Brenda Patterson wears the pants as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro
Don’t be confused when you see Cherubino on stage in The Marriage of Figaro. The role is of a man being played by a woman and Brenda Patterson, our Cherubino, is well versed in portraying this man on stage.
Read about Mrs. Patterson’s ties to Germany, why you won’t becoming Facebook friends with her any time soon, and why she hopes this won’t be her last portrayal of Cherubino.
1. How did your initial interest in the art form of opera begin?
Brenda: I grew up going to the opera. When I was seven I attended a performance of my then-favorite, The Magic Flute, and I had a vision of myself singing one of the Three Ladies, up on the stage, singing back to my child-self sitting in the audience. Thus began an obsession, and a life-path. I started taking voice lessons when I was nine, and I eventually became a singer, obviously – but I never got a chance to sing in The Magic Flute until 2005, in Hamburg. And guess who I met at the first rehearsal? My wife-to-be, singing the First Lady to my Second.
2. Where did you grow up?
Brenda: My father, “the Colonel,” was in the Air Force, so we lived many places. Mostly in the D.C. area, as he worked at the Pentagon, but also in Germany.
3. What is an average day like for you? Do you have a set routine?
Brenda: I basically live an existence from another time. Although I do use email, I don’t have a TV, a cell phone, nor do I belong to any social networking sites. I treasure my peace and quiet and spend a lot of time writing letters (yes, on paper!), reading, cooking, listening to the radio, going on walks and exploring the places my gigs take me.
4. What is your favorite opera to watch/experience?
Brenda: The Marriage of Figaro is like the Gospel to me. I can find every life-lesson in it, and have loved it since childhood. In fact, I learned “Voi che sapete che cosa è amor” (“You ladies who know what love is, is it what I’m suffering from?”) for the first time when I was 10 years old, so Cherubino has been with me a long time. And it still makes me laugh. Other than The Marriage of Figaro, my favorites include some standards and some odder ones: La bohème; Orfeo (Gluck); Dialogues of the Carmelites; Jenufa; A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Lulu.
5. Have you performed your role in The Marriage of Figaro before? If so, do you have any interesting anecdotes you can share about the experience?
Brenda: I’ve sung Cherubino many times – I think in five or six different productions, if you count student ones. So I have my share of hilarious anecdotes and can’t really pick just one (mostly you had to be there).
But my favorite Cherubino anecdote might come from the original playwright, Beaumarchais, who says in his forward that Cherubino must be played by a woman, because a man couldn’t possibly understand the complexity of the character. I love that!
6. What language(s) do you speak fluently?
Brenda: The usual singer languages – although I am actually very fluent in German, having gone to school there as a child for three years and now having lived in Hamburg and Berlin for almost six years.
7. Have you worked with anyone in this cast before?
Brenda: Sari Gruber and I have known each other for a long time – I met her at Tanglewood when I was 19. I’ve always been a fan!
8. What opera role have you not performed, but would like to perform the most in your career?
Brenda: My favorite role I have already performed: Gluck’s Orfeo. Other than that, I would love to sing Octavian (Rosenkavalier) one of these days, and also Massenet’s Chérubin, which I have only sung in a student production. Chérubin is like the third volume of the Beaumarchais Trilogy: Cherubino all grown up.
I also love singing contemporary/new music, believe it or not. So maybe the role I will love most hasn’t been written yet.
9. If you bumped into me at a coffee shop and learned that I had never been to an opera before, what would you say to entice me to give it a try?
Brenda: I would…tell you there’s no more romantic thing to do on a date. If you can’t seduce your date listening to “Sull’ aria,” they’re not worth it.
10. What facts about you would our audiences be surprised to learn?
Brenda: Probably that I was a Medieval Studies Major at Barnard. People don’t expect singers to know much about things, but we do.