Page 8- The Michigan Daily- Tuesday, April 14,1992
not really a diva
by Michelle Weger
"And those receive me who quietly
treat me as one familiar and well-
beloved in that home. But will not,
oh will not, not now, not ever; but
will not ever tell me who I am. "
- James Agee
A Death in the Family
Dawn Upshaw portrays Agee's
young protagonist with heartwrench-
ing directness in her recording of
Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer
of 1915. Upshaw herself, however,
needs no one to tell her who she is.
Since 1984, when she won both
tie Young Concert Artists Inter-
national Auditions and a spot in the
Young Artist Development program
at'New York's Metropolitan Opera,
she has literally been telling the
world. And the world has been
listening and responding enthusiasti-
cally to the 31-year old lyric so-
Even in speaking with Upshaw
over the telephone, one immediately
recognizes the same intelligence and
straightforwardness with which she
approaches music. Both qualities
explain her special way of touching
audiences and finding satisfaction
from doing just that.
To be sure, one essential quality
which sets Upshaw apart from other
classical singers, and which has won
her a wide and respecting group of
devotees, is her refusal to live up to
anyone's image of a prima donna.
Still, her choice of careers seems
unusual for a woman who claims to
be neither overly ambitious nor ex-
By the time Upshaw got to high
school, she was no stranger to
singing: as a kid, her parents would
take her and her sister around to
schools to sing folk music and civil
That's right, the gifted vocalist
who has appeared in opera houses in
That's right, the gifted
vocalist ... grew up lis-
tening to Peter, Paul
and Mary, Linda
Rondstadt, and Barbra
Streisand, rather than
Joan Sutherland or
Salzburg, Vienna, Amsterdam and
NYC grew up listening to Peter,
Paul and Mary, Linda Rondstadt,
and Barbara Streisand, rather than
Joan Sutherland or Maria Callas.
As a teenager, Upshaw studied
oboe, and for a time considered be-
coming an orchestral musician.
Then, while still in high school, she
began taking voice lessons, and
thought that musical theater might
be her calling. It wasn't until she
was exposed to music history and
theory at Illinois Wesleyan Uni-
versity that Upshaw pricked up her
ears to classical.
"As I went through, I just got so
excited about that music," she re-
members. But even then, she claims
she didn't yet comprehend every-
thing involved in being an artist.
"It's probably better that I didn't,"
she chuckles good-naturedly.
After her first year in college,
Upshaw started spending summers at
the prestigious Aspen music festival.
There, studying with the late Jan
DeGaetani, was where she came to
understand her own "unique offer-
ing." She says that through DeGae-
tani, she gained confidence and
became convinced to, "seek out my-
self through the work."
Those summers also point to the
genesis of her development as an
artist: finding a unique point of view
for each piece, and performing it
In fact, if Upshaw has a mantra,
"conviction" would certainly be her
inward chant. For her, that means
having a complete understanding of
the music's form and meaning. Her
talent for communicating that under-
standing entirely without pretension
is the essence of her style and pres-
ence, and has allowed her to be very
selective about her projects.
That very attitude is yet another
factor that distinguishes Upshaw
from her colleagues. No doubt about
it, her shimmering, pure soprano
voice attracts listeners like a magnet;
but it's her warmth, humanity, and
commitment to both text and music
that transfix them.
So far, the singer's philosophy is
paying off. A very busy performing
schedule included four Mozart op-
eras at the Met this season, as well
as concert appearances with the Los
Angeles Philharmonic, San Fran-
cisco Symphony, Atlanta Sympho-
ny and Cleveland Orchestra. She's
recently participated in recording
"The Marriage of Figaro," Haydn's
"Creation," and Mahler's Symphony
No. 4. Her last two solo albums gar-
nered Grammy awards in 1990 and
Success does have its downside,
however. Her schedule leaves little
time for outside interests. "My fam-
ily has become my hobby," Upshaw
says, referring to her husband, musi-
cologist Michael Nott and their
"My life has really gotten very
busy and complicated," she sighs,
"I'm not crazy about that." For a
moment she sounds like any other
harried working mother, rather than
a woman known for portraying
perky Mozart heroines and recording
unusual - some might say adven-
turous - programs of 20th century
But make no mistake, divadom is
definitely not in this woman's future
- at least if she can help it. Hating
the feeling that the music business is
a race, Upshaw tries to divorce her-
self from that part of it as much as
possible. Early on, she says she was
more aware of others' expectations
for her, but now she has, "become
comfortable with my role in the mu-
sic world ... I don't feel like I'm try-
ing to get to the top of a ladder any-
While Upshaw feels lucky that
her recording label has allowed her
so much freedom, she also attributes
Dawn Upshaw doesn't look like an operatic diva, but she's well on her way.
her willingness to take artistic risks
to something more deeply rooted. "I
feel like I have a pretty good sense
of who I am. I don't have a need to
prove it to anybody ... maybe that is
rare, and maybe not just in the music
business, but in any business."
DAWN UPSHAW AND RICHARD
GOODE will perform tonight at
Rackham Auditorium at 8 p.m. Ti-
ckets are $14 to $26; student rush
tickets will be available for $7 at 10
a.m. at the Burton Tower box office.
Call 764-2538 for more information.
Aunt Dan and Lemon,
dir. Rebecca Novick
April 10, 1992
The RC Players have a tradition
of producing modern, unique plays
Their latest offering, Wallace
Shawn's Aunt Dan and Lemon, is no
The play discusses the Holo-
caust, Kissinger, and the psychedelic
scene in London during the '60s iii
the context of a particular woman's
life. Throughout the play, Lemon
(Emily Gould) shares her vivid
memories of her childhood mentor,
Aunt Dan (Rachel Rosenman), with
the audience; at the end, Lemon re-
veals her homosexual feelings for
this family friend.
Because these desires went unre-
alized, Lemon is frustrated with her-
self and with society. Despite her
contempt for social conventions, she
could not, as a girl, get past them
herself to act upon her feelings.
The RC Players' production of
Lemon wasn't a show to take that
nervous first date to - there was a
scene of implied fallatio which left
nothing to the imagination. The play
was thought-provoking and differ-
Perhaps the most memorable as-
pect of the production was Rosen-
man's spirited portrayal of Aunt
Dan. Since the character talks inces-
santly, there were many lines, but
Rosenman pulled off her verbosity
with ease and seemed to have a great
time with the role.
Aunt Dan and Lemon concludes
with Lemon's political philosophies;
she rationalizes the acts of the Nazis.
To her, the Nazis' actions were no
worse than the people existing in the
world today. Lemon thinks there is
something in humans that makes us
all enjoy killing. We don't admit it
to ourselves and we act as if it's bar-
barism, but We secretly revel in it.
The scene in which Lemon re-
vealed her thoughts was horrific, dis-
turbing, and challenging to the audi-
ence. The play made us face some
facts and truths about human nature.
This philosophy doesn't seem
surprising, however, when you read
the thoughts of the playwright:
"Most of the people who go the the-
ater are simply looking for a certain
kind of soothing experience that will
take their mind off their troubles .
I insist on confronting them as a
playwright. It's quite embarrassing,
it's quite unpleasant, it's quite awk-
ward." It's also quite honest.
The homosexual feelings be-
tween Dan and Lemon were pre-
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