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It's Not Easy Bein' Green

The Life and Times of The Magic Flute's Monastatos

The late Jim Henson’s alter ego, Kermit the Frog, said it so well: “People tend to pass you over ‘cause you’re not standing out like flashy sparkles in the sky.”

Joe Rapposo’s lyrics, although written to promote themes of tolerance and fair play for youngsters, also apply to the world of opera, specifically: It is all too facile for the average opera-goer to overlook the performance of the non-principal singers, the comprimarios whose contributions so often make the difference between a good performance and a great one.

In two recent Los Angeles Opera’s productions of The Magic Flute, we were treated to stellar performances by tenor Greg Fedderly, an artist who has directed his career into being a comprimario. In these productions, Mr. Fedderly’s characterization of Monostatos had the delightful quality of being --- in every sense --- most definitely ….. GREEN.

Photo by Robert Millard for LA Opera

Just as Kermit decided, “I think it’s what I want to be”, Greg, around 1995, made the career decision to reorient the roles he strove for to be of a supportive, even comic, nature. Where once he had sung the role of Tamino, now he would be Monostatos; where once he had been the young lover Fenton (in Falstaff), now he would be Bardolfo, one of Falstaff’s lackeys.

The results of his career decision have been gratifying to Greg and an unending treat for audiences everywhere. A regular now at the Met, Greg includes in his repertoire there the roles of Goro, Bob Boles (Peter Grimes), Don Basilio, Valzacchi (Der Rosenkavalier), and Monostatos, including the performance of December 30, 2006, the first ‘round the world live telecast from the Met. Here (below) we see Greg “terrorizing” the Pamina of Ying Huang in that historic telecast:

Photo by Ken Howard for the Met

As LAO’s Monostatos, Greg maneuvered about in that bulbous costume, evoking laughter at every entrance and exit. For the last Falstaff LAO did in 2005, Bryn Terfel was only here for a few days prior to the May 28 opening. So it was, as the performance run progressed and the cast members grew more comfortable with each other, each succeeding show evidenced increasing hilarious physical interplay between Greg (as Bardolfo) and Terfel’s misguided knight.

Looking back, Greg Fedderly has impacted the history of Los Angeles Opera more than any other singer (save Maestro Domingo). Greg, along with Rod Gilfry, Suzanna Guzmán, John Atkins, and Richard Bernstein, worked to build an audience in preparation for the opening of Los Angeles Opera [originally christened the Los Angeles Music Center Opera] in October of 1986. They went into private homes, gave mini-concerts, and encouraged sign-ups for season subscriptions.

Then, with the LAO off and running, these young singers matriculated into what became the first group of Resident Artists associated with the company. Initially assigned to small parts and covering major roles, they, as they developed, moved into major roles themselves. Greg reveres the memory of founding General Director Peter Hemmings, recalling, “It was he who provided the opportunity for us to develop without having to go to Europe to sing.”

Greg holds the singular distinction of having performed in at least one opera for LAO for each of the first twenty seasons since that opening in 1986. Sometimes the roles have required special preparation; other times they have required a lot of nerve. For his role as the marriage broker Goro in Robert Wilson’s production of Madama Butterfly, Mr. Wilson tutored Greg for hours on end in the development of that super-smooth heel-and-toe walk which gave us the impression that Greg’s Goro was moving about on some sort of a motorized skateboard.

For his role as the Steersman in Julie Taymor’s production of Der Fliegende Holländer, Greg was on station at the helm of Daland’s hull-of-a-ship, a full eighteen feet above the stage. (He would have been placed even closer to the thirty foot high proscenium arch, only Ms. Taymor didn’t want the folks in the upper balcony to be un-sighted.) Some years earlier, he was suspended a like distance above the stage as the Phrygian sailor Hylas in Berlioz’ Les Troyens, singing a lullaby.

       

                        As the Steersman in Der Fliegende Holländer                             As Bepe in Pagliacci

Photos by Robert Millard for LA Opera (photo montage by May Wang)

A native of Wisconsin, Greg has grown roots in our Southland. He earned a graduate degree from USC, being the first recipient of the Marilyn Horne Scholarship. He is owner of the Off Vine Restaurant (located at Sunset & Vine), an establishment specializing in California Comfort Cuisine.                                                          

Ironically, it was just as Greg’s career as a lead tenor was achieving new heights that he decided upon this shift in direction of his career. A Swedish-made film of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress featured Greg as Tom Rakewell (a naïve country lad, who is easy prey for the sleazy delights of London), Barbara Hendricks as Ann Trulove (Tom’s betrothed), and Håkan Hagegård as Nick Shadow (a Mephistophelean character).

Early in The Rake’s Progress, the Tom Rakewell character muses about life and success, reasoning (mistakenly) that,

“It is not [by] merit we rise or we fall, 
but the favor of Fortune that governs us all.”

Greg Fedderly has avoided that trap and, by recognizing his inherent personal aptitudes, has found his “Trulove” as being a comprimario and has become the Tenore Buffo ….. Assoluta!

 

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Author: Judy Lieb
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