendly people. Be sure to check out the zoo and botanical gardens!
How do you relate to your character?
I’m playing Neris, Medea’s servant/confidante. She is wholly focused on getting Medea (and thereby herself) away from the angry mob of people who wish her dead. Her goal is safety. In Neris’ aria, she talks about how she is the only one who can understand Medea, and will remain faithful to her until death. Once Medea begins to show signs of insanity and (plot spoiler!) Neris sees that she might harm the children, her focus changes but it takes her until the very end of the opera to realize that she will actually kill them. Loyalty is probably Neris’ biggest character strength and her biggest character flaw - she loves Medea so much that she is blind to her faults. I can identify with that part of her.
Opera Omaha's production of Medea opens next week! Make sure to get your tickets to see Ms. O'Connell and her fellow cast members in this stunning performance. For tickets, visit: ticketomaha.com/Productions/medea