Eye on the Cast: Jill Gardner

Our Faust cast is here in Madison! Rehearsals started this afternoon, but I caught up with our Marguerite, soprano Jill Gardner, last week. Here’s what she had to say:

What are you looking forward to in your role debut as Marguerite?
These Madison Opera FAUST Performances do mark my role debut of Margherite. I very much love this character and feel that the role is a wonderful “vocal fit” for me. It is so wonderful when you find a role that resonates with every part of you — musically, vocally, stylistically and temperamentally — and Margherite is such a role for me. The progression she makes within herself and in the vocal writing appeals to me as a true lirico, budding spinto soprano and I relish the journey.

Do you find she is a relatable character?
I truly think Margherite is a relatable character as she represents so many facets of the good side of humanity — innocence, grace, beauty, purity of soul, piety, service, ultimate forgiveness and redemption from evil. She is a woman who has endured a lot of personal tragedy: the loss of her mother and sister in death, no real father figure and a brother who is so aligned with personal honor and military duty/dignity that he ultimately damns her himself once he finds out about her relationship with Faust and their illegitimate baby. These societal prejudices, judgements and losses cause her to be aligned to Nathaniel Hawthorn’s “Hester Prynn” in her complete and utter degradation within her community once it is learned that she has had this love affair with Faust and an illegitimate child. Her brother’s ultimate betrayal, I believe, is what causes her to go crazy as she now has lost ALL SUPPORT in a very public and degrading way. And meanwhile, Mephistopheles is “working his magic spell” as well. His vow to Faust, who wants to find eternal youth, causes Mephistopheles to seduce this precious, sweet and innocent soul of Margherite into completing the tryst. The force of Evil — as exhibited in societal pressure and prejudice, manipulation, lust and POWER — undermines this “lost creature of Margherite” who only wants to love, serve, and be loved in return. I believe our world right now can truly understand how detrimental societal power, prejudice and greed can be to an individual and a community.

What do you make of the “Jewel Song”?
Yes, the famous “Jewel Song” of Margherite is a delicious, delightful and complex moment in Margherite’s journey and I think must be understood within the context of the BIG Scene in Act II. Prior to this particular moment when Margherite finds these jewels, she has briefly met Faust in Act I where she tells him in her modest way that she is “neither a real lady nor very beautiful”. We then find her musing about Faust in Act II while almost unconsciously singing the small aria “The King of Thule” which is the story of a King who, until his dying day, worships the gold goblet given to him by “His Lady”/(“sa belle”). I tend to think she is singing this song unconsciously as one often does with a song or tune that we love, while she is simultaneously dreaming about this “wonderful Lord”‘(“le grand seigneur”) she had the acquaintance to meet earlier. It again portrays the deep innocent need Margherite has in her soul to love and be loved, to “be known” — a need shared by all young women. Then, she finds the jewels which have been planted in her garden by Mephistopheles. The Devil has of course planted these jewels in the garden to seduce Margherite into the first step towards fulfilling his vow to Faust. However, Margherite in finding them is overjoyed at the prospect of actually being able to make herself “the beautiful Lady” (“a King’s Daughter”) which Faust might find worthy. Her vulnerability is seen in this moment where we watch her “ready herself” for her Prince and all of the innocent wonder that this implies. So there are really two “agendas” that align in this moment as is often the case in real life: the Devil’s plot of seduction and manipulation and Margherite’s innocent desire to make herself beautiful for her Prince — a worthy object then of his love.

How have you prepared for this new role?
Preparing a role is an arduous but self-fulfilling journey of discovery and creativity. I have been working on this role for almost two years, while I had previously coached and worked on Margherite’s arias from the opera in recent years. It takes a long concerted time of study of the musical score and libretto to learn the music and the texts in depth….and not only your own, but also ALL the other characters of the piece. (And actually a role continues to grow in it’s depth after multiple performances…it is what is so fulfilling about this work..there is never an end to an opera’s or a character’s discovery!) Once the music and the language begin to settle and become memorized, the dramatic work begins of fashioning the character and developing dramatic intentions to her words and actions. There are always as many choices to this dramatic work as there are “right answers” and it is in this journey of seeing all the possibilities of character that I find the most reward. It is in this process where I feel the character grow and shape herself within me and I slowly become Miss Margherite. All of this work must take place BEFORE one reaches the actual staging and musical rehearsals for a truly rewarding relationship to develop between myself, my colleagues, conductor and stage director. This allows us to all jump together into the incredible ocean of FAUST!

Our audiences might be curious to learn a little more about you. Where are you from, and where do you call home?
I am a transplanted Southerner from North Carolina (Winston-Salem, NC) who lives with my baritone husband, Jake Gardner, in his hometown of Binghamton, NY. We have been living in upstate New York for about 8 years now. I have never been to Madison, WI before, but I hear I am in for a treat….a great and lively college town! Here’s to another new adventure!

Proust Questionnaire excerpts…
Favorite book: “Cry to Heaven” by Anne Rice
Favorite composer: it’s a tie — Beethoven AND Puccini
Favorite non-classical musician/band: Annie Lennox / The Squirrel Nut Zippers
Motto: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; but in all things, LOVE.” (The motto of the Moravian Church, of which I am a life-long member)

Thanks to Jill for taking the time to answer these questions!

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