Interview with Laquita Mitchell

As she prepares to wow Edmonton audiences with her talent, we asked soprano Laquita Mitchell to share some insights about her character in La Traviata and what she looks forward to in this production.

Edmonton Opera’s La Traviata marks not only your company debut, but also your first time performing in front of a Canadian audience. What are you looking forward to the most for your Canadian debut?

I’m looking forward to working with the esteemed creative team behind this wonderful production! As well as the music making that goes along with preparing one of Verdi’s greatest opera’s.

You’ve been in a few productions of La Traviata during your career. What do you find most compelling about this opera, musically and/or thematically?

I think musically speaking, the overtures to Act 1 and the Final Act of La Traviata reveal every ounce of desperation and hope that the character of Violetta feels about her life. The tragedy is  in the orchestration — Verdi was a genius. Every time I hear the piece I’m reminded of her tragic life.

What is the most challenging and most rewarding part about singing Violetta?

Well obviously Violetta’s Act 1 aria “Ah forse lui, Sempre Libera” is very demanding. Knowing that I must take ownership of role and not be intimidated by its difficulty or try to compare my interpretation with other sopranos is in itself a great reward.

Give us a bit of insight into Violetta’s character from your perspective. What is her objective in the opera? What makes her so relatable to audiences?

I think it’s important to understand that Violetta understands very well what her fate will be. She is very ill with tuberculosis. She knows that she will die young and at her tender age she does not believe that unconditional love exists. The world has taught her cruelty and she understands her “place” in it. When she encounters Alfredo she is very suspicious of his manner. She doesn’t trust him, and rightfully so. But something happens and very quickly she falls in love with his ardent, caring soul. He awakens hope within her, and she falls for him.

Is there a scene, aria, or duet in La Traviata you’re especially excited about performing?

Well I love singing duets.. and I have the opportunity to sing quite a few with my wonderful colleagues. I have to admit the Germont/Violetta duet is wonderful and the Violetta/Alfredo final act duet is truly a gem.

Although this opera is from the mid 19th century, do you think it resonates with any contemporary conversations?

This opera is a masterpiece because Alexandre Dumas did not shy away from what was actually happening during his time in France and readers loved it! The topic of class structure/socio-economic divides are still an issue today which makes the opera La Traviata very relevant.

Which movie would make a great opera and which character would you play?

I think Hidden Figures would make a lovely opera! I’d love to play the role of Katherine Johnson. She was a mathematician who worked for NASA during the space race, she calculated trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions during a time in American History when being a woman and African-American was incredibly difficult. But she is now credited for her efforts on many space explorations!

Who is your favourite composer and why?

I would have to say Verdi and Strauss. Verdi wrote more than 37 operas and let’s not forget the Verdi Requiem which is probably the most important piece of music ever written. There isn’t an opera house in the world that doesn’t perform at least one of his operas a season nor is there a symphony that hasn’t performed the Verdi Requiem. All of his operas include a soprano voice... or two! Richard Strauss’ art songs, symphonic pieces and his dark operas (Elektra, Salome) are for me heaven! I learned to appreciate art song through singing his pieces in college and then as an adult, singing his “Four Last Songs”. One’s heart is changed by singing his music. Difficult to explain, but if you listen to the recording of the third movement “Beim Schlafengehn” I believe you will understand. The great Jessye Norman’s recording is my favorite!

Which aria would you recommend that people search on YouTube because it is so impressive? 

Birgit Nilson singing “Allein weh ganz Allen” from Strauss’ Elektra or Leontyne Price singing  Strauss’ “Zweite Brautnacht” from Strauss’ Die Agyptische Helena 1959 or 1968 recording, or Franco Corelli singing “Di quella pira” from Verdi’s Il Trovatore.

What is your favourite opera that you have seen live?

I would have to say Madama Butterfly.