Soprano and HGO Studio alumna Heidi Stober was still wowing audiences as sexy Cleopatra in Handel's Julius Caesar when she started rehearsals for HGO's world premiere holiday opera The House without a Christmas Tree, which runs November 30–December 17. We asked her, what's it like to go from singing music that was composed in 1724 to a piece written in 2017?
HS: Exciting! Through my work in the "fest" system at Deutsche Oper Berlin, where we put on as many operas each season as the Metropolitan Opera in New York, I am used to preparing many roles at the same time, but to go from one of the oldest operas in the repertoire to a brand new work is very special. And Ricky Ian Gordon (composer of The House without a Christmas Tree) writes so beautifully for the voice that it is delightful. He absolutely understands the voice.
Q: What is it like to play three different characters in one opera?
HS: I play the adult Addie briefly, at the beginning and the end. I am also Miss Thompson, the schoolteacher to the children, and I play Addie's deceased mother, Helen, when she is pregnant with Addie and sharing her hopes and dreams for the future. The scenes change very quickly!
It's rewarding to work with director Jim Robinson, who is helping me find ways to change the physicality between the different characters. For Miss Thompson, who is very sweet but also rather prim and organized, I take smaller steps, whereas Addie is a confident young woman. It's a matter of how I carry myself. Just like when Cleopatra pretended to be her maid Lidia in Julius Caesar, I dropped the physical presence of being a queen for those scenes.
Q: You have a four-year-old child. How does your experience as a mother affect your portrayal of Addie's mother?
HS: It's a big part of it. Some of the happiest times in my life were when I was pregnant. So in playing the scene where Helen is singing about her hopes and dreams for the future, it is impossible not to feel the heartache and pain of knowing that she will never see her child grow up.
Q: Does this story bring back any of your own childhood memories of celebrating the holidays?
HS: Absolutely—at the end, when they are decorating the tree with ornaments. I grew up in Wisconsin, and we always made our ornaments in school, from our trips and experiences. And there's also putting on the school holiday show, going caroling—there are lots of warm memories!