Wednesday, October 19, 2011
ELIZABETH BLANCKE BIGGS
People have commented that I seldom talk (publicly at least) about my career in the theatre.
That part of my life sort of wound down in the 1980s and pretty much ended completely in the mid-90s.
I sang Sharpless in Madama Butterfly in Laguna Hills for my good friend and longtime coach CHARLES ROSS PERLEE opposite Korean opera diva VICTORINE LEE as Butterfly and DOROTHY DALLAS as her companion and servant SUZUKI as my farewell performance in Opera.
I believe CHRIS LAICONAS was the Pinkerton.
I sang many performances of Sharpless in my career and far more performances as PAPAGENO in Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE (a role I have always despised. I am probably the only baritone who cut the arias from 3 verses to 2 and on one occasion a single verse).
My singing career was shadowed by my designing and directing which brings me to a story I wanted to share with my readers-I directed a Metropolitan Opera DIVA when she was barely out of high school.
It was inevitable that I would end up directing (and designing) a production of Magic Flute.
As it happens I was working with some of the people I had done my debut performance with as Papageno back in 1971.
MAESTRO FRANK FETTA was at the helm musically and former co performer and director GARY FISHER a marvelous Canadian tenor was Tamino…My dear friend, the late EUGENIA HAMILTON (contralto) was one of the three ladies.
In the 1971 production celebrity voice teacher divine JOAN ZAJAC (the woman who groomed Emmy Rossing for PHANTOM on screen not to mention Cybil Shepard in years past) was the QUEEN.
Joanie and I also sang Hansel and Gretel together and I directed her in BOHEME as MIMI.
In the West End Opera Production I don’t remember many of the cast except ROBIN BUCK a handsome baritone who may be best known for his performances in the Glory of Christmas as the Crystal Cathedral (he is on the video of the production) and one other, a beautiful young soprano named ELIZABETH BIGGS.
The BIGGS family was quite active with the West End Opera company-Betty had done costumes and wigs many times (Elizabeth’s MOM) and Dad Dr. RICHARD BIGGS (the world’s most wonderful chiropractor-I can’t tell you how many people including me he really helped with his Palmer Method treatments-he actually cured me of Migraines on a picnic table outside a rehearsal for Boheme but that another story).
Elizabeth’s brother, Chris, was (and perhaps still is) an inventive special effects expert-a warm, wonderful, creative family.
I don’t remember quite how Elizabeth ended up in the production singing Papagena…but I was thrilled.
Elizabeth had everything a director and designer could want from a singer/actress…she was quite beautiful, slender but curvy with gorgeous hair and an almost dancer like quality to her movements.
Earlier in the season I had been directing La Boheme and we had lost our Musetta due to medical problems…I had lobbied hard for Elizabeth to step in as having a glamorous young coquette would have not only played perfectly but would have served my Avant grade production and out of period Belle Époque costumes wonderfully.
At any rate, I had her for “Flute” and I gave her impossible things to do-during the famous duet with Papageno (to the delight of the audience) she threw one ballet dancer like leg around Robin Buck’s waist and did a full back bend and reverse while singing-never losing her richness of tone or projection.
In such performances, if one is paying attention, one sees future greatness so it was no surprise to me when several years later she was singing in New Zealand.
I followed her career a bit via her father during visits to his office but lost touch before the turn of the century and only recently reconnected with her via the internet.
ELIZABETH BLANCKE BIGGS has sung Fedora with Placido Domingo,gave her met debut is 2003 as VIOLETTA, stepped in to cover Tosca at the MET and done Butterfly for the New York City Opera-the company that launched such legends as Beverly Sills and Norman Triegel(amongst many other roles worldwide).
I dropped her a note and she dropped me a couple signed pictures and a CD of her performances-I keep track of her via the internet and an occasional FACEBOOK entry…she travels the world singing, teaches in New York City and lives what seems to be an exciting life.
I think that it’s wonderful that Elizabeth has become an international name-like many who start out at home she had to travel to be taken seriously.
I wonder if those who remember the WESTEND OPERA ever think about the BIGGS family and regret that ELIZABETH wasn’t given more opportunities there.
Most importantly she had the support of her family…and perhaps that is all one destined for stardom needs-that a few breaks and an unstoppable drive and passion to perform.
I don’t claim to” know” ELIZABETH BLANCKE BIGGS nor even just Elizabeth Biggs the young, beautiful soprano but I directed her once as Papagena in the Magic Flute-a production that had all the glitz of a Vegas revue, coloured smoke and magic tricks and a bizarre concept that would seem tame by the standards of today’s opera productions-and she was damn good, sang like a nightingale and looked like a goddess…how wonderful memories can be when they are pretty much all one has left.