CULTURE & THE ARTS
Theodora Hanslowe: Up & Coming Diva
AUFBAU 63:10 May 9, 1997 p13
[reprinted in part
in the Summer'97 Newsletter of the National Opera Association] Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
May 4, 1997 908 words
In the brochure advertising Queens College's Colden Center for the Performing Arts Spring Season, one solo photograph dominates the rest, staring searingly out at you in a way that combines both penetrating depth and an upturned quirkiness that seems ready to explode in any of several ways, ranging from bemused laughter to a torrent of rage.
It is a photo of coloratura mezzo-soprano Theodora Hanslowe, who was billed as singing, on May 4, selected arias of Bellini and Rossini, but sang Mozart instead - because the orchestra accompanying her was not able to travel with all the requisite wind players, she explained in an exclusive telephone interview she gave Aufbau. [(In fact the whole program was changed, substituting Rossini's Clarinet Variations for Weber's Freischuetz Overture, and a Schubert symphony for the latter's Rosamunde. Haydn's delightful Symphony #67 opened the program.)]
The group, in its tenth U.S. tour, this year conducted by Nicholas McGegan, was The Hanover Band, not from Hannover, Germany but rather from England, performing repertoire on period instruments (and reconstructions) from 1714 to 1830, "when England was ruled by the Hanoverian monarchs," descended of course from German stock (losing one of the n's in "Hannover" in the process).
Hanslowe is herself descended from Austrian forbears: her father, Cornell University Professor Kurt Hanslowe, born Kurt Hans Loewus, fled Vienna in 1939. His father, Ernst Loewus, was Jewish; his mother, a Catholic who converted before her marriage. Somehow both managed to survive World War II, mostly in hiding. In 1978-79 Kurt returned as a Fulbright professor at the University of Vienna, and Theodora got to know her grandmother. [(Both she and Kurt died in the early 1980s.)]
The mezzo's mother, soprano Nannette Hanslowe, was (and still is) the opera side of the family - ever active as singer, macher, and maven in the Ithaca Opera Association and more recently the National Opera Association. In fact Theodora (then known as "Teddi") first appeared on the opera stage as a precocious babysitter in the 1974 Ithaca Opera production of my first original opera, Karla [(an excerpt from which will be heard this coming June 1 at Hebrew Union College in Manhattan)]. She remembers she not only spoke two lines but also "got to play the chimes," which she at first found slightly "frightening" - "but my mother thought I'd enjoy the challenge"! She's been taking on and conquering challenges ever since.
Graduating from Cornell ("No, I'm not going to tell you when!"), she went on to an Artist Diploma (on full scholarship) at Peabody Conservatory and apprenticeships at Santa Fe and Cincinnati Opera, where she debuted as Mercedes in Carmen in 1986. Five years later it was off to Europe for competitions and auditions, where she felt for the first time "conflicted over whether to go to Germany" and whether she could "feel safe" there with respect to her "Jewish heritage" [- notwithstanding that both her parents were practicing Unitarians(!)].
After making her European debut at the Karlsruhe Handel Festival, she signed a year's contract in Essen, but then cut it short, not needing (or wanting, particularly) to live year-round with the pollution there, after she got a New York agent[: John Anderson at Herbert Barrett Management].
After that it was Rossini's Cenerentola in Washington, D.C., where she met the man she married last year, Robert Sapolsky, a former star boy-soprano (at the Met and with Menotti on TV) now singing baritone: "He was Dandini, the servant, in the production, but he turned out to be my Prince Charming!" And then a Met debut covering and performing Rosina in Barber of Seville, followed by performances as Stephano in Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, and covering the title role in Rosenkavalier (the Marschallin in that opera having been one of her mother's most impressive performances).
Other triumphs included the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires and Massenet's Cherubin in Monte Carlo, not to mention Dido in Dido and Aeneas back in Ithaca. Currently in preparation are a new Peter Schickele work in Oregon and at Lincoln Center next February, followed by her Weill Hall debut recital in April, featuring a Gershwin set, a French group, a Handel aria, Schoenberg's opus 2, and perhaps some new American works.
Onstage at Colden Center, she lived up to her photographic billing, displaying all the vocal control and temperament one could ask for in the 12-year-old Mozart's charming aria about husbands from his La finta semplice, the New York premiere of which she had sung under Leopold Hager at Lincoln Center in 1992. This was just a warm-up, however, for the mature Mozart's two arias for Sesto (perhaps the last great role written for a castrato) in La clemenza di Tito, in which solo clarinetist Gary Brodie nearly upstaged her with two different wild-looking boxwood basset-horns.
The top and middle of the voice were magnificent, the lower register clearly there, though possibly slightly the worse for wear; she had only just flown back from tour stops with the Band in Joplin and Kansas City, Missouri. Someday the young mezzo may find herself leaning more toward the soprano repertory - as Christa Ludwig gave up Octavian for the Marschallin - like her mother.
Meanwhile, though, covering and jumping in for Cecilia Bartoli and making her own name all over the world, she's obviously living and fulfilling many of both her parents' fondest and wildest dreams.
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