Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

10 Questions for...
Mark Delavan

March 29, 2011

Mark Delavan Photo: Christian Steiner

One of the highlights of this summer’s opera season stateside is the presentation of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen at the San Francisco Opera beginning in June. The company's bet on well-respected vocalists making their debuts in complete Ring cycle roles appears to be paying off with the spectacular Brünnhilde of Nina Stemme and the Wotan of American baritone Mark Delavan. It’s one of the most challenging of all baritone roles, and Delavan has already served up plenty of stamina and impressive singing in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre by the bay in the last few seasons. Of course, he’s no stranger to the biggest baritone roles including Rigoletto, Iago, and Falstaff. He's a familiar face and voice to most American opera fans. His international career has led him to collaborations with the biggest names in opera, and his upcoming Wagnerian marathon under Donald Runnicles will be something to see. He was kind enough to take a break from his preparations to play the King of the Gods to answer 10 Questions for Out West Arts.

1. What role would you most like to perform, but haven’t yet?
That’s a hard one. There is no one answer. I have three lists, in the following three categories: operatic, non-operatic, and non-musical.

Operatic: A few come to mind. Hans Sachs in Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Massenet's Don Quichotte, Goloud in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, and maybe later, Boris Godunov.

Non-operatic: Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, and Tony in The Most Happy Fella

Non-music: Grandfather... but not too soon!

2. What role would you never perform, even if you could?
Although, I love the opera, the title role in Billy Budd.... he's just too nice.

3. You’ll soon be returning to San Francisco this summer for three complete Ring cycles as Wotan. This is one God who makes some bad decisions that continue to haunt him (and everybody else) throughout three of four operas. What’s your favorite Wotan moment in the cycle?
There is a moment in the third act monologue of Die Walküre where Wotan changes his mind right in front of the audiences eyes. He realizes he is no longer angry at Brünnhilde, but for the sake of the world, he must carry out his curse and put her to sleep. He finishes the first part of the Farewell, with the line "Denn einer nur freie die Braut der freier als ich der Gott", (The one alone will free the bride; one more free than I, a God"). The moment takes place in the interlude music. Brünnhilde recognizes that Wotan has lost the strength to do what he absolutely must, embraces him and looks in his eyes, and Wotan begins the most beautiful section, "Der Augen leuchtendes Paar,..."(Your gleaming pair of eyes..) and reminisces about battles, and meals, and how when he couldn't take another day as King of the Gods, she was there. At the end of this, Wotan says that he must kiss her Godhead from her, and kisses her on the forehead. Whatever happens next is wonderful whatever the director chooses.

In [Francesca Zambello's] production, Brünnhilde feels the "Gottheit" leave her, gets up under her own steam, walks to the rock, looks Wotan in the eye as if to say, "You've done all you can do, Daddy, I'll take it from here," and lays herself down. That slays me! It's lucky that I have some time to recoup before the next section because I always have to choke back a tear.

Mark Delavan as Wotan Photo: Terrence McCarthy

4. What’s the best thing about singing Wagner?
The music and the drama.

5. What’s the best thing about singing something other than Wagner?
One is home in time for David Letterman. (joke!) Seriously, it is the beauty of variety. I love apple pie, but I wouldn't eat it every day. Because of my voice type, in addition to Wagner, I am able to sing Verdi, Puccini, and Strauss. What is better than that?

6. Which music made you want to sing opera?
It had to be Puccini and Mozart. Specifically, La Bohème and The Marriage of Figaro. The opera bug bit me from those two operas.

7. While you’re known for some great villains like Iago, you’re no stranger to comic roles like Falstaff either. As a baritone, is it more fun being bad or being funny on the opera stage and why?
One of the things I like about my career is the wide span of characters. I love being the bad guy, and, lets face it, who wouldn't love to play a god? But as I get older, I see the humor in almost everything! I do love being funny.

Mark Delavan is Iago in Otello at LA Opera Photo: Robert Millard/LAO

8. Your iPod is destroyed by a vengeful mezzo. Which lost tracks would you miss most?
In the first place, I have no vengeful mezzos in my acquaintance...any more! In the second place, people don't mess with my iPod! Very dangerous. Thirdly, I have to categorize the answer to this question again as operatic, non-operatic, and non-musical.

Operatic: I have coachings I put on my iPod that are literally worth thousands of dollars. Case in point, I have coachings on each of the Wotan roles in the Ring with none other than Donald Runnicles.

Non-operatic: Alison Krauss and Union Station's Live double CD from 2002.

Non-musical: My NYC pastor, Tim Keller, and his wife Kathy's 2 CD-set called “Cultivating a Happy Marriage.”

9. What's your current obsession?
My beautiful wife, the Ring cycle and The Gaither Vocal Band.

10. With which of your operatic roles do you have the most in common?
It depends on the day! By the very nature of the ebb and flow of life, I have good days, bad days, funny days, and sad days. Sometimes I have more in common with Falstaff, and others, Iago. While I'd love to THINK of myself as the King of the Gods, what I really have in common with Wotan are his struggles with doing the right thing and failing. Some days, it’s the Dutchman and his tortures. Other days, it's laughing at the world like Gianni Schicchi!


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