Daphne Alderson returns to Pittsburgh Festival Opera with new program of Leonard Cohen’s legacy, a vintage tapestry of love, loss, and rebirth.
This premiere concert features newly imagined-versions of the folk rock movement along with the haunting Famous Blue Raincoat, Joan of Arc and Suzanne, Since You Asked, California, and Mitchell’s wistful Both Sides Now. This performance features Daphne's stellar ensemble of guitar, cello, accordion, and bass.
Why Leonard Cohen?
I started exploring Leonard Cohen’s songs about three or so years back, and I fell in love. I did not grow up in that world, so it was all brand new to me. His inner world is much akin to mine, and that was encouraging; we unicorns have to find common ground. His life struggles and conflicted feelings on love, spirituality, religion and passion—these all speak to me. We lost him in November, the day after our election here in this country. That was a poetic passing, a huge loss for us. I mean, we truly lost one of the great artists of all time.
Now, last season, Jonathan Eaton suggested that I sing some Joan Baez and 60s folk rock on this season’s “recital.” Leonard Cohen’s passing left an urgency to sing him and these ladies who stood along side him in their formative years: Judy Collins who first sang “Suzanne,” Joni Mitchell who may have inspired “Suzanne,” and Joan Baez, who walked among all of them.
What was your inspiration for putting this show together?
Leonard Cohen, himself. That is all the inspiration I need. And, voices from Heaven…
How rigorous was the rehearsal process?
It’s ongoing… Every day, I chip away at it; it’s a lot of words! John Marcinizyn, our guitarist is arranging most of this material, but some of the pieces are open to free improvisation.
Once the band arrives, I need to be secure so that we can get to the improvised moments and find our way through as a collective whole. The musicians in my band are all great solo players, so it’s essential to our happiness to move the energy around, let each voice speak, flow; that takes time, patience and humor. We are working, but it’s also serious fun. And, I consider these artists my friends, so that’s a bonus.
These are primarily folk songs, but I am a chanteuse, and that requires one to embody the song, completely. Moreover, the songs are really poems set to simple melodies. However, a Joni Mitchell song is written in a more free-flowing and expansive way, while Leonard Cohen wrote simple melodies with a 3-4 chord structure. Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust is a haunting, hypnotic melody, and it evokes a time of loss and regret for her… it is ironic, but the only way to bring that out is to GET OUT OF ITS WAY! That is the challenge, always, to be true to the poet and let their words peak through me…to get out of my own head and let them in…WITH LOVE!
Any other work or roles you’d love to perform in the future?
It’s time for some comedy… or some great theater that features a grown woman with choices and complexity. I long for more of that in opera.
I am also exploring Portuguese Fado… it’s long been a dream and its time has come.
Lately, I have been singing Gaia’s aria from Strauss’s Daphne…which ain’t funny, but it does keep my instrument limber and energized. I am fascinated by the history of World War I, and as we move into 2017 and its centenary, I am drawn to music of that era and the evolution of the Chanteuse in France, as well as the wealth of repertoire that Irving Berlin started, Café Society, etc…
I loved Older Alice from A New Kind of Fallout and would love to sing her once more. The most interesting roles may have yet to be written; I love contemporary opera. One of my heroes is Julie Wilson, the great cabaret singer; somebody should write a show/opera about her, and I’d love to play her. She was a mentor and I admired her so much, actually more than any other singer I know. She was true blue.
Do you have any fun memories of past recitals that you would like to share?
Any time I get to sing with the musicians in my band is a FUN MEMORY.
The thing that I love the most is the range of audience members… last year there were families in the audience and a lot of couples out for a romantic night of Piaf. This year, I hope that folks will come out to get some relief and peace… we are living in such vitriol and conflict these days; music brings us together, but it can also spark thought and affect great change in this world. Leonard Cohen reminds us all that we are human beings.
Daphne Alderson in A New Kind of Fallout, 2014.
Photo by Patti Brahim
What have you been up since the last time we’ve seen you?
Anne Frank occupied the past two years: Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder, the music of Leo Smit and Michael Cohen’s “I Remember,” were the core of our repertoire, my duo with Norma Meyer. This was a beautiful journey to honor Anne in her 80th year… I had a chance to sing “I Remember,” with Ion Sound here in Pittsburgh, and that was a dream fulfilled.
I am writing now, and this is very exciting for me.
One morning a week, I work with children, teaching solo and small ensemble pieces, and their energy is so guileless and imaginative—they are beautiful and hilarious. I have been an adjunct professor at Seton Hill and made the decision to move forward, but my time there was marked by incredible students, who taught me by their great example of kindness, dedication and talent.
I directed and sang in an opera, Ravel’s “L’Enfant et Les Sortileges.” A return to Baroque concerts in December ended 2016. John Marcinizyn and I reunited our duo, followed by several concerts with the St. Michel Band, my group.
Back in 2015, the Festival summer season was such a challenging, incredibly moving time; A New Kind of Fallout was such an innovative work, a great composition by Gilda Lyons and Tammy Ryan, so beautifully directed by Jonathan Eaton. I have to say it was a turning point for me, realizing how much I love opera and theater and fleshing out a character. I took a break immediately after Fallout and then began working on new material for St. Michel Chamber Band. Developing repertoire, touring, and moving into more and more original stuff for the four of us has been a big project. I’ve done a tiny bit of commercial work and also directed two operas at Seton Hill, where I have worked as an adjunct professor.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Pittsburgh when you’re not singing?
I love to run in Schenley Park, swim at the Oliver Bath House, roam around the Carnegie Library, yoga at Schoolhouse in my neighborhood, and I am looking forward to some Pirate baseball this summer…that’s the plan!
What else are you passionate about?
The wind, the rain, the birds that sing… thank you, God, FOR EVERYTHING.
I am passionate about the United States of America and all that it stands for. I believe in the words that Lady Liberty reflects: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” My father fought for that; somehow we have lost sight of these principles in such trying times.
MORE MUSIC, WRITING and seeking out friends and loved ones that I miss.
Daphne Alderson graduated from Duquesne University in 1989 and made her New York cabaret debut performing her show Songs and Chansons. She has also performed in New York City’s Avery Fisher and Merkin Halls, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C, and the Bach Aria Festival in Stony Brook, New York. She has starred as Mere Jeanne in Dialogues of the Carmelites, Agnes in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Abby Borden in Lizbeth, and Miss Baggott in The Little Sweep. Her other performances include Bach, Vivaldi, the chamber works of Schumann, Brahms, and Mahler, Messiah, Elijah, and Stabat Mater. She has done a number of recent projects including appearances at the Club Café, Whitaker Center for the Performing Arts in Harrisburg, opera outreach educational tours with the Pittsburgh Opera, Bricolage Theatre, IonSound Project, and Chamber music at Chatham University with members of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and residency programs in outreach programs with Pittsburgh Opera and Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour.
Daphne Alderson performs Leonard Cohen: A Hallelujah at Love Cafe for one night only, July 13. Tickets and more information can be found HERE.