How do you solve a problem like Fiordiligi?
Peter Shannon and the Savannah Philharmonic faced a quandary last fall, as they were preparing their massive production of the Mozart opera Cosi Fan Tutte. The British soprano who’d signed on for the role of Fiordiligi, the flighty heroine of the tale, had to fill a last–minute commitment back in London.
Luckily for Shannon, she recommended a friend, a woman who was not only one of the U.K.’s leading coloratura sopranos, but who had – as luck would have it – enough time in her busy schedule to hoof it over to Savannah for rehearsals, and for the production (Jan. 21 and 22 at the Lucas Theatre).
“Singers helping each other out is a really precious, nice thing,” effuses Belinda Evans, who accepted the role. “Because it’s quite competitive.”
Competition is something Belinda Evans knows all about. Her resume is chock–full of impressive roles in professional operas – among others, she’s been in Die Lustige Witwe, The Wandering Scholar, Dido and Aenea, three previous productions of Cosi Fan Tutte and numerous Gilbert and Sullivan operettas with the Carl Rosa company.
However, she’ll always be known in her home country as one of the finalists on the American Idol–esque competition show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, in which a group of pretty, clear–eyed women attempted to woo Andrew Lloyd Webber and a team of sniping, star–searching judges into hiring them for a starring role in a new mounting of The Sound of Music.
Just like Idol, votes were cast by the TV audience. Belinda Evans was a national favorite; she made it into the Top Ten.
“Andrew Lloyd Webber is a massively influential person in England,” she says. “He’s THE person for music theater; he’s basically got the monopoly on the West End. And so when I knew he was involved I just thought, well, I can’t go wrong with this.
“It’s exposure – 10 girls out of six and a half thousand who auditioned! Getting into the last 10, I just didn’t expect it. You get further and further, and you start investing a bit of yourself into it, and then you think ‘OK, I’m just going to go for it and see.’”
Although the Somerset native had done plenty of musical theater, in her college career, by this time she was already taking voice lessons with one of the country’s premiere opera coaches.
But there she was, singing chirpy Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes on the Beeb. In one of the show’s (many) cheesy moments, those eliminated were obliged to end the episode with a teary rendition of “So Long, Farewell” alongside the remaining girls. Evans’ last lyric on the Maria program was “I’d like to stay and try my first champagne,” while the others waved her off, pouty–faced.
“It’s about experiences, isn’t it?” she laughs. “We sang at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mansion. People don’t even get to see that.
“And where else do you get to sing in front of a TV audience of billions? It’s still playing in South Africa now, four years later. I just got a message from a friend of mine over there.
“I’m proud of what I did on that show, because it puts you under a microscope. I will never, ever need to be terrified about performing again after doing that. ‘If I can do that, I can do anything,’ that’s how I look at it now.”
At the Welsh College of Music and Drama, Evans had been singled out by her instructors, who strongly recommended her take her “crystally bell sort of voice” to the next level. “I left college thinking ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to be a big success, take the world by storm.’ Then you realize there are just thousands and thousands of you,” she says.
“I was a quite naive, probably, which is a good thing for youth, I think, otherwise you wouldn’t do anything.”
Ambitiously, she moved to London – “where the streets are paved with gold,” she chuckles – and found the opera world competitive, good jobs hard to come by.
Following her Maria experience, Evans landed theatrical and opera agents, and spent several years as a swing performer in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera. Currently, she is permanent soprano of the Choir of the Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks, near Buckingham Palace. An incredible honor for an Englishwoman.
She was chosen to represent Britain, by singing the National Anthem, at the Rugby World Cup in Australia, and appeared in Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
And she’s part of a popular London band, String Theory, which specializes in an eclectic mix of pop, jazz and flamenco music.
It’s a career unlike anyone else’s. “There’s no set way of doing it,” she says. “I think you just have to find your path.”
In Cosi Fan Tutte (Women Are Like That), Evans’s character Fiordiligi is engaged to Guglielmo, a soldier. Likewise her sister Dorabella is betrothed to Ferrando.
The men – who have supposedly gone of to war – decide to test their lovers’ commitment by appearing in disguise and attempting to seduce one another’s fiance.
Sung in the original Italian, Cosi Fan Tutte – the libretto is by Mozart’s frequent collaborator, Lorenzo Da Ponte – is a witty comic opera, about love, faith, and the unerring fickleness of the heart.
With tenor Oliver Mercer as Fernando, mezzo–soprano Fleur Barron as Dorabella and baritone Teit Kanstrup singing the role of Guglielmo, the opera is fully staged with elaborate sets, costumes, the full Savannah Philharmonic and full chorus.
For Belinda Evans, who’s making her American debut with this production (she’s never even been in the States before), it’s yet another A–list experience.
“They’re fantastic,” she says. “It’s such a great cast. Everyone is so friendly. I’m really enjoying working with them all – they’re really talented and gorgeous people. And that makes it easy.
“I think everything comes to you when it needs to come. I don’t believe in this whole ‘I need to fight my way, and break America.’ Loads of British pop stars have left the U.K. and come here to make it. I’ve seen them on TV since I’ve been here.
“And that’s fantastic, but I really like the balance in my life. I love London, and I love the U.K. And this is just another amazing opportunity.”
The Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, with soloists
Cosi Fan Tutte
(in Italian with supertitles)
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
When: At 8 p.m. Jan. 21 and 22
Phone: (912) 525–5050