July 7, 2013

Today on "Fresh Air": Terry Gross interviews Wowkle

If you, like I, are a big fan of the NPR radio show "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross, then you'll be excited by this breaking news: an upcoming broadcast features an in-depth interview with Wowkle, Minnie's servant in Giacomo Puccini's shoot-em-up cowboy opera La Fanciulla del West, or The Girl of the Golden West.


Wowkle on her way to the WHYY studio
for her interview with Terry Gross.
Talk about a "good get"! This ought to be fabulous! And I, your Humble Blogger, have managed to get my hands on a transcript of the interview. (I'm well-connected, baby...) So let's get a sneak peak as Terry, in her typical brilliant way, "peels the onion" to show us the many layers of Wowkle.

TERRY:
Well, Wowkle: welcome to "Fresh Air"; I'm really glad to have you on. Puccini has always been one of my favorite opera composers.

WOWKLE:
Ugh.

TERRY:
So let me start by asking you: as a Native American squaw, ...by the way, I hope that word "squaw" isn't offensive in any way? Is that a term you're comfortable with?


WOWKLE:
Ugh.

TERRY:
Fair enough, fair enough.  Anyway, as I was saying, I'm wondering if as a Native American you find it inappropriate to be depicted as being in a completely subservient position to a white woman like Minnie. Do you consider this to be demeaning in any way?

WOWKLE:
Ugh.

TERRY:
That's so fascinating! I was looking through books about opera the other day to prepare for this show, and
I couldn't find any other Native American characters represented in operas. Have you ever considered, say, commissioning a contemporary composer - someone like Tobias Picker or Rufus Wainwright, for example - to compose an opera dealing exclusively with your particular tribe?

WOWKLE:
Ugh.

TERRY:
Un-huh, uh-huh, I totally understand. Let's hear a clip from Girl of the Golden West, shall we? By the way, the Italian name is kind of difficult to pronounce. That first word; how do you pronounce that? Is it "Fancy-oola"? "Fang-kyoola?" How do you say it?

WOWKLE:
Ugh.

TERRY:
Right, right. So anyway, in this clip from Act II, Minnie has invited Dick Johnson to her cabin for dinner and there is a scene between the two of you. Let's listen:

{Minnie: "This evening, Wowkle, supper for two." Wowkle: "Ugh! "Never before." Minnie: "You just get ready! What's the time? He's coming quite soon. Look there! Where have you put my red roses?" Wowkle: "Ugh."}

TERRY:
Wow, that was amazing - it's really moving. I find it remarkable how you are able to convey ... so much ... in just a few syllables. It's really very powerful. Congratulations.


WOWKLE:
Ugh.

TERRY:
Did that take a lot of rehearsal? Also, a related question: do you find that the dynamic of that scene changes through the years as you've continued to interact with Minnie so often, in so many productions around the world? Or do you feel as though you really understood the psychological affect there right from the start?

WOWKLE:
Ugh.

TERRY:
One final question. I was reading that the world premiere performance of Girl of the Golden West in New York in ... was it 1912?

WOWKLE:
Ugh.

TERRY:
Right, right, 1910 ... anyway, I read that the great tenor Enrico Caruso sang in that performance. That must have been incredible! Do you have any stories or anecdotes about working with him?

WOWKLE:
Ugh.

TERRY:
Well, Wowkle, I want to thank you for coming on the show today; it's been a real pleasure to talk with you.

WOWKLE:
Ugh.

TERRY:
Coming up: my interview with The Wall from the classic Broadway musical The Fantasticks. I'm Terry Gross and this is Fresh Air.

My book THE OPERA ZOO: SINGERS, COMPOSERS AND OTHER PRIMATES is available from Kendall Hunt Publishing. Order online or by phone from customer service: 1-800-344-9034, ext. 3020.





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