Giant Steps – Catching up with Mischa Bouvier

Baritone Mischa Bouvier is no stranger to fans of ABS. A participant in the 2010 inaugural class of the American Bach Soloists Academy, the charismatic soloist has performed with ABS on many memorable occasions since. He returns January 23-26 to sing the role of the murderous giant Polyphemus in Handel’s Acis and Galatea. His commentary on preparation, singing Handel, and throwing rocks at shepherds concludes our conversations (Nola Richardson, Kyle Stegall, and Zachary Wilder) with the Acis cast. Do not miss the chance to hear these spectacular artists perform in one of Handel’s most splendid works!

BOUVIERIn recent seasons, ABS fans have heard you perform in Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral and as Apollo in the composer’s secular cantata Apollo & Dafne. How does  the role of Polyphemus in Acis and Galatea differ from other Handel assignments? Does Polyphemus involve different preparations?

Well, it’s my first time playing a giant cyclops, so I’ve been singing with one eye closed to gain perspective. But basically my preparation for the role of Polyphemus is no different than it would be for probably any other Handel role. I pay special attention to the fast parts and the low parts … the fast parts so I can make sure I’m flexible in the event that my chosen tempo isn’t also the choice of the conductor, and the low parts because we’re performing at 415 [vibrations per second; a low Baroque tuning]. And, of course, I always, always focus on the text.

Acis and Galatea is one of Handel’s most enduring and popular operatic works. What do you think attracts listeners to this work? As an artist, what do you find most rewarding about it?

Acis and Galatea has endured because it’s an accessible and entertaining story. Most of us can relate to its themes of love, passion, and jealousy (though I’d like to think most of us would not kill our rival with a big rock). And musically, the work offers something for every ear. There are moments of melancholy, elegance, simplicity, etc., and also a variety of the prevailing styles of the time. And, of course, there’s that amazing trio (“The flocks shall leave the mountains”) which sounds almost Mozartian.

Compared with other Baroque composers like Bach, Scarlatti, or Purcell, are there features of Handel’s works that make performing them especially thrilling or challenging? 

Some of Handel’s writing is challenging in terms of range. For instance, the character of Lucifer in La Resurrezione, which I sang for the first time as a participant in the inaugural class of the ACADEMY, requires a range of over two octaves (F#–g’). And in Acis, Handel writes a particularly excellent opening accompanied recitative for Polyphemus, “I rage, I melt, I burn!” He launches the movement with a bit of that wonderful Handelian coloratura on the word “rage.” It starts quite low, but quickly rises to the top of the singer’s range. It’s total text painting, and totally difficult to sing (like the opening bit for bass on the words “…and I will shake” in Messiah).

Are there any composers whose works you would like to delve into more? Dream projects?

Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder. Or Rameau’s Thétis. Mozart’s Papageno. Or almost any American song premiere. Or the bits of Ravel I haven’t already sung. Or one of the Schubert cycles (!). Or Billy Budd. And there’s always room for some crossover rep (Emile, Fred, Marius …). Oh, and Grieg!