Considered heirs of the best Italian Belcanto tradition, Jessica Pratt and Carmela Remigio will be the protagonists of Donizetti’s The Castle of Kenilworth at the Donizetti Opera 2018 from November 24th. Exclusively for Operafashion, the two primadonnas confronted each other on fashion, stage costumes, opera heroines and … their animal friends!
Could you describe yourself in a few lines?
PRATT: Nature lover, avid reader, in love with craftsmanship and details. Australian and animal lover.
REMIGIO: I am an Italian woman and an animal activist. I consider myself shy, a perfectionist. I love life and my work, to which I always dedicate myself with great passion and devotion. I am a very romantic person, but being shy I tend to limit myself in expressing it.
And your vocality?
PRATT: Coloratura soprano
REMIGIO: I’m a lyrical soprano. My voice is exquisitely sweet, able to express a complex range of emotions. Within this vocal characterization, I have always tried to focus on class and interpretation and to perform roles that let me express how I feel about music and about what I sing.
Where does your passion for singing come from?
PRATT: My father is a tenor. Instead of singing me lullabies, he sang “Ridi pagliaccio” !!!
REMIGIO: It originates from the need to understand how to be a better musician through my voice. Voice is a wonderful instrument with uniques features. Everyone has a chance to find their own style and identity: this has fascinated me since I was very young. At the time, before even approaching singing, I was studying the violin. Theatre fascinated me as well – the possibility of acting and singing, of “living” a play, instead of simply “playing” music with an instrument. For me it was the discovery of a wonderful world that helped me to express the music I had in mind.
Starting on November 24th, you’ll be among the primadonnas of the Donizetti Opera 2018 and you’ll perform “Il Castello di Kenilworth” as Elisabetta and Amelia, in love with the same man. What types of woman are Elisabetta (Pratt) and Amelia (Remigio?)
PRATT: Elisabetta is a character who has fascinated me since childhood. I also have a British passport and queens are part of our culture. Elisabetta is a woman who takes control of her destiny in a historical moment in which it was almost impossible to be an independent woman. You fight against everything and everyone to get and then keep the power. She even refuses to get married to avoid losing her freedom and control of the throne. In this, this role is very similar to the Babylonian queen that I have just performed at Teatro La Fenice. She is a woman who grows in fear, rejected by her father, under the constant threat of death after the accusation of witchcraft and the murder of her mother. Finally she ascends the throne, trusting very few people, and falls in love with Leicester, a childhood friend. A married man. Nevertheless she continues her story with him against the public opinion. Let’s say that Elisabetta is a woman with a very strong character who chooses the path of conflict. She believes she was born to be a queen – the most important thing for her – but at the same time falls in love with a man she can’t really have. She is forced to trap herself into a sentimental cage to keep the throne and her independence: she can’t openly express her love for Leicester.
REMIGIO: Donizetti women have a great personality: it is no coincidence that Donizetti often puts them in comparison and in contrast in his works, especially in the historical ones. Just think of Anna and Giovanna in Anna Bolena, Maria and Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda, Sara and Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux, as well as Amelia and Elisabetta in Il Castello. Amelia is a young woman, pure but unlucky: in love with beautiful Leicester, she leaves her father and family for love and sacrifices herself by getting married in secret. But she will be deeply disappointed by her man. There will be a final reconciliation but, as often happens, this relationship will probably never be the same again.
Let’s talk about your relationship with fashion…
PRATT: It’s very bad! I am hard to dress, I have little time for myself and I always get stains on all my clothes the first time I wear them!
REMIGIO: Fashion helps me to express myself: even within trends it is important for me to respect my own idea of style. I can never fully adapt to what fashion dictates: what I wear must always be a reflection of myself.
What is the piece of clothing you love the most?
PRATT: An ancient shawl, manufactured in Venice, given to me by my parents in-laws. It is beautiful and precious, handmade a century ago.
REMIGIO: I’m attracted to anything black, the colour (or rather, non-colour) which I have always loved. So I would say that the piece I prefer is a black Armani cocktail dress (Armani being one of my favourite designers). I really like the style of a young and talented Italian designer, Christian Pellizzari. My favourite jewellery is by the Italian brand Roberto Coin.
What is the fashion detail that makes the difference?
PRATT: I’d say the quality of the fabric. Then the cut and the choice of colors.
REMIGIO: Clothes should give women the opportunity to feel more beautiful. I think the dress you love is the one that makes you feel feminine, not vulgar. In my opinion, at a certain point in your life (let’s say around 25), you’ve already tried everything, so you know what suits you and what you really like. As for me, I know I love simple lines, not too embellished. I love the V neckline and the black colour, but I can also wear white and red. In my everyday life I like wearing geometric clothes, but on important events I usually choose simplicity.
What’s your favourite perfume or scent? Why?
PRATT: The scent of freshly-cut grass because it brings me back to my childhood in Australia.
REMIGIO: At the moment I like Penhaligon’s Artemisia, which I find reassuring. Unfortunately, we singers can wear perfume sparingly: during rehearsals and performances, for example, I prefer not to wear it, out of respect for colleagues. It would be intrusive. I also like the freshness of verbena.
What opera character would love that perfume/scent?
PRATT: I think Leicester would. Every time Elizabeth meets him, memories from her childhood are brought back.
