Raw, Sexy, Emotional

Die Fledermaus soprano and Opera Tampa returnee Rochelle Bard explains life in opera.

Rochelle Bard - Die Fledermaus photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.

Photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.

One of the great injustices to opera is the enduring stereotype involving a strident woman in a blonde braid wig and a Viking hat. It’s not a very sexy image, and let’s face it: opera is sexy. The canon teems with gorgeous women and men seething with power, oozing lust, greed, desperation, joy and in hot pursuit for fulfillment in romantic love.

For those of you who’ve been around for a few Opera Tampa productions, you know our resident opera company delivers the goods, stacking our casts with extraordinary talent who embody the balance between raw and cultivated sensuality in operatic stories and music.

One such star returns to Morsani stage this season as Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus – dramatic coloratura soprano Rochelle Bard, who debuted in Opera Tampa’s 2009 production of La Rondine.

Rochelle in Opera Tampa’s La Rondine. (Photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.)

In 2011, Rochelle starred in Opera Tampa’s The Merry Widow at the request of former Artistic Director Anton Coppola, who determined to mentor Rochelle after hearing her perform during a competition in New York.

When The Straz hosted Coppola’s farewell party the year he stepped down from Opera Tampa, Rochelle performed Cio-Cio-San’s “Tu? Tu? Piccolo iddio!” (“You? You? My little god!”), the final aria from Madama Butterfly, a fitting tribute to the Puccini master.

Though Rochelle commands the towering soprano roles like Butterfly or Tosca, she also wields an adroitness in comic roles, notably in The Merry Widow and this season’s production of Die Fledermaus. An operetta, Die Fledermaus is performed in the language of whatever country in which it’s being performed. So, our version will be sung in English with dialogue as well as singing. The story unfolds as a large cast of mischievous characters get increasingly tipsy over the course of a New Year’s Eve party.

Rochelle in Opera Tampa’s production of The Merry Widow.

“It’s the perfect blend of musical theater and opera,” she explains. “It’s just a silly, silly, silly plot which makes it so much fun. It’s really funny. With it being in English, people can get the jokes. It’s convoluted, there are a lot of moving pieces, and should be entertaining, fast and cute.”

Rochelle belongs to a family of doctors and nurses, an admittedly shy child who had no desire to be in the spotlight whatsoever. For her course of study, she chose bio pre-med, preparing for a medical career. A talented pianist, Rochelle confesses to an ardent love of music. “I just love it. I love music. When I was picking a career, I just didn’t think I could make a living doing it, so I was very practical. Right when I was getting ready to take my MCATs [medical college admission tests], I auditioned for The Sound of Music and got the Mother Abbess role. After opening night, a random guy came up to me and said ‘Why aren’t you singing [for a living]? Singing is your thing.’ Then he just disappeared.” She laughs. “I don’t know if he was an angel or just happened to say what I needed to hear at that moment, but I got on a track to go back to school to study music. I’ve been making a living, supporting myself on music, ever since.”

Rochelle in rehearsal for Die Fledermaus with Gabriel Preisser.

“I do this because I love it,” she says. “Not for the spotlight or to be famous. It’s the most beautiful music ever, and it’s our job to make people feel something. Opera is so raw, so passionate. It can be laugh-out-loud hilarious. It’s our job as artists to put that emotion all out there.”

See Rochelle Bard as Rosalinda in Johann Strauss II’s comedy Die Fledermaus, playing in Morsani Hall, Nov. 30 and Dec. 2.