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Q and A with Rebecca Cook Carter

by Emily Williams

February 9,2010

Rebecca Cook-Carter directs the CPCC Opera Theatre. As a lyric spinto soprano, Rebecca has sung leading roles in major opera companies in America and Europe, such as Zurich Opera, San Francisco Opera, Nationaltheater Mannheim, Portland Opera, Basel Opera, Hawaii Opera, Hamburg Opera, Miami Opera and many others. She received her Bachelor of Music Degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and her Master of Music Degree in Vocal Performance from Indiana University at Bloomington. She is a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

How did your journey into singing in and directing opera begin?

I have been singing professionally since 1978, and that has included traveling to Europe and with regional companies all over America. My son was born in 1985 and my daughter in 1992, soon after we came to Charlotte after living in Germany. While I was still singing opera professionally, it became more difficult to be there for my kids, as it did require a lot of traveling. So I started teaching at CPCC just through a fluke of meeting one of the teachers there. I taught private voice for credit for the first year of my term and the second year, Mary Lou Paschal, who was head of the Music Department at that time, asked me if I would be interested in starting an opera/theater program. In the back of my mind all those years I was singing, I knew that when I did have kids I would have to eventually settle down and teach at a college or university. I remember being a young college student thinking that it would be very cool to direct theater or opera. So I started the program with our first opera, The Magic Flute in the ’97-’98 season. Since then, the program has just continued to grow. There’s just a lot of passion there!

What it is about opera that attracts you?

It would have to be the communication and the power of it. Opera is the one art form that brings all of the arts together in one place. There is a strong presence of visual art on the operatic stage, as we have visual artists and painters that work on our sets. Dance is also a strong feature of many operas and we have a very good dance department at CPCC as well. Then you have the acting, theater, musical and even technical end of it; so all of those forces have great power individually, but bring them together in one place and it creates an art form that is just incredible to me. I have never ceased to be in awe of opera. Even when I return to a certain production that I have done before, I always seem to find something new. It’s like looking at a great piece of art, such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and then coming back a month later and seeing something in it that you hadn’t noticed before. Opera never ceases to challenge me!

Do you have a favorite role you have sung or an opera you have directed?

Well, when people ask me that, I usually tell them it’s whatever role I’m working on at the time! I have so many favorites, but I love Puccini and Italian repertoire. I also love German repertoire, but to be honest, there really isn’t anything I don’t like. What’s not to love about it? I know that some people can become intimidated by the foreign language of opera, but supertitles help with that and it’s the music and theater aspect of it that is the real vehicle. 

What are your plans for the future with CPCC?

There are a lot of operas we haven’t done. There are pieces that I would love to do in the future which I’m not sure we would be able to do anytime soon, simply because the music is so difficult, such as Richard Strauss. His work is absolutely wonderful and I think people would love it, but getting people to come and see it would be a challenge. Some of his operas are not typically performed regionally and it can also be a challenge getting singers to learn the music. I have to think twice about repertoire choices. But eventually, I look forward to CPCC presenting such pieces.  And we certainly have a great program coming up! We plan to do Mendelssohn’s Elijah this spring, with David Tang conducting. Next year, we will be doing Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, which people often see as a childlike story, but it has an adult appeal also, and musically has a Wagnerian influence.

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