Photos by Daniel Harvey
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Sasha Cooke as Jan Arnold
OP is honored to have mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke perform the role of Jan Arnold in the world premiere of Everest – A Graphic Novel Opera. A two-time Grammy Award-winner, Cooke originated the role of expedition leader Rob Hall’s pregnant wife in The Dallas Opera premiere in 2015.
The unique circumstances of Everest being based on a true story about real people helped Cooke prepare for the role, “I emailed Jan Arnold when I found out we were going to premiere the show. She was very kind and gave her blessing for the project. She’s a very strong woman and a very independent climber herself, so one of the interesting challenges of playing her is showing her strength and power in moments of terror or stress.”
As a wife and mother, the role of Jan Arnold was an emotional one for Cooke, “Jan has been on hold waiting to talk to Rob, and she finally has a moment with him on the phone in the last minutes of his life. It is an extraordinary operatic moment and very moving when Rob suggests the name of their unborn child. Rob and Jan share this beautiful duet together, and it’s powerful in the way that opera always is.”
Before her work with OP on Everest – A Graphic Novel Opera, Cooke says she developed an appreciation for graphic novels after being introduced to them by her oldest daughter and recognizes how well both media work together, “Normally a piece like Everest would be limited on stage. We can’t put the mountain on the stage, but here, we can; it’s unlimited. So, I think that’s brilliant, and I want to see more operas in this medium. I am very grateful to Opera Parallèle for being so brave and doing a project like this. I think it is innovative, incredible, imaginative, and perfect for the piece.”
Kevin Burdette as Beck Weathers
OP is excited to have bass-baritone Kevin Burdette perform in Everest – A Graphic Novel Opera, reprising the role of Beck Weathers, which he created in The Dallas Opera premiere in 2015.
Well known for his strongly dramatic characterizations, Burdette found preparing for the role of the Mount Everest disaster survivor both inspirational and intimidating. “Because Weathers has a personality bigger than life and because he saved himself on the mountain when he was left for dead, I wasn’t sure in this particular setting how to channel his personality and energy.”
Of the few opportunities Burdette has had during the pandemic, he describes his experience in OP’s Everest as especially rewarding on multiple levels. “Being able to revisit this incredible masterpiece with Opera Parallèle and Nicole Paiement, who conducted the world premiere of Everest and creating a graphic novel display of Everest is only going to feed the opera world even more. The digital aspect that allows us to go deeper on a story is an extra facet that will make opera’s return to the stage even more transcendent.”