Kevin Burdette, Bass
General Polkan, The Golden Cockerel
What is your interpretation of the character of General Polkan?
General Polkan is a dynamic character who changes over the course of the story. In the beginning, he is the wise adviser to the tsar, seemingly the only person in the tsar’s world (the tsar included) who has any sense. He advises the tsar on tactical maneuvers, stands up to the tsar (at risk of punishment), and inspires the troops in battle. All of that changes, though, with the appearance of the Queen of Shemakha. Polkan is immediately enchanted by the queen and becomes unmoored, reduced to a babbling, posturing dullard. He is the embodiment of the Queen’s assertion that, to win a war, it is not necessary to have an army–she can win with beauty alone. Polkan’s demise is Act II is important, in part, because it presages the tsar’s, an act later.
How is singing Rimsky-Korsakov different from singing other composers?
For Polkan, specifically, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote very angular and chromatic music. Aside from two proclamations–both attacks, one to fire the cannons at the enemy and the other to try to seduce the Queen–all of Polkan’s lines are extremely chromatic. The chromaticism of the lines prior to the arrival of the Queen tend to be ascending–rising chromatic lines, showing, I think, Polkan’s rising temper: everyone around me is foolish, and I have to waste my time revealing their foolishness. With the arrival of the Queen, Polkan’s chromaticism turns around and descends: his strength and wisdom are unraveling, melting away in a descending chromatic scale. For this role, I have to be 100% tuned into that chromaticism, leaning into the cracks and corners of the lines.
What is essential for interpreting the music of Rimsky-Korsakov?
Rimsky-Korsakov’s score for The Golden Cockerel is stunning. The orchestration is incredible, and the Dallas Opera orchestra plays it wonderfully–you can tell they adore working with the incomparable Maestro Villaume (as do we all!). The lush cello solos, the brass calls, the gorgeous melodies (there is one melody in Act II that recalls the tune “Lavender Blue Dilly-Dilly” where time seems to stop as we live a rich, deep moment of beauty)–it is important, I think, for the singers to know exactly what the orchestra sounds are. We are in dialogue with certain instruments and in counterpoint with others–and those interactions reveal so much of what Rimsky-Korsakov was saying.
While working so directly on this production, especially the performers, can you explain what you have discovered along the way? What has the sense of community behind the scenes been like?
We are so fortunate to have Paul Curran as the director. Paul’s knowledge of Russian and of how this story both applied to early-20th-century Russia and applies to the world today, have been invaluable. He reveals the comedy inherent in the score and the story, the seductiveness of the words, and also the political undercurrents that are so important (and not at all comedic). His ability to channel Rimsky-Korsakov’s balancing of the political, comic, and seductive has been inspiring and so helpful. And with that guidance, the whole cast has bought into telling this story in a way that honors its root and tradition while being very much accessible to and relevant for audiences today. There is a Native American proverb: tell me a fact, and I will learn; tell me a truth, and I will believe; but tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever. This cast has bought 100% into telling this story and having it live in people’s hearts forever.