Interview: American soprano Angel Blue set for 2013 Edinburgh Festival with American Lulu
Young opera singer in production of unfinished opera relocated to jazz bars of Deep South
This article is from 2013.
When American soprano Angel Blue isn’t performing or rehearsing operas, there are two places she would rather be. First is in her Toyota Avalon, cruising about her hometown of Los Angeles. ‘I miss my car so much when I’m here working in the UK,’ she admits. ‘I love to be on the road.’ The second place is in the 1990s, listening to a soundtrack of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Bush and Tool. ‘I was born in the 80s, but I am totally stuck in the 90s. You want to know how I unwind? I put on Metallica or System of a Down. And I turn it up. I am a rock girl when I’m not being an opera girl.’
Blue is part of what she calls ‘the made in the 80s’ new wave of young opera singers, helping to challenge some of the more outdated stereotypes about their chosen field. Viking helmets and Victorian bustles are nowhere to be seen in Blue’s wardrobe this summer. She’s just come to the end of her run in La Bohème with English National Opera, set in 1930s Paris, and inspired by the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson. Blue was playing glamorous tart-with-a-heart Musetta, complete with finger-waved hair and strings of pearls, with reviewers raving about her powerful soprano vocal in a charismatic, classy ENO debut.
For Blue’s two-night appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival, she will perform the lead in American Lulu, wielding a combination of very un-matronly Josephine Baker-esque slinky slips and Jackie O-style shift dresses. In three acts, the action sweeps over the 1950s, 60s and 70s, all against the background of the Civil Rights movement in New Orleans. ‘I hope this production will enlighten people to the idea that opera doesn’t just mean Puccini, or Wagner or Mozart,’ says Blue. ‘This is modern music, atonal music, but my vocal technique never changes; I try and bring the same spirit and fire and energy into whatever I’m singing.’
The opera joins Lulu in her mid-twenties and follows the character into her early forties. American Lulu is a modern reworking of an unfinished opera (Lulu), abandoned by Alban Berg in 1934, and more recently picked up by Olga Neuwirth. The Austrian composer has shifted its action to the sleazy Vegas-style jazz bars in America’s Deep South.
Blue describes the storyline as ‘basically a love triangle, in a soap opera kind of style’. And when it comes to the character she’ll be playing, Blue does not mince her words: ‘I hate to say it, but I’m almost positive Lulu and I would not be friends.’
Blue found some of the early rehearsals difficult, as she struggled to find any likeable sides to her character. ‘Lulu is a very selfish woman. She’s been used, and she’s used a lot of people. I read the script and saw this callous, narcissistic person: people around her are dying and she really doesn’t care.’
Luckily, Blue could turn to her LA acting coach for advice, who told her to stay detached from the character, saying she’d learn much more from the role if she wasn’t judging her. ‘I do my best not to judge Lulu, but it’s very hard. I like to be a nice person, I try and be kind, that’s my thing. I get excited when I can hold the door open for someone. Lulu and I are very different.’
The hardest scene for Blue comes in the first ten minutes of the opera. Someone is dying and Lulu makes fun of them. ‘She’s basically like, “it sucks to be you!”,’ laughs Blue. ‘I’d be frantic, or at least calling the police, checking their pulse or something! You can see Lulu weaving her web from act one, lying to her husband. In the States, we’d say he’s “sprung on her”; he’s completely head over heels, and you watch him, knowing he’s totally going to get hurt.’
One scene that Blue particularly enjoys performing is with singer Jacqui Dankworth, a regular at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival. Dankworth plays a jazz singer named Eleanor, who falls out with Lulu. ‘She’s really letting me have it,’ says Blue, ‘and I sing back at her. But I sing in a jazzy tone, mocking her. Getting to jazz it up in that part is really fun.’
Blue likes to play around with her voice, and reveals she’d love to explore what lies beyond the world of opera one day. ‘This is going to sound insane, but my dream musical collaboration would be with someone like David Guetta or the guys from Justice.’
As someone who spent six years taking part in beauty pageants before getting into opera, Blue is no stranger to a drastic career change. ‘I was Miss Hollywood, and I competed in the Miss America organisation for years to help pay for school. But I knew I wanted to be an opera singer, and I worked very hard to achieve that.’
If the dream crossover to dance music comes as a bit of a curveball, Blue is also interested in making movies. ‘It just comes with the territory when you live in LA. Most of my friends are actors, and you can’t help meeting people involved in the industry. I’d love to work with someone like Quentin Tarantino one day: I think making an action movie would be so much fun. I guess I just like seeing what’s out there, and not feeling limited.’
American Lulu, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, 0131 473 2000, 30 & 31 Aug, 7.15pm, £15–£35.