Othalie Graham photo credit: Devon Cass

Interview: Othalie Graham on Wagner in Vallejo

As noted in an earlier post, The Empress Theatre has reopened after two long years as a darkened venue due to the COVID pandemic. On Saturday, January 15, 2022 at 7:30 p.m., Bay Area classical music lovers will experience an electrifying evening of music by the great German composer Richard Wagner, featuring Soprano Othalie Graham.

In this exclusive interview, she shares some of her impressions with ferry riders who plan on attending this premier cultural event.

Cultural Currents: Can you tell us a little about the Empress Theatre’s acoustical advantages? Does its intimate scale enhance sonorities and complexity?

 Othalie Graham: I have heard from colleagues who have performed there that the acoustics in the Empress Theatre are warm and that it’s a wonderful place to sing. The theatre looks incredibly beautiful and it will be nice to singing in such an intimate environment. It certainly will make the concert feel more personal for the audience as well as for me.

CC: What particular challenges have you faced during rehearsals for this performance?

Graham: I’m so unbelievably grateful that I finally have the opportunity to work with Maestro Conlin. I had heard so many wonderful things about him and his conducting and to finally stand on a stage with him at the helm of the orchestra will be very exciting. For me, there really haven’t been any particular challenges, as I have Wagner’s music in my blood!. I’m just so eager to be performing in front of an audience again. Now that we can do it in a safe way everyone should feel very comfortable about attending the performance.

CC: How do you expect the audience to respond to the emotional impact made during this pandemic?

Graham: I think that we are opening the concert in the most appropriately exciting and exuberant way. “Dich teure Halle,” from Tannhaeuser is  Elizabeth greeting the Hall of Song with excitement and joy! This is a perfect way for us to greet not only the beautiful theatre but the audience as well. The beautiful Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde is very emotional as Isolde sings over the dead body of Tristan, the love of her life. It’s very moving and the audience will definitely be able to feel it as I do when I sing this aria. It’s one of my favorites and whenever I have the opportunity to sing this, I always feel a deep sense of gratitude that Wagner gave us such glorious music!

 CC: How has the local arts community responded to this ongoing crisis?

Graham: I think a lot of opera companies and symphony orchestras are figuring out what to do in order to continue. Last year there was a lot of virtual work, but this year with vaccines, masks and boosters we are able to perform in theaters again and it’s wonderful.

CC: Finally, please share any other observations our readers (ferry riders) might appreciate.

Graham: This concert is a wonderful introduction for audience members to the music of Wagner or if you are already a Wagner lover, it’s most of his music that you already know and love. Everyone will be truly transported by the beauty of this music.