Mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider loves performing contemporary works. That’s probably why she holds operas such as Persona close to her heart. In the two years since she premiered the piece, her own life experiences have added grit to her understanding of the troubled nurse Alma, and she looks forward to elevating her interpretation in Los Angeles.
Crider performs Alma once again, beginning Thursday, Nov. 9, at REDCAT. The opera by composer Keeril Makan and director/librettist Jay Scheib is presented as part of LA Opera Off-Grand series. It marks the company’s seventh collaboration with Beth Morrison Projects and marks its West Coast premiere. Persona premiered in Brooklyn in 2015 at National Sawdust and had a stint in Boston last year at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
The plot is identical to that of the film — a young nurse, Alma, begins caring for a well-known actress, Elisabet, who has abruptly gone mute. As the two spend months together in solitude, Alma’s obsession with Elisabet spirals as she struggles to maintain her own identity.
“She’s such a complex character and I love performing characters that have so many sides to them,” Crider said. “Coming back to it, the more life experience that I have, I can tap into different moments for her.”
Crider’s journey with Alma began prior to her initial audition for the role. After she was given excerpts from the score, the first thing she did was watch the Bergman film to get a sense of the character. After finishing it, she notes that she “fell in love” with the character, and knew she had to land the role. She memorized the excerpts and created her own staging for the audition. The creative team was highly impressed with Crider’s execution, and eventually the role was hers.
“I was completely drawn to Alma,” Crider continues. “It’s been an incredible process to get inside of her head, and try to understand what it would be like to be with a person who doesn’t speak to me for about three months. I can only imagine what that lack of validation, or any kind of response for that matter, would feel like.”
Though Crider has invested much time in perfecting the role, there were obvious challenges to performing such a troubled and vulnerable character. For one, Crider needed to tap into Alma’s instability on-stage without compromising her vocal technique or becoming too extravagant. She also has fun getting inside Alma’s head, saying, “It is incredibly freeing to play a character that is so off-the-rails. I feel like I can explore all the different facets of my own acting skills just in the process of one opera.”
In revisiting the role, Crider also notes that changes and growth in her own life have lead to an alternate interpretation, such as Alma’s alleged integrity.
“My understanding of the role has become deeper,” Crider went on to say. “[Scheib] is always giving me ideas to think about as far as that she’s not as innocent as I originally thought she was. She young — she’s only 25 years old — but she’s not inexperienced.”
Crider also expressed the challenges of not only tapping into Alma’s vulnerability, but navigating the non-traditional set as well. Labelled as “live cinema” by Scheib, the production makes use of cameras, whose images are projected on multiple screens throughout the space. This allows the cameras to get right into the action and catches every minute detail, which means certain dramatic aspects must be scaled down.
“The acting needs to be so small, and I’m used to being larger-than-life on stage,” Crider stated. “It was a huge adjustment for me on such a steep learning curve — even down to the lingo that’s used in film or acting for film.”
Persona has been a labor of love for Crider. Though she’s unsure of where the opera is headed next, she loves how the show has integrated so many multimedia elements and looks forward to more time spent with Alma.
“I really love the end result,” Crider stated.
Please Note: This production contains mature content.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.