From the Met to the Movies
Pembroke baritone hits big screen in opera production
By Steven Mazey, Ottawa Citizen
What: The Met “Live in HD” presents Maria Stuarda
When: Saturday Jan. 19 at 12:55 p.m.
Where: Barrhaven, Coliseum, South Keys, SilverCity, StarCité cinemas
A young baritone from Pembroke is busy at the Metropolitan Opera these days, helping to send a famous 16th-century queen to the chopping block.Joshua Hopkins even manages to sing beautifully while he does it.
Hopkins, 34, has credits that include opera houses and orchestras across the U.S. and Canada, including Santa Fe Opera, the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony.
The singer, who as a teen commuted to Ottawa for voice lessons with Laurence Ewashko, later studied at McGill University and Houston Grand Opera and was soon causing a buzz.
Hopkins, who lives in Houston with wife Zoe when the two aren’t on the road, was chosen by Opera News Magazine last year as one of 25 artists the editors believe “are poised to become major forces in the field in the coming decade.” Hopkins was the only Canadian singer on the list.
If you can’t make it to the Met this month to see his performance, the Met’s acclaimed production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda is coming to you.
On Jan. 19, the matinee will be beamed by satellite to cinemas around the world. It’s part of the “Live in HD” series, which each season reaches about three million people in more than 60 countries.
Maria Stuarda, which opened New Year’s Eve, is a return to the Met for Hopkins, who made his debut there in 2009 as Ping in Puccini’s Turandot, which was also seen in cinemas.
Donizetti’s opera, about the rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, stars mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as Mary and soprano Elza van den Heever as Elizabeth.
The women get the big arias and the juiciest scenes, including an invented but effective confrontation in which Mary rages at Elizabeth.
Hopkins, aged for the production with the help of a grey beard, plays Elizabeth’s secretary of state. His key scene arrives when he urges Elizabeth to sign Mary’s death order. He later informs Mary of her fate and escorts her from prison.
In a backstage interview, Hopkins said that the amount of singing isn’t huge, but the role is rewarding.
“Cecil is presented as the sort of villain and plays an important part in getting the death warrant signed and later delivering it to Mary and reminding her that it’s time. It’s a memorable role. Ping (in Turandot) was part of a trio, so was less featured in a way.”
New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini, who praised Maria Stuarda as “musically splendid and intensely dramatic,” wrote that Hopkins “captures the mix of genuine concern and political calculation that drives William Cecil.” An Associated Press critic praised Hopkins’ “robust tone.”
The audience at the Jan. 4 performance offered Hopkins cheers and extended applause as he took his bow in his heavy cloak.
Singing at the Met is a dream for aspiring singers, and Hopkins said his work with fellow singers and with director David McVicar and conductor Maurizio Benini has been rewarding. Hopkins is booked to return to the Met next season, in an opera to be announced.
“The Met is one of the pinnacle houses but I feel comfortable here. There are wonderful people who build you into a better artist, and I find the stage friendly. The size of the house doesn’t feel daunting. It’s constructed well and the acoustics are good.”
For those unfamiliar with Donizetti’s opera, he says it offers “beautiful music and a showcase for Joyce and Elizabeth. David McVicar has done a fabulous job getting the emotions and relationships across. People will see stark, beautiful scenery, and the costumes are phenomenal. ”
Hopkins says he’s a fan of the satellite broadcasts.
“My family across Ontario will see it. It’s interesting how many people it reaches, particularly people who might not have the opportunity to see opera.”
Hopkins’ grandmother, who lives near Lake Simcoe, attended the screening of Turandot in 2009, “and she told me that when I came out for my bow she stood in the movie theatre and cheered,” he says with a smile.
Coming highlights for Hopkins include singing Papageno in The Magic Flute in March for Vancouver Opera, a role he performed with a great sense of comedy for Opera Lyra Ottawa in 2009. He will sing at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto next season, and will sing the leading role of Almaviva this summer in The Marriage of Figaro at Britain’s Glyndebourne Festival, an event that attracts opera lovers from around the world.
“The opportunity to sing Mozart there is a thrill. The opera house is beautiful and intimate, and the festival attracts attention internationally. I haven’t performed a lot in Europe, and I’m hoping that will open doors there.”