REMIGIO: Perhaps aristocratic but unhappy characters, like the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro or Donna Anna from Don Giovanni: Artemisia has delicate and melancholic notes.
What about your relation to music, besides Opera?
PRATT: I don’t like background music at home, I think it’s distracting. But I can’t ignore music: I need to stop and listen to it. I really like jazz and blues. I listen to pop music only when I’m working out at the gym: the endless repetition of the same four chords is so boring. Opera? Only live!
REMIGIO: As a young girl I had a passion for Madonna and Cher: in the 1990s and 2000s they were role models, being so strong and charismatic. We often work in theaters many hours a day (up to ten!), so in the evening or in my free time I prefer not to listen to much opera. Jazz music is very relaxing, but also the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven or the instrumental Bach, depending on the moment and mood.
You have worked with great costume designers. How do you collaborate in creating a character?
PRATT: The costume designer is the connecting link between the artist and the set design. A good costume can even “turn” into set design. It’s the main element through which the suspension of reality works. It allows the audience and the artist to enter the story. When the costume is perfect, an artist can feel a special harmony with the role they are performing. Performing the role of a powerful queen would be very hard if one feels awkward in the clothes they are wearing. When the costume suits us, we know we are well-dressed and we feel better, at ease. The same thing can be said for set design. When in Bergamo, I’m happy to work with Ursula Patzak. She did an amazing Aureliano in Palmira at the Rossini Opera Festival some years ago. Ursula never disappoints and for Il Castello she has created stunning costumes with details which reflect all the nuances of the characters and help telling the story. In recent years I’ve been lucky enough to wear costumes designed by true artists, people who are totally committed to theatre. The reprise of La Traviata at the Melbourne Victorian Opera in 2014 is another example that comes to my mind. The costumes of the original production were designed by Giancarlo Colis: he came to Australia to recreate them. He “studied” us for one week, at rehearsals, analysing scenes and movements. Then he re-designed the costumes, covering one’s flaws and emphasising one’s strongest points. This is what makes a designer great: the ability to design the perfect costume for the artist who will wear it. Fashion designers can work with the same models, but those who work for theatre productions rarely have this luxury! If one loves details (as I do!), feeling a special connection to these costume masters is inevitable. Most of my success is due to the work of people like Gianluca Falaschi, Giuseppe Palella, Simona Moresi and Carlos Tieppo, who have made me into several characters all through the years. Now we are friends and we share a love for music and research. Working with them is always great.
REMIGIO: It depends on the personality of the costume designer, even if the really great ones realize that things can change last minute: many times it happens that the sketch of the costume is far from the effect that that costume makes on the singer. Sometimes it is easy to make requests, sometimes it’s not that easy, but I always respect the work of costume designers and try to adapt to their choices as much as possible.
A stage costume you are particularly close to and why.
PRATT: It’s the costume of Ines from L’Africaine by Meyerbeer, designed by Carlos Tieppo. He knows me well, so he gave me the task of embroidering the front of the dress. I spent many hours decorating it with small pieces of jewellery. Carlos also taught me to make a cape by using traditional sewing techniques.
REMIGIO: I am very lucky because over the years I have worn the creations of many talented costume designers: they have helped me to “be” a character on stage, to get completely into the part. Costumes are fundamental for a successful performance: they must match the personality and the gesturing of the wearer. It is impossible to remember them all, but I would like to mention at least one of the greatest Italian costume designers: Pierluigi Pizzi. All his stage costumes have been a great source of inspiration for me. I am particularly fond of the costume I wore as Alceste at Teatro La Fenice in Venice (direction, scenes and costumes were by Pizzi) for its essential, harmonious and sensual lines. That dress gave my character a great strength, made me feel “right” on stage, in full harmony with myself and my role.
You share the love for animals…
PRATT: Animals and nature are way more important than we thing. I’ve always loved animals. When I was a child, I always brought home injured animals: small birds, snakes, mice, spiders and bats (Australian bats are bigger than European ones). I took care of them and then freed them. When I was a teenager, I ended up having seven cats: two of them belonged to a friend of mine, two were mine and three were recovered from a theatre that was being restored. For over a month I was able to hide them from my father, while looking for someone who could adopt them. One of the kitties needed a surgical operation, but I was a teenager and had no money, so I found an opera-loving veterinary and convinced him to operate her for free. Well, he chose an aria he liked and I sang it for him. It feels like yesterday: standing in the operating room, singing, while the cat looks at me with a perplexed look on her face.
REMIGIO: True. We share a great love for animals. Jessica and I laugh a lot during rehearsals, there is a wonderful atmosphere with her and we often talk about our puppies at home. I have two cats, Hamlet and Ophelia, a British and a Scottish. Ofelia is fun and a bit crazy. Hamlet is beautiful and a bit dummy. His nickname is Marlon Brando: he knows he’s handsome and he puts on airs for that.
Three adjectives to describe Carmela/Jessica
PRATT: Carmela is definitely a true artist, so beautiful and elegant in her ways and gesturing. Meeting her and working with her has been a honour and a pleasure.
REMIGIO:Sweet, affectionate, sensitive. But also respectful and polite. Two sopranos in the same cast could fight, but I feel very lucky: Jessica is a wonderful person.
Photo: A. Bofill, M. Brescia, J. Busby, N. Gonzalez, M. Crosera, A. Tabocchini, J.Busby