The exciting conclusion of William Suit’s children’s opera, IL GUFO IL TOPO.
The Villainous Silvano: An Interview with Jackson HodgesThe Villainous Silvano: An Interview with Jackson Hodges
When Will Suit considered who might work best for the role of Silvano on the recording of IL GUFO IL TOPO, he wrestled with the type of voice. It had to be animated, yet believable. It had to betray treacherous emotion and ill-intent. This was, after all, the villain of the story. Who could capture this and maintain the integrity of the role? Early on when Will was developing the story, students offered input regularly on the owl, Silvano. Without exception, they felt he should be a scary, nightmarish creature. All were curious as to the demise or escape of the mouse, Zita at the hands….well, talons…of such a cunning villain.
After Will opened his own music school, he met some young musicians looking for work as instructors. Among them was a young man who, at first sight, was quiet and timid. His polite, soft-spoken manner was in great contrast to the boisterous personalities of music teachers with which Will was familiar. Nonetheless, he took a chance and welcomed Jackson Hodges to his list of instructors. His major in college had been Voice.
A few months later, Will asked Jackson if he’d like to sing a song at a student recital the following week. Jackson gladly accepted the invitation and met Will for a rehearsal. He and Will looked over material, deciding on a song from Les Miserables. Will thought his voice sounded pretty good as he heard the first full song. Then came the day of the recital with a room full of parents and kids. Jackson stood to sing as the room fell silent. That was his canvas and he filled it with the most wonderful sound from the depth of his emotions.
The audience applauded vigorously and Jackson probably gained a couple of students from that very room, but Will had found Silvano. Over the next few months life threw many obstacles into the path of the recording, but when Will finally confirmed with Jackson, he stepped to the mic and delivered! Silvano was in place!
Here are Jackson’s thoughts on being a part of this project:
1. How did you feel about being a part of this project?
Personally, I very much enjoyed being a part of this project. It’s not as often as I’d like that I get to stretch my classical singing legs for performing, as it were. So it was entirely too much fun to get to use that side of my performance technique.
2. Who is Silvano?
Silvano is the villain of Il GufoIl Topo, and fits nicely into the stereotypical operatic villain role. Singing as Silvano was such a great experience. There’s this weird part of me that has always wanted to fill the role of a villain in a production, so this was truly a privilege.
3. How did you get into character for this recording?
To get into character for this recording, I pictured some of the classic Disney villains I grew up with – Scar, Ursula, Hades, and the like. They’re all evil in their own rites, but they still have that sense of cartoonish whimsy about them in most cases, which I felt was quite fitting for Silvano. I included just a touch of Oogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas to add a sinister touch just to make it clear that he is, in fact, a villain.
5. Which song was your favorite? Why?
Out of all of the songs that I got to record, “No Escape,” was probably my favorite. I love the chromaticism at the end. There’s something about the closeness of the notes in the vocal melody that create an ominous, foