Tom Strini
Florentine Friends

Soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine, Mezzo Adriana Zabala

Two lead singers in the Florentine's "Le Nozze di Figaro" go way back -- to Rome.

By - May 9th, 2013 01:21 pm
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Adriana Zabala as Cherubino and Jamie-Rose Guarrine as Susanna. Florentine Opera Company photos courtesy of Kathy Wittman, Ball Square Films

I didn’t really have to interview Adriana Zabala, Cherubino in the Florentine’s upcoming Le Nozze di Figaro, and Jamie-Rose Guarrine, the production’s Susanna. Listening to them chat over lunch yielded more than enough material.

Mezzo Zabala and soprano Guarrine met in Rome in 2000. Both singers are young and vibrant today, but they were very young in those days. Zabala was about to enter the Minnesota Opera’s young artist program that fall; artistic director Dale Johnson intended to cast her as Rosina in Rossini’s Barber of Seville, and found a way to get her to break in the role at the Opera Festival di Roma, in the summer. Guarrine was there because her cellist husband, Karl Knapp, got a job playing in the festival orchestra and she had landed a singer-in-training sort of gig there.

Jamie-Rose Guarrine: I remember admiring you. I wanted to do what you were doing. You told me that hard work and talent would win out if I keep coming back and coming back to auditions.

Adriana Zabala: Really? I have no recollection of that. [Mutual laughter.] But you do have to hold on tight.

jamie-rose guarrine

Jamie-Rose Guarrine

Guarrine, at the time, was at work on her MFA (2002) and DMA (2005) degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In those years, she competed several times in the Wisconsin District Metropolitan Opera Auditions. She kept coming back, and won it in 2007.

“I won once in Wisconsin and twice in Minnesota, but I never made it to the finals in New York,” Guarrine said. “But the Wisconsin Met Auditions were a huge part of my formative years. I always won money and I always got free coaching. And I met Dale Johnson at the Minnesota auditions.”

Ever since she met Zabala in Rome, Guarrine had kept the Minnesota young artist program at the back of her mind.  When she landed a spot in that program, the two got to know each other better. Zabala, who was born in Georgia, grew up in Caracas, Miami and Lake Jackson, Tex., still lives in Minneapolis and is a voice professor at the University of Minnesota.

J-RG: In 2006 Adrianna took a group of us young singers out to the Wild Rose in Minneapolis for career advice. At that point, I was on the manager hunt and didn’t know what to do.

AZ: The point where a singer takes on a manager is a critical one in a career. It’s instinct. It has to feel right.

Today, Guarrine and Zabala have the same manager, Ana de Archuleta at ADA Artist Management & Representation. It seems to be working out for both of them. Though Zabala has a teaching load, a husband and two young children, she sings constantly at the Minnesota Opera and companies around the country and abroad, and sings song recitals and orchestra concerts.

Zabala also has an ongoing professional relationship with the very interesting New York composer-pianist Gregg Kallor. The will give recitals in Minneapolis, New York and Mozart’s home town, Salzburg, in the next few months.

“I was singing a Spanish program at the New York Festival of Song, and this composer came up and asked if he could send me some of his songs,” Zabala recalled. “Well, you’re busy, you don’t have time to really sit down and figure out if anything’s there, and then it often turns out it’s pretty mediocre. I put him off for a year. But then I found some time to look at his settings of Dickinson poems, and there was something there. And it turned out we lived five blocks apart in New York.”

The two families have been close friends ever since, and Kallor and Zabala have given many recitals together and recorded CDs. Opera singers rarely improvise, but Kallor and Zabala have developed an impressive improvisational practice.

“Gregg is a jazz guy,” Zabala said. “We’ll decide on a basic structure and see where we go with it. When Gregg hears me settling in, he cuts off the rehearsal. He wants us to see what we might discover in front of a thousand people. He cultivates that in me.”

Guarrine responded to this piece of news with one word, an awestruck wow.

In that respect, Guarrine’s career is more traditional — except for living in Faribanks, Alaska, instead of, say, New York.

“I was singing at the Santa Fe Opera,” Guarrine said. “My husband called and said ‘I got a job! In Alaska.'”

She didn’t necessarily take this as good news at the time, but the University of Alaska has turned out to be a great anchor for them.

“It’s changed our lives so much,” she said. “Health insurance! This is our fifth year in Fairbanks. They have a great little opera there, in the summers they use local talent and bring in heavy hitters from New York. A huge international airport is there, because of military bases. But it does take a whole day to get anywhere.”


Adriana Zabala

She has managed to make herself stand out in the crowded category of light coloratura soprano. Guarrine has particularly broken out in the role of Susanna, the intended bride of Figaro and the amorous target of the randy Count Almaviva in the 1786 opera, based on a daring 1778 comedy by Beaumarchais.

“She’ll be one of the great Susannas,” Zabala said, making Guarrine blush.

“It’s my favorite role,” Guarrine said. “When that orchestra starts playing, I’m beaming. I can’t wait to hit the deck.”

Zabala, as a mezzo, sings lots of trouser roles. Cherubino is a teenage boy in love with love; he recklessly and harmlessly pursues just about anything in a skirt and is constantly in trouble with the Count — and sometimes with Figaro — for doing so. Zabala has sung Cherubino, who drives much of the comedy, many times.

“I love this character so much,” Zabala said. “When I play Cherubino, it’s like here’s this guy I love, and I get to see him again. It’s love.”

Both singers had late nights Tuesday, when the Florentine held both the sitzprobe and the dress rehearsal, but were no less bright and cheerful for the long hours. They’re having fun with each other, the rest of the cast, and director Candace Evans.

J-RG: You don’t always click like this with people, but when you do you can see it on stage. I was cracking up last night. Sometimes Craig (Verm, as Almaviva) is like a cartoon character.

AZ: Simpatico is the right word. We love to do this piece, and we love to do it together.

J-RG: The more your cast becomes your family, the better everything becomes.

AZ: Then it’s just life — not life on the road.

Cast and Credits: Daniel Belcher, Figaro;  Craig Verm, Count Almaviva;  *Diana McVey, Countess Almaviva;  *Adriana Zabala, Cherubino;  Frank Kelley, Don Basillo;  Matthew Lau, Doctor Bartolo; *Jenni Bank, Marcellina;  *Candace Evans, Stage Director;  Joseph Rescigno, Conductor. (* indicates Florentine debut.)

Showtimes and Tickets: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 10 and 12, at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall. For tickets, visit the Florentine’s website, call the company’s ticket line, (414) 291-5700 ext. 224 Monday-Friday, 9-5 p.m., or call the Marcus Center box office, (414) 273-7206.

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