Laura Claycomb is the most entertaining of opera performers. Opera productions are typically replete with elements that are designed to enchant and enrapture, but in terms of pure vocal expertise, the coloratura ornamentation sung by sopranos is fundamentally tailored to get the audiences going.
Over the last couple of decades, the American-born Italy-based Grammy winner has proven herself to be highly adept at the discipline, unleashing trills and runs with virtuosic aplomb in memorable performances of star roles such as Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Marie in Donizetti’s La fille du régiment.
The 47-year-old’s polished seasoned skills and bubbly personality will be on show tomorrow evening (8 p.m.) at the Jerusalem Theater when she stars in the opening slot of the Opus Festival, sponsored by the classical music magazine of the same name, alongside the Israel Camerata Jerusalem.
The concert repertoire covers pretty extensive ground, taking in works by Vivaldi, Handel, Mozart, Donizetti and Verdi, including the overture of The Marriage of Figaro, “Cheti, cheti immantinente” from Act 3 of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, and a surprising and refreshing choice of the overture from Handel’s Rinaldo, an opera which is often considered to be somewhat off the global operatic track but was performed here last month as part of the Tallinn Mustonen Festival.
This is not Claycomb’s first working visit to Israel. She recalls a previous professional jaunt here in what proved to be strange circumstances. On that occasion, as is the case with tomorrow’s concert, the bill included internationally acclaimed Israeli counter-tenor Yaniv d’Or.
“I know Yaniv quite well because that time we did something like 11 concerts together; that was crazy,” she recalls. “It was the weirdest thing. On our first rehearsal – I can’t remember exactly what day it was – it was one of the days when the siren goes off, I think it was Holocaust Remembrance Day.
We were supposed to stand when the siren went off. It was the most powerful thing.”
Considering the repertoire for the performance, it was also an incongruous occurrence.
“We all stood up [for the siren] and waited or prayed or whatever we each chose to do in silence, and then we sat down and got straight back to singing something from Orff’s Carmina Burana. I just found it weird to be doing that piece in Israel where you are unable to do Wagner, and this guy [Orff] was actually a Nazi,” she says.
Claycomb says she is looking forward to working with d’Or again.
“He’s a beautiful singer and very thoughtful, and he’s so nice to have around,” she says.
Claycomb developed an interest in music when she was quite young, singing in school choirs and church choirs in Dallas, Texas, and was a member of a number of choirs that won prestigious prizes.
Even so, she didn’t consider a career in music until later.
“I always wanted to be a veterinarian,” she says. “It was in my last year in high school when I finally decided I wanted to be a singer. That may sound early, but all through growing up I was sure I was going to be a veterinarian.”
It was an aversion to a basic element of the animal doctoring profession that thwarted the youngster’s healing aspirations.
“Singing was just something I did for fun, but I had a problem with needles,” she laughs. “If I see a needle going into skin, I want to faint, so that was kind of a clue that being a vet was not really for me,” she observes with more than a touch of understatement.
With one career direction firmly put to bed, the 17-year-old Claycomb got down to developing her vocal skills.
“In my last year at high school, I went to a music camp in Michigan called Interlochen Music Camp,” she says.
It was to be a life-changing decision, as well as providing the teenager with a street cred booster.
“As a teenager, you try to build up a sense of selfworth, and singing really gave me that. It gave me a feeling of belonging and a feeling that I was important,” she says.
It was her music teacher during her last year of high school and through her double bachelor degree in vocal performance and foreign languages at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Barbara Hill Moore, that set the youngster on the road to the discipline of coloratura.
“Barbara kept moving my repertoire up [the vocal register] through high school, and finally she said I needed to get a soprano book of Italian arias. I asked her why, because I was sure I was a mezzo-soprano, and she said I was a soprano,” she recounts.
Claycomb clearly had the ability to hit the high notes while she was still at high school, but she had to wait until her physique settled before she could address those notes on a more regular basis.
“I could get up there – the tiptop notes like high D, E and F – but my teacher didn’t want me to hang out in coloratura stuff because that’s not very safe to do at a young age, until your throat has fully formed.
That happens in your mid-20s,” she explains.
Claycomb duly completed the necessary growing process, and her coloratura training began in earnest.
It is a continuum that she has maintained and upped appreciably over the years with great success.
She has performed with many of the world’s leading orchestras and has graced some of the classical music world’s most prestigious venues and events such as the BBC Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall, La Scala and the Berlin Staatsoper. She also performs an extensive range of works, including Baroque pieces and modern compositions. She has tackled such leading roles as Giulietta in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Tytania in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto.
Claycomb is consummately adept at tripping out exciting coloratura passages and says she is perfectly happy to keep people entertained with her talent.
“I noticed that people really perk up when you do the high notes,” she observes, “so I thought, ‘Why don’t I work on that?’” The Jerusalem Theater audience stands to reap the fruits of Claycomb’s labors.
The Opus Festival also includes a concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on March 30 (8 p.m.) with violinist Vadim Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe in a program that features works by Bach, Brahms Tchaikovsky and Russian-born composer Lera Auerbach. The closing show takes place at the Jerusalem Theater on April 9 (9 p.m.) and stars Franco-Swiss flutist Emmanuel Fahud playing works by Haydn and Mozart, together with the Israel Camerata Jerusalem under conductor Avner Biron.
For tickets and more information: 1-700-70-400; *3221; www.jerusalem-theatre.co.il; http://kupatbravo.co.il/announce/50043