LONDON, UK (www.AriannaUSA.com) - Every summer, thousands of Gilbert and Sullivan devotees descend upon the little town of Buxton, England from all over the world for the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival. A wide variety of activities from costume parades and sing-alongs to panel discussions accompany the numerous professional and amateur productions that range from the traditional to the avant-garde. Amateur groups and individuals compete in the International competition by day while cabarets and Pot Luck performances round out the evenings.
Although G&S operettas are quintessentially British in nature, this year a young American girl turned opera diva named Arianna will be prominently featured at the festival.
Arianna is a 25-year-old coloratura soprano from North Hollywood who has performed in musical theatre productions and critically-acclaimed concerts around the world. She won an award last year from the Artistic Directors Association for her portrayal of the bride Rachel in the West Coast premiere of the Robin Hawdon's British comedy bedroom farce, "Perfect Wedding" and has received awards and recognition from the Southern California Motion Picture Council, City of Los Angeles, Governor of California, United States Senate and Congress. Now she is receiving a lot of International recognition as well.
Although Arianna got her start in musical theatre, her first professional role was Mabel in Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance" when she was only 16. 'The director didn't even want to audition me, ' Arianna recalls with a laugh. 'I stepped onstage and he asked me how old I was. When I said I was 16, he rolled his eyes, said, 'Oh, God' and slumped down in his chair. Once I started singing, he sat up in his chair and asked me to read and cast me in the part.'
Arianna's operatic repertoire has been growing thanks to performances with the California Opera Association in Fresno, and she recently returned to the US in time for a 4th of July concert in Los Angeles and at the grand opening of a new nightclub ('Reel to Real' in Hollywood) after studying opera in Milan, Italy.
Arianna was the only American studying at the Scuola Musicale di Milano, where she learned such difficult classic opera roles as The Queen of the Night in 'Die Zauberflote' and Gilda in 'Rigoletto' from the man who teaches those roles at La Scala – the premier opera house in the world. Before leaving Milan, she performed in concert with the Georgio Strehler Orchestra and then stopped off in Great Britain for a BBC radio interview and a visit with Barrow-in-Furness producer/stage manager Ray Martindale.
While in the UK, Arianna was introduced by Ray to world famous D'Oyley Carte Opera tenor Thomas Round. Mr. Round was so impressed with Arianna's singing that he immediately arranged interviews for her with several opera producers, including Neil Smith, who produces the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival annually with his father, Ian. At their first meeting, Neil gave Arianna the script, musical score and a video of a previous production of "Patience" – one of the official G&S productions of the Festival this year - and told her to return in time for rehearsals prepared for the title role. Arianna is the first American woman ever asked to come and star in such a performance at the Festival. Arianna will also be performing her one-woman cabaret show in the evening and will be working with aspiring 'young artistes' in a new program designed to recognize and inspire the next generation of G&S performers.
According to Neil, 'Arianna is a charming young lady and a complete professional and we feel very fortunate to have her. Her singing voice is amazing and her diction is clear, which is very important for Gilbert and Sullivan.'
Arianna's career is certainly on the rise. While in London, Arianna had the rare opportunity to meet with Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical director, something most ingénue sopranos would give their right arm for. He took time out from a busy schedule mounting the latest ALW musical, 'The Woman in White' (starring Michael Crawford). 'We chatted for about 20 minutes,' Arianna explains, 'and I sang two songs for him in his office while he played the piano for me. It was one of the most relaxed auditions I've ever had.' Arianna plans to follow up with other producers of opera and musical theatre on her return trip to Great Britain.
Meanwhile, Arianna has been signed to play the role of Mina in a new musical theatre version of Dracula written in Italian (not to be confused with the Frank Wildhorn version currently headed for Broadway). The writer, Vito Lo Re, attempted to mount the production two years before using opera singers with disastrous results. 'Opera singers never want to commit to long rehearsal schedules,' he complained through a translator. 'They are used to spending years learning a role and then they show up for only a week or two of rehearsal. This is totally unsuitable for this kind of production. I needed people who can learn very fast and will help us work through the staging process and the many changes that come with creating a new show. This time I wanted to use actors from musical theatre.
Arianna was ideal for the part of Mina because she knows musical theatre but can also sing the operatic arias I have written for the part. And she has the face of an angel.' Preliminary recordings for the concept album will be completed this year with a production date tentatively set for March of 2005 in Milan, Italy.
How does Arianna feel about this sudden success? 'Well, obviously this is something I have been working for all my life. It's a little strange for this to happen so easily in Europe. I now have friends that are opening doors for me that I had to fight to open in the United States. And producers in the United States are now interested because I am building a name in Europe. Things are kind of snowballing all of a sudden but I'm still the same person I've always been. I still sing in the local clubs where I got started whenever I'm in town and hang out with the same friends I always hung out with. I'm not going to start having some kind of snob star attitude. I sing because I love it and I'm just happy to be able to do what I love the most.'
One of those local clubs is the Vermont in Hollywood. Located on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, the Vermont presents an open-mic cabaret show every Monday night hosted by Les Michaels. Pianist Ron Snyder, who has worked as musical director for numerous shows in LA theatre, is the accompanist. Both have watched Arianna's career grow over the years. Les has featured Arianna in his cabaret show and Ron is Arianna's preferred pianist for her one-woman show. Both are used to seeing audiences stunned at the young redhead's ability. "She's definitely going places," says Ron, "and she deserves it. We are all very proud of her."
Visit Arianna on the web at www.AriannaUSA.com
For more information on the International Gilbert & Sullivan festival (July 31 to August 22), visit www.gs-festival.co.uk
For information on Les Michaels cabaret, visit www.lesmichaels.com