From ECO Soloist Kate Amatuzzo
(Papagena in our upcoming Magic Flute in Concert)
I’ll never forget the first time I was cast in an opera. It was the spring of 2004, and I was just finishing up my freshman year of college at Mercyhurst University. I was a vocal performance major with a bit of an identity crisis: I had come to the school to pursue musical theatre, but my teacher was strongly encouraging me to give opera a shot. Me? Opera? The idea had never even crossed my mind. It was like suggesting I try out for the Olympic bobsled team without a sled: I had no operatic experience, and the closest thing I had ever done classically was Yeston’s Phantom in high school. I just thought opera wasn’t for me…it was always going to be something I admired from afar, like Bradley Cooper or Benedict Cumberbatch.
In the end, however, my teacher won out, and I was cast as The Doll in Les Contes d’Hoffmann the following December. No one was more surprised than me. Even as I went through the rehearsal process, everything constantly felt surreal. My inner monologue usually consisted of: Am I really singing opera? Do I really belong here? What’s the square root of 361? Does Mariah Carey hit these notes? Mariah Carey should NEVER be allowed to sing opera. Opera is kind of fun. I’m hungry. (My inner monologue is also very random at times).
More opera opportunities followed, and in April of 2006, I was cast as The Queen of Night in Mercyhurst’s production of Die Zauberflote. My mom, being extremely Mom-ish, was excited but also hoping to see me onstage more (“You only sing two songs?”). I quickly explained that while the Queen only sings 2 arias, they are two of the most amazing moments in the show. I remember watching Diana Damrau with utter fascination on YouTube. Not only could this performer sing with ease and effortlessness, she utterly terrified me. When she walked onstage, you felt this strong sense of…power. Power beyond any other character.
I had never played a villain before in my life. My stage roles up to that point pretty much cornered the market on romantic ingenues. Need someone swooning with love? I’m your girl. How about the dreamy optimist that sees the good in everyone and can paint with all the colors of the wind? Sure, I’m in. But a villain? I had extreme doubts. Would I appear phony? I had visions of my role coming off more like Cruella deVille than the Queen of Darkness. This was going to be the hardest challenge of my performing life.
And yet, when that curtain finally parted on opening night, I felt something that was as surreal as my first moments in opera. I felt the same power and confidence that Diana Damrau had showed me in her performance.
I felt passion. I felt alive. And all of this from a villain? Sign me up and take my money. I’m in.
Ever since that role, I sadly haven’t played another villain, but my interest in opera grew tenfold, as did my interest in other types of roles. Years later, I had my first chance to play a comedic role in the Erie Playhouse’s Forbidden Broadway, and it’s an experience that shaped me as a performer. I felt like I was given the green light to try my hand at comedy, and I’ve been in love with the art form ever since.
Now, as I’m involved with another production of Die Zauberflote almost 10 years later, I find myself in a different role, one hopefully able to make you laugh. Even though my roots are now firmly set in musical theatre, I will always have a reverence for opera and where it has brought me. Playing Papagena has led me full circle in my journey with opera and theatre, and I couldn’t be more excited to perform with such a professional and talented cast.