When you were a little girl, did you ever imagine yourself as one of the evil stepsisters when you were watching Cinderella? No? Me neither.
But a year ago, I was presented with that exact opportunity. I was given the chance to sing the incredible role of Thisbé, a woman who is totally self-absorbed, totally obsessed with becoming a princess, and has no truly redeeming qualities.
Let me tell you - that is a dream role.
I've played the ingenue before, and that is more tricky. Being a totally innocent and naive character can be hard because you have to convince the audience that it makes sense why you would fall into bad circumstances. But when you're making the circumstances yourself as the "evil" character? That's when the real fun starts.
Thisbé's big scene is her aria in the third act, which on the recording is called "Dieux!" She sings about losing the prince just as she thought she had him. She laments that she's being passed over, and that a mystery girl, also known as Cinderella, has stolen the prince right out from under her nose.
That is a totally reasonable feeling to have - it's not so far-fetched that we can't relate. So all of a sudden, this character that was totally evil became, for me, easier to grasp.
One of the interesting things about playing an evil character on stage is that you can't judge her from the outside - you have to be inside her head and understand her decision making. So instead of saying, "She's completely self-absorbed," you have to say, "I feel like I deserve a prince. I deserve to be queen, and I deserve to be loved." Acting in opera is really an exercise in empathy, because it can affect how you sing a certain line - if you sing it with tenderness or with deceit.
Understanding a character like Thisbé and her motivation was actually a wonderful thing. It made me aware of the selfish tendencies that I have, and how those behaviors can manifest if taken to their extreme. Having the opportunity to actually experience that self-absorption at its highest level, and then having her get nothing from her actions, was an education in itself. Take a look at the people you know who seem to demonstrate qualities that you don't like - if you can try and understand their behavior, then you can recognize and take measures against falling down the same rabbit hole yourself.
If you're interested in listening to the opera, you can listen to it on Spotify or click the picture below to get your digital download from Amazon! (I'm listed as Abigail Shapiro, because that is my maiden name.)
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