10 Questions with Ellie Dehn
Posted by SAN DIEGO OPERA
Soprano Ellie Dehn was last with us in 2015 as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni and was a favorite in town as Mimi in La Boheme back in 2010. Ellie easily avoids the diva stereotype in rehearsals and has already been a joy to be around this week. Did I mention she sounds incredible to boot? You'll get to hear her sing the role of Alice Ford in a few weeks (Falstaff opens on February 18th, 2017) but here are ten questions she answered for us where she speaks about her love of teaching, Bryn Terfel, and Sufjan Stevens.
1. What was your last gig before coming to San Diego?
I was just in Napoli singing Musetta in La Boheme. The theater was stunningly beautiful, and it’s always fun to perform Puccini to an audience that knows every word of the score
2. Can you tell us a little about your role in Falstaff?
This is my first Alice Ford. Falstaff is based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. It’s a very interesting and demanding role, although not in the usual way one would think of as a Verdi heroine. She doesn’t get an official aria, and her daughter Nannetta gets most of the fluid, floaty lines that most people associate with Verdi. However, it’s an absolutely refreshingly delicious role to learn and to sing. When I first cracked the score, I was working with my favorite coach, Laurent Philippe, in San Francisco and as I put my score on the music stand, he sternly shook his head and gestured to the couch. “Sit down. We’re not going to sing a note all week!” We got out the metronome and painstakingly repeated the rhythm and text for not only my lines, but for everyone else’s in any given scene. It’s the only way to lock in the spirit and to give the tongue twisting Italian some life. After the rhythms were solidified, we added the music, and it all came together. Verdi was a genius in the way this opera is crafted, and Alice still gets some fabulous tunes, they’re just gone before you know it! I also love that it’s such an ensemble piece, and we get a chance to communicate and play with each other.
3. How do you relate/feel about your character or their personality?
Alice is a woman that I aspire to be. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. She is charming, pragmatic, and multi-dimensional. She’s quick on her feet, coy, and takes the bull by the horns if there’s any problem that needs to be solved. I feel like she has a bubbling energy that I can only achieve through large vats of coffee, so in that regard, it’s good for me to get up there and get to live with her onstage.
4. Are there any dream roles that you would love to sing and why? And since we're dreaming it doesn't even need to be in your face.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have gotten to sing my two previous favorites, Rusalka and Violetta. When I started out in the business, I sang a lot of the Mozart ladies, but now I’m ready to graduate into Strauss territory. My happy place is listening to the soaring ethereal lines and gorgeous harmonies that Strauss has given us. I’m working on learning Arabella now and I get goose-bumps about new phrases each time I dig into the score.
5. What was your introduction to opera and how did you decide this was the path you wanted to pursue?
I was in the children’s chorus of Carmen and Tosca in a local community company. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but still absolutely loved choir and musical theater and loved to sing. I also started listening to Kathleen Battle and Cecilia Bartoli in high school and was amazed with what they could do with coloratura. I started taking voice lessons my senior year. It wasn’t until college, and after I was already a voice major (a sort of rebellion, I suppose) that I started nerding out and getting the opera bug in earnest. I would stay in Oberlin’s music library until it closed, listening to all of the different historical performances and legendary divas. It wasn’t a path that I would have expected growing up, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way.
6. Who is your favorite opera singer in the game right now?
There are so many incredible singers out there right now. For this show, I’m going to have to say Bryn Terfel. I love that he’s a chameleon who excels in many different fachs and styles, and no matter what he sings, he still sings with incredible artistry and beauty of tone. He may not remember me, but we did a Giovanni at the Met a few years back and I was singing Donna Elvira to his Leporello. After our recit in the second act, we get up and run off the stage with a little twirling pick up move, and we spun right into a lighting post stage left, fell down, and started laughing. Those are the moments that make this career worthwhile!
7. Fill in the blank: "If I was not an opera singer, I would be ____.”
This is a tough one. For years I thought that I would want to get as far away from the industry as possible if I ever stopped singing, but I’ve found a lot of joy doing masterclasses and toying with the idea of teaching. It took many years to actually be able to speak intelligently about technique and style, but I finally think I’d actually have some great things to offer the next generation of singers, just be being out there and being able to navigate vocal changes as they come.
8. Do you have a book next to your bed? What is it? If you’re not a reader, how about a video game or NETFLIX series?
I usually love trashy escapism and memoirs while I’m on the road, but I’m trying to get back into the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a book, but it’s also a really helpful tool to get people out of their heads and to try to unlock some of the creativity. There’s some homework involved, including morning journaling and taking yourself on an artist date every week, but it has helped me and other colleagues who aren’t in the business to get “unstuck” and to reground themselves for the new year.
9. Name three bands or artists on your iPod that aren't opera related.
Let’s see: Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Nicks, and Sufjan Stevens.
10. What are you most looking forward to doing in San Diego while you’re in town?
I’m hoping to take some flamenco classes, as I have a great friend who introduced me to it the last time I was in town (I have two left feet!) and would love to try it again.