Patricia Racette to the rescue at SF Opera
This undated publicity photo provided by the San Francisco Opera shows soprano Patricia Racette as Elena in Act IV during the dress rehearsal of "Mefistofele," in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Copyright San Francisco Opera, Cory Weaver)
NEW YORK (AP) — For Patricia Racette, this was already shaping up as a memorable year at the San Francisco Opera, opening the season in Boito's "Mefistofele" and returning in June to headline two more productions.
Then, suddenly, along came "Dolores Claiborne."
Less than a month ago, the American soprano agreed to take on an almost unheard-of challenge — rescuing the world-premiere production of Tobias Picker's opera based on the Stephen King novel. Mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick, for whom it was written, withdrew at the last minute, and David Gockley, the company's director, appealed to Racette to step in.
"I took as thorough a look at the score as I could, and it's fiendishly difficult," Racette said in a telephone interview this week. "But I'm a quick study, and I thought, gosh, it'll be to the wire, but I think I can do this if I just pull one of my turbo-sessions."
Her partner, mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton, bought a 4-foot electronic keyboard for their apartment, and they used that to help her learn the role.
"I'm not exaggerating at all to say that every waking hour has been spent preparing," Racette said. "The only breaks I've had are my performances of 'Mefistofele.'"
Why subject herself to the pressure? It's not as if Racette were a fledgling artist, hungry for a breakthrough. She's an established star, who at 48 regularly performs at the Metropolitan Opera and other leading houses.
"I do relish the challenge," she acknowledged. "And San Francisco is my artistic home. I have incredible loyalty to the company and to David. And almost immeasurable affection for the public here."
This undated publicity photo provided by the San Francisco Opera shows Ramón Vargas, left, as Faust and Patricia Racette as Elena in Act IV during the dress rehearsal of "Mefistofele," in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Copyright San Francisco Opera, Cory Weaver)
Though born and raised in New England, she served her apprenticeship in the Merola Opera Program in San Francisco, debuting with the company as the Priestess in Verdi's "Aida" in 1989. She's returned almost every year since.
In addition, she said she was drawn to the title character, a hard-bitten housekeeper in rural Maine who was memorably portrayed by Kathy Bates in the movie version. "This rather salty, sort of sour character," as Racette calls her, "is certainly a departure from the typical repertoire that I play."
And there's more: Picker and his librettist, J.D. McClatchy, also collaborated on an earlier opera, "Emmeline," which first brought Racette to prominence when she originated the title role in Santa Fe in 1996. (She also sang in another Picker opera, "An American Tragedy," at its Met premiere in 2005.)