Anna Singer will play Mrs. Lovett in Pittsburgh Festival Opera's production of Sweeney Todd. She has performed with Pittsburgh Festival Opera throughout all of its seasons. She loves acting and opera immensely. She feels very blessed to have had the opportunity to get up on the stage and forget who she is—to become someone else entirely. That is a lot of fun.

Sweeney Todd with Mrs. Lovett (Andrew Cummings and Anna Singer)
Photo by Patti Brahim

How do you prepare for roles?
To prepare a role, I do a lot of study - about the piece, about the character. This is an interesting role and different than getting ready for an opera.  There is a lot of dialogue for the character in an unusual accent and syntax. I find myself saying the lines over and over because it’s a different fit than American English. 

What unique challenges are there to playing Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd?  
She is a bit unusual, I have to say. She really wants to be married and have a happy, family life—with Sweeney and Johanna. She constantly talks about how big her heart is and there’s plenty of room for “all of God’s creatures” and, yet, she’d have Todd slit the sailor’s throat (Anthony) in a heartbeat and she has absolutely no sympathy for the beggar woman.

Is she crazy mad? She’s very smart - will do just about anything to get her way - and that is to be with Todd. I think she truly loves life and has quite the appetite for it - life that is!

How do you research a character like Mrs. Lovett?
I watch other performances, read about the times, and look at the original. It’s part of Victorian popular readings called “penny dreadfuls”—typical British horror stuff but with Sondheim and also Hal Prince who directed it in NYC. The musical became huge - a modern American opera - although Sondheim hates that it’s sometimes called an opera.  

How do you most/least identify with Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd?
As I said, I think she loves life—she deals with hard times the best way she can with lots of humor - maybe gallows humor, but humor nonetheless. Vocally, the role for me is a challenge - very low. I’m a soprano so figuring out how to sing/speak this role has been very demanding.

I do love her…...

Are you excited to be doing a Sondheim musical?
Very very excited—especially this piece. It is amazing—the words, OMG the words!—the way she talks about time in “Wait”—brilliant!  The music is amazing!  It is very sophisticated and incredibly difficult. 

Anna Singer as Desiree Armfeldt
in A Little Night Music.

Have you done any other Sondheim shows?
I’ve performed Desiree in “A little night music” and would love to have the opportunity to do it again—anytime!  I recently did “Side by Side by Sondheim” with Resonance Works, and I would love/kill to do the Witch in “Into the woods”!  See—Mrs. Lovett is already having an effect on me!

What is your favorite role to sing?
There are way too many to narrow down to just one! I can give you a top five—Cio cio san, Tosca, Salome, Magda Sorel, Elizabetta from Don Carlo and then Floyd's Susanna. I could go on and on...

What is your favorite opera?
I don’t have any favorites. You spend your life singing and performing - usually when I’m getting ready for a particular role—that’s my favorite.  Of course there are a couple that I’ve never had a chance to do….???? 

Do you remember your “First Time” (at the opera, that is)? Could you tell me the first opera that you attended and what your “First Time” experience was like? #myfirstopera
There were several episodes that piqued my interest in opera. First of all, I was asked to sing the role of Ahmal in Menotti's Ahmal and the Night Visitors in the church where I grew up. (I know—its' only supposed to be a young boy, but I could do it). We had an amazing music program and I participated in all the choirs. The following year I was Ahmal for a tour that went around Pittsburgh. My choir director was also giving me voice and piano lessons - he would have me imitate Beverly Sills......that was fun and I fell in love with what she could do. Then there was the TV show—Sills and Burnett at the Met.....(dating myself—mid 70's) and I thought—I want to sing like that AND make people laugh!!

At what moment did you realize you wanted to be an opera singer?
Goes back to Beverly Sills and singing Ahmal and the Night was not a very popular decision with my family and high school (my mother asked me to name three operas when I announced that I wanted to sing—and I couldn't!!) but I needed to try and indeed—what a journey it has been! I have to say—I just enjoy being on the stage—performing. Maybe because everyone told me I couldn't—I needed to try and do it!!

 Darlington 2
Anna Singer as Miss Darlington in Night Caps, 2012.
Photo by Patti Brahim

Out of all the venues you’ve sung at, which one is your favorite?
There are some beautiful stages in Europe - where opera was born–I even performed once on the same boards where Mozart had performed. The houses in Europe are like little jewel boxes.

As a radio show host with WQED-FM, how does your performance background benefit you on the air?
It's wonderful—it's like performing every day. I’m in a small room in the basement of the building all by myself and yet I talk to tens of thousands of people daily. How cool is that? And great for an introvert!

What are you looking forward to most in the 2017 Festival season?
I am most excited about singing and performing. That is what I love most—being on the stage and pretty much having a blast!! And I hope the audience has a good time too. But as a teacher, I always enjoy watching and being a mentor for younger singers on the way up—to see them create great performances too. To be passionate about what we do—otherwise—why do it??

What are some of your favorite activities to do in Pittsburgh?
My husband and I have a boat and it's great to spend time on the river - it's like a mini-vacation to just get on the water. We entertain a lot and that's fun at our home. I love singing and performing whenever I can—just can't get enough—whether it's hosting an event for WQED or singing as a soloist at the Sewickley Presbyterian Church. I would love to try to include more plays....who knows!  And these days I’ve taken up painting—LOVE IT!

Anna Singer in The Merry Widow, 2014.
Photo by Patti Brahim

What’s your favorite place to eat at on Pittsburgh’s East End?
The Casbah at the Ace Hotel in Plum. 

Would you like to fill us in on what you’ve been up to since we saw you last?
I love being a Nana to two wonderful kids, Sophie and Elliott–they’re the best!

Anna Singer loves performing on the stage. Some of her favorite roles include Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Salome, Aida, Desdemona and Julia Child in Bon Appetit!  She has sung with New York City Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Sarasota Opera, Palm Beach Opera and Cleveland Opera to name just a few.  It was this company that gave Singer her first opportunity to sing—she performed the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro with Mildred Miller Posvar directing.

Sweeney Todd opens July 7th and runs until July 22. For more information, visit our Sweeney Todd section HERE


-Anna Matia