“It’s a role that’s been good to me,” he says. He made his European
debut in the role at Wexford Festival Opera in 2007. After an extended period
working in Europe, it brought him back to the United States where he performed
it with the Boston Lyric Opera three seasons ago. Now he’s singing the Prince
again at the Royal Opera House. This is high profile, since it is the first
ever full staging of the opera. Previously, it was heard only in concert
This Royal Opera House Rusalka will be conducted by Yannick
NÈzet-SÈguin, making his long-awaited debut at Covent Garden. Hymel is
thrilled. “Yannick is a singer himself, he grew up in the choral tradition
and was chorus master in MontrÈal before he made his name conducting. He’s
just as at home with singers as he is with the orchestra”. Some conductors
leave acting to the director,. “But Yannick understands. For him, the music
is so important that he doesn’t want anything to get in the way of it.” In
this production, the Foreign Prince is characterized as childish and nervous,
which is valid. “But Yannick said to me, don’t let it get into your body.
You know you can sing it, so you owe it to yourself to sing it well”. Hymel
beams. “Few conductors have that spark of inspiration. I love it that he
stands up for you as a singer, and is on the side of the music”.
This production is directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, and
premiered in Salzburg. “Modern productions can be fine”, says Hymel, “but
this one is very physical. It’s not easy on the body, It’s tricky to sing
lying on your back, and there’s a lot of rolling about. You get beat up and
knocked around, but you still have to sing beautifully”.
“Rusalka is a very dark story. Dvo?·k really wanted to delve
the depths and shadowy aspects. Lots of low brass and ominous music that probe
beyond a fairy tale”. Rusalki are water spirits, exquisitely alluring. but
not wholesome. “Rusalka’s own music is so sweet that you can’t help
falling in love with her. Here she has a little fish tail.” Hymel smiles and
“acts” Rusalka’s movements, “So sweet and innocent. But Rusalki in
general? Stay away!”
What drew Hymel to The Foreign Prince? “The music, of course. Wexford was
my opportunity to get to know it well. I’d sung German and Russian, but
singing in Czech was a bit intimidating. No Czech coach in Philadelphia, where
I was studying then, and the coach I located in New York was flying all round
the world. So I found a score with the text partly transliterated and listened
to the Ben Heppner recording, while getting my mouth round those diacritics.
Now Czech comes easily to Hymel, who also sings Jan·?ek.
The Prince’s music is really very beautiful. In this production, the
Prince gets a chance to be a romantic hero at the end of the First Act, but
after that characterwise, things go downhill. He gets frustrated which you can
understand because Rusalka cannot speak or communicate, but the way he drops
her is cruel. Yet he’s not that childish, and in the end he takes
responsibility for his previous impatience. He asks for that last kiss knowing
that it will kill him. There won’t be any Happily Ever After.
Psychologically, it’s very deep”.
Hymel has an affinity for lyrical roles like EnÈe in Berlioz Les
Troyennes, which he sang with The Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam. “EnÈe
sits a half, even a full step higher than the Foreign Prince. It’s deceptive
because it goes from A natural and A flat, and then in the last scene, after
you’ve been singing your voice out, there’s a high C, not an easy C because
of where it lies, and was written for a specific type of voice we don’t often
hear these days”
Gounod Faust is another favorite.”The range is fantastic. Last
summer I sang ten performances at the Santa Fe Opera conducted by Frederic
Chaslin and directed by Stephen Lawless. The part is high, but with weight and
you have to sing Faust as an old man and then young again with wonderful lines
in the arias and duets.” Hymel is singing Faust again in Baltimore
Don JosÈ in Bizet’s Carmen holds several special memories. When
Hymel sang it at the Royal Opera House in 2010, he met the Greek soprano Irini
Kyriakidou, a colleague of Aris Agiris, the Escamillo. They married and make a
lovely couple. She’s recently made her Royal Opera House debut as Zerlina.
Then, last year in Munich, when Hymel was singing in Nabucco, Jonas
Kaufmann cancelled Don JosÈ at the last moment and Hymel stepped in. “It was
fun but daunting. I heard the Intendant go in front of the curtain and make the
announcement that Jonas would not be there. The audience started shouting and
there I was, thinking, Oh gosh, this is Jonas’s home town and I have to face
that crowd! But they were appreciative, and I was relieved”.
“I think there could be a renaissance in French grand opera, just like
there was a renaissance in Rossini ten years or so ago, when it had been
basically Il Barbiere de Seviglia.When singers like Juan Diego Flores
and Lawrence Brownlee who can sing them properly, we can hear why the operas
were good in the first place. There are all these wonderful operas like
Benevenuto Cellini and Les Huguenots. What a great time it
must have been them, with composers writing for so many different voice types.
Nowadays, we’re “Italian heavy” as Hymel puts it, but there’s so much
more to the tenor range,
“They say that between age 30 and 35 the voice is in transition”, says
Hymel, who is 32, “And I can really feel it filling out in a good way. It’s
not like when you’re 13 and it drops overnight It’s a gradual process. The
more music I do, the more it stretches me. I had to sing La Traviata
in Houston when the Alfredo pulled out. After the Prince and Faust, “Libiamo,
Libiamo” was different. But it’s good. It’s like when you go to the gym,
you don’t do the same exercise all the time because your body needs to adapt.
Ultimately, that’s what makes you stronger”. Rusalka runs for six
performances at the Royal Opera House from 27th February. Please see the Royal
Opera House website for
product_title=Brian Hymel, Rusalka’s Foreign Prince
product_by=By Anne Ozorio
product_id=Above: Brian Hymel