Monday, February 27, 2012

Veruca Salt sings out in opera version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2012 at 7:57 PM

I WANT ONE: Veruca Salt (mezzo-soprano Abigail Nims) demands an Oompa-Loompa from Willy Wonka (Daniel Okulitch) in a rehearsal for The Golden Ticket at Atlanta Opera headquarters. All of the famous characters from Roald Dahls Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will come to life in the new opera based on the classic childrens book. The show opens Saturday, March 3, at the Cobb Energy Centre.
  • I WANT ONE: Veruca Salt (mezzo-soprano Abigail Nims) demands an Oompa-Loompa from Willy Wonka (Daniel Okulitch) in a rehearsal for "The Golden Ticket" at Atlanta Opera headquarters. All of the famous characters from Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" will come to life in the new opera based on the classic children's book. The show opens Saturday, March 3, at the Cobb Energy Centre.
Gluttonous Augustus Gloop. Gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde. Television-addicted Mike Teavee... The child-grotesques from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are legendary, but perhaps none more so than our own personal favorite: bratty, tantrum-throwing, 90s-band-inspiring diva-in-training Veruca Salt.

Creative Loafing caught up with mezzo-soprano Abigail Nims who plays Veruca in the Atlanta Opera's production of The Golden Ticket, the new operatic version of Dahl's beloved children's story which opens at the Cobb Energy Center on Saturday, March 3, to get the low-down on playing the ultimate diva.

An opera based on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" seems likely to draw a lot of people who don't normally go to the opera: fans of the book, fans of the films, kids dragged there by their parents. Is it an opera that can appeal to non-opera fans?
I think that's exactly what it is. Being an opera singer I'm so used to coming in to various cities and people asking what opera I'm performing in: I tell them and then the conversation stops immediately. But when I tell them I'm performing The Golden Ticket based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, their faces just light up and they say, "Hmm. Maybe I should go see that. I've never been to an opera." I think it's absolutely perfect for people who have never been to the opera before. It's in English, and it's a story everyone knows. It incorporates so much of the book, and visually it's a fabulous production. The costumes and sets are wonderful. It's a richly varied score musically. The music is complicated, but the beauty of it is that it doesn't sound that way to the audience. It's quite accessible music with a lot of beautiful melodies. There's a lot of variety in that the characters all have their own musical language.

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Did you study the movie to prepare for the role?
I watched the original 1970s movie. I've never seen the Johnny Depp version. One of the challenges of the role is that I'm playing a child. It was a great help to watch the movie to see the way a child says all these things and the way she moves. I definitely have Julie Dawn Cole in my mind a lot when I'm playing this role.


Veruca sort of matches what many people imagine as the typical opera diva: tempestuous, demanding, self-absorbed. Do you find that playing Veruca brings out your inner diva?
I suppose there must be some truth to that. I don't think of myself as a diva! I don't think I was a spoiled brat as a child or any of that: I was pretty shy as a kid. But I certainly relate to the character in a way I wouldn't have expected so maybe there is some truth to that. Perhaps deep down inside many of us wish we could be like Veruca and just demand everything. And if you don't get your way you just throw a tantrum. That's just the way you handle it. She's so self-centered it's just unbelievable. That's the beauty of it. I think people deep down inside love the diva and love the tantrums.

A scene from The Golden Ticket.
  • A scene from "The Golden Ticket."
In this production you're working with composer Peter Ash as conductor. That's pretty unusual for an opera singer to have the composer right there.
It's actually a luxury. As opera singers we're so often working with composers that are no longer living. If we have questions about the score we usually have to do research to find out what, say, Mozart would have wanted and why he wrote it a certain way. In this case we just walk up to Peter and say, "Why did you write it this way?" He'll say exactly what his reasons were. It takes a lot less time that way. You have your answer right there. And another great thing is that even at this stage in the game, he's still willing to make changes if we have difficult passages that aren't working for us. That's really nice as well.

Do you have a favorite moment from the show?
In my first scene, I'm in my father's factory, and I'm throwing a tantrum over the fact that I haven't received my ticket yet. All the factory workers are opening the chocolate bars behind me, so I have the chorus behind me singing as well. My music is at the very top of my vocal range because Veruca's angry most of the time. I sing a lot of high notes and a lot of fortissimo. Veruca has a motif that's always returning in that she's always saying, "Daddy, I want one." It comes back at different times referring to the golden ticket, to a squirel, to an Oompa-Loompa. Veruca's always wanting something.

"The Golden Ticket" plays at the Cobb Energy Centre from Saturday, March 3 to Sunday, March 11. For tickets or more information. visit the Atlanta Opera.

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