Versatile Voice

Fresh From A Monumental Wagner Performance, Edward Crafts Prepares For 'Lakmé'.
By Margaret Regan

IN THE COOL pine forests of Flagstaff last June, bass-baritone Edward Crafts made an imposing Wotan, Wagner's father of the gods.

Towering over his fellow singers at 6-plus feet, wielding considerable acting talent and an even bigger voice, Crafts' doomed god was one of the best portrayals in Arizona Opera's first full-length Ring Cycle. His affecting farewell duet with Karen Bureau, playing Wotan's beloved daughter Brunnhilde, lingers in memory more than any other scene in the entire 14 1/2 hours of Wagner's masterwork.

"That scene is an extraordinary scene," Crafts agreed modestly during an interview last week in the crowded costume shop at Arizona Opera's Tucson headquarters. He had tucked his sprawling, elegant frame in among seamstresses wielding turbans and Indian saris in a last-minute frenzy of preparations for this weekend's production of the French opera Lakmé. "The music so perfectly conveys a sense of regret, a hard concept to express musically."

In Lakmé, Crafts sings the part of yet another villainous dad, Nilakantha, a Hindu priest who betrays his daughter, Lakmé. (The daughter's soprano part will be sung alternately by Aline Kutan and Robin Lee Parkin in the three Tucson performances.) The two fathers' dispiriting tendency to manipulate their flesh and blood notwithstanding, the two baritone parts resemble each other very little.

"In Die Walkürie alone, there is a good three hours of singing (for Wotan)," Crafts noted. "All of the scenes together I sing in Lakmé are not half of one scene of Wotan's." He estimates the new part takes up a total of only 25 minutes during an opera that at three hours long "seems like a little scene" compared to the typical Wagnerian marathon. And he won't have to work too hard to make himself heard above the orchestra: The musicians this weekend will number about 45, about half the number required for Wagner. The change, said Crafts, is good for the voice.

"I've sung a lot of Wagner, seven operas or so," he said, adding he'll do the Metropolitan Opera's Ring Cycle in New York next spring, this time singing the part of the wicked dwarf Alberich. "I actually try not to do only Wagner. It's healthy vocally to do different things. This music uses the voice differently."

Though it's sung in French, the 1883 work by Léo Delibes (libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Phillipe Gille) is set in the India of the long British colonial occupation, allowing for lavish Indian costumes and sets.

"They (Gondinet and Gille) could have written about the French colonial situation, but they didn't, which is interesting," Crafts said. "The story is like Madame Butterfly. There's a great resemblance in its clash of cultures. There are two areas of tension, one religious, one political. Love develops between Lakmé and Gerald, a British officer." (Tenor Daniel Henrick sings Gerald.)

The peripatetic Crafts, an American who just this summer moved with his wife from Washington, D.C., to Budapest, speaks German, French and Italian, though he's struggling with Hungarian. ("What a hard language!") He said his new European domicile doesn't make much difference to his work, he simply flies a little farther to get to jobs. Since his Flagstaff gig, Crafts has done a Tosca in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and his upcoming season is full. Even performers of Crafts' stature cannot alwlays predict just how many jobs they can expect in a season, but the 49-year-old said he's never yet had to find a job outside of opera.

"It's a hard business, a very hard business," he said. The graying of the opera audience is a worry so widespread that it's now a cliché, but Crafts noted many young people continue to train for opera. That includes even Miss America hopefuls, one of whom sang Lakmé's classic "Bell Song" during last month's televised contest. And, Crafts said, while American opera once thrived in only a few major cities, nowadays singers find they can work all over the country, in Green Bay, in Mobile, Alabama, and even in Tucson.

"All these places are supporting opera. That has happened in just the last 20 years. Regional operas are a healthy thing."

Arizona Opera's season opener, Lakmé, takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 11 (not Thursday, the company's usual opening day), in the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave., Repeat performances are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, October 12, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, October 13. There is a free, pre-performance lecture before each show. An opening night dinner of Indian food, at $15, is served in the TCC plaza at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Single opera tickets for the Friday and Sunday shows range from $14 to $53, for the Saturday show from $15 to $56. Tickets are available at Dillard's (1-800-638-4253), the Centennial Hall box office (621-3341) and at the door. For more information, call 622-8904. TW

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