Brandon Jovanovich has been earning rave reviews for his portrayal of the Prince in Lyric's new production of Dvořák's Rusalka: "his artistry seems to soar higher with each Chicago appearance" - Chicago Classical Review
In this Q&A, Jovanovich talks about his favorite moments of this production, what he doesn't like to wear on stage, and why he loves living in Illinois! Rusalka ends its critically acclaimed run on March 16 (tickets are going fast!), but he'll be back next season starring as Walter in Weinberg's dramatic and compelling The Passenger.
The Prince in Rusalka is a role that's very familiar to you, since you've performed it to great acclaim across the world - how is this production different from ones you have done before?
I've been lucky enough to be involved in two different productions of Rusalka with this being my third. It is an opera that I love to sing and I really enjoying playing the role of the Prince. This production is different in a couple of ways; David is introducing the audience to the idea that the whole story MAY be in the Prince's mind…so the idea of it being a "hallucination vs. reality" really sets the tone of the opera. In this vein, the first scene (taking place in the forest) unfolds to reveal a wild group of wood nymphs set against a gorgeous backdrop (designed by John Macfarlane) in a "wild forest" being infringed upon by "humanity" (as represented by a couple of massive damn-like structures). It is this idea that sets David's production apart of others, "nature vs. humanity." By exploiting the inherent differences between these two ideas, the friction and resulting conflict between the characters develops at very natural pace.
Do you have a favorite moment or moments in this production?
There are some characters that have been inserted into this production that aren't written in the opera, three crows serve as "helpers" to Ježibaba. Watching our choreographer (Andrew George) and David McVicar develop these characters over the course of the rehearsal period was amazing (I'm awed by all of the sharp bird-like physical movements and stamina that they have). For my part, I LOVE the final scene in Act III when I return to the forest, find Rusalka and end up dying. It is so touching, so emotional and laden with such beautiful music, it is one of my favorite scenes to perform in any opera. Couple that with having Ana María sing to me….come on!!!
If you had to sum up the story of Rusalka in one sentence, what would your summary be?
An unparalleled classic masterpiece of longing, love, hope, and loss set to some of the most exquisite music by Dvořák….an unknown masterpiece.
Are you jealous of all the prosthetics that your co-stars Jill Grove and Eric Owens wear for this show? What's the most unusual costume you've ever had?
As for prosthetics…unequivocally no! I harbor no ill will or jealously in the slightest! I have been lucky enough to wear some of the finest costumes throughout my career. I am tall with long legs and it has always been a challenge to find "stock" costumes that look decent, so most of my costumes are tailored and I've been VERY spoiled because of it. I haven't had too many unusual costumes per se…but one thing that always makes me a little nervous is when I am asked to wear very little on stage. From a towel wrapped around my waist, to a pair of underwear and a robe (open!?), I find it intimidating. The amount of breathing and support needed to sing makes for a plethora of deep diaphragmatic breathing, and it isn't necessarily something that I would want to see as an audience member! But A LOT of directors don't mind asking performers to let it all hang out!
What is a role that you dream of playing some day in your career?
A dream role that I have yet to play would be Otello. So many challenges mentally, emotionally and vocally. It is a role that I hope to tackle before too long.
Some people might not know that you started out with a college football scholarship - can you draw any parallels between the world of football and the world of opera?
Both of them are extremely physical. True, there is no contact in opera (unless you count kissing), but there is a ton of moving around while singing and it requires a lot more stamina than people think—that and the ability to "think on the move." In football, as in opera, you are an individual performing at your best for the betterment (and ultimately the success) of the team. There are set plays where you know what your role is, just as there is staging in opera, "You go here and I go there." Yet with both there is always an element of the unknown. In football you are playing against another team trying to stop your progress, in opera you (and all colleagues around you) are in a constant mental workout trying to juggle vocal production, remembering dialogue, staging, keeping in contact with the conductor, and thus the orchestra, vocal balance, and portraying emotions (and so much more), while trying to make it look like you are living "in the moment." With these different dynamics there is a lot of fluidity involved and being able to think on your feet and adjust is a necessity. If you aren't able to adjust in the moment, you'll ultimately fail to one degree or another in both arenas.
What is a typical day like for you before a performance? Do you have any pre-performance rituals that you can share?
I know there are a lot of people who have very specific rituals that they adhere to before a show. Mine would be normalcy. I don't like to change anything that I would normally do; whether that be going to the gym, shopping, mowing the lawn (if I'm at home,) or shoveling the driveway. Having no ritual would be my ritual (profound!?).
When you're not singing, what do you like to do in Chicago? Any favorite restaurants, museums, or other activities?
I live about an hour west of Chicago on a little ten-acre plot of land. I travel A LOT throughout the year and I hate to say it, but when I get home…I like to stay home! We've lived in Illinois for just over three years and our house (an old one-room schoolhouse) needs some upgrading. So you'll typically find me outside cutting down trees (a ton of dead ones were left on our property), remodeling a bathroom (two thus far), playing with my kids, or just hanging out. I know that we WILL get into Chicago more and start enjoying all that this city has to offer, but it hasn't happened yet.
What's your favorite thing about having Illinois as your home base?
I love being able to fly into O'Hare from anywhere in the world. It makes traveling so much easier! I love being able to stay at home when I sing with Lyric. I like the people, the climate (I love having four seasons), and the proximity to great food, culture and sporting events all while being able to raise chickens and bees! It is the best of all worlds for me!
Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg/Lyric Opera of Chicago