Talking music with soprano Amanda Forsythe

Amanda Forsythe
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Amanda Forsythe

SOMERVILLE — After soprano Amanda Forsythe completed her undergraduate degree, she worked various jobs in New York City to stay afloat. She temped on Wall Street, sang Christmas carols at a family restaurant, and ushered at the Metropolitan Opera — at which she was “spectacularly terrible,” she said, because it required her to keep her eyes on the audience rather than the stage.

“One of our big jobs was to make sure that people who had bought standing room tickets didn’t sit down,” she said recently over coffee near her Davis Square home. “I didn’t have the capacity to be a jerk.”

Nowadays, you’re far more likely to find Forsythe, 41, on the stage than in the aisles. She has been a regular fixture at Boston Early Music Festival events for the past decade, and her glimmering voice and lively presence have made her a sought-after soloist on both operatic and concert stages.


This weekend, she reprises her role of Edilia in BEMF’s concert performance of Handel’s first opera, “Almira,” which as a staged production was the centerpiece of the summer festival in 2013. Her spellbinding rendition of the furious aria “Proverai di che fiere saette” from that production is the second-most-viewed video on BEMF’s YouTube channel, with over 30,000 views.

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Q. So, Handel wrote “Almira” when he was 19. When you were 19, were you still studying marine biology?

A. I did my undergrad at Vassar and they really encourage their juniors to go off and do a gap year or a gap semester. So I went to Australia with my then-boyfriend, ostensibly to study music and marine biology. I was not nearly so accomplished at age 19. And Handel was not nearly as accomplished as he later became.

The opera is a real mishmash of styles and languages — all the recitatives are in German, half the arias are in German, the others are in Italian. He hadn’t really developed great recitative writing at that point. I have a lot of high Cs in the middle of a recit. It’s quite hard to pronounce the words up there. But it’s a delicious work.

Q. How do you prepare to come into that phrase on that very percussive “Proverai”? What do you have to do to bolster that?


A. When we staged that, Gilbert Blin, our fantastic stage director, asked me what I wanted to do during that aria, “Proverai.” I said “I would like to stand still! And have other people dancing around me.” And that’s exactly what he did. Unfortunately, this time we don’t have the luxury of having dancers distracting everyone. But approaching a high note is not so different from approaching another note. Just focus and breath support.

To be honest, the really high notes are not for me. My 7-year-old can sing the Queen of the Night, but I can’t. [Laughs]

Q. When you first encountered the score, what was your first impression of this role?

A. Parts of it were quite badly written. [Laughs] It was written for changed voices. My part was written for a woman, and yet there are these incredibly long coloratura phrases that I think no modern singer could do in one breath. You hear stories about the castrati being able to sing pages and pages without taking a breath. But this was written for a woman, so maybe she was amazing, or maybe she took as many breaths as I do.

Q. What was your first impression of the character?


A. She’s a spitfire. Edilia, she comes in and sings about “Oh, these beautiful flowers! I love looking at the picture of my boyfriend, he’s so great . . . ” and he immediately comes in and he’s like “I hate your face!” And so she’s like “[expletive] you!” and she sings the “Proverai.” And he says “Oh, just kidding!” I make him promise to be mine forever. He’s very weaselly. It’s a fun character.

‘The opera is a real mishmash of styles and languages — all the recitatives are in German, half the arias are in German, the others are in Italian. . . . But it’s a delicious work.’

Q. What’s it like making the jump from singing Baroque music to singing Rossini?

A. In my mind, you sing the same way. I try to approach Baroque music in the bel canto style, with a lot of line and a lot of direction. What I find interesting is because I mostly do Baroque music now, when I am thrown back into a situation of doing standard repertoire, a lot of the time I will use straight tone or ornament something that is not traditionally ornamented, and it’s interesting to see the reaction of the different conductors. Some people are very open to that idea, and others are like “That’s not how we do this. You MAY NOT use straight tone in Rossini!” So it really depends on who you’re working with.

Q. How is the performance milieu different?

A. I was singing “Magic Flute” this season with Seattle Opera in a really fun production. And what I missed was the connection with the orchestra. As Baroque musicians, we’re so used to interacting with the other musicians. We’re often onstage with them, and when your only connection is the conductor . . . I thought “These people could walk past me on the street and I’d have no idea who they were.” That being said, it’s fun to do a big spectacle once a year or so.

Q. When I saw the video for “Proverai,” my first thought after “This is awesome” was “That ruff looks very awkward to sing in.”

A. It’s actually softer than it looks.

Q. My question was, what’s the most uncomfortable costume you’ve ever had to wear?

A. Oh, that’s easy. I did Steffani’s “Niobe” at Covent Garden. And the costume designer was this German woman, who shall not be named, who was completely inflexible. And my costume was a good foot too long. It was this white sort of mummyish thing that was all net. And my whole role was just scampering, scampering, scampering! I fell down every day because of this, and before I ran I’d just have to grab the acres of fabric. I asked the costume designer if she would consider altering the costume, and she said “Ve vill not! Cut!” So I just fell down a lot in the performances.


Presented by Boston Early Music Festival. At Jordan Hall, Nov. 25, 8 p.m. Repeats Nov. 26.

Interview was edited and condensed. Zoë Madonna can be reached at zoe.madonna
. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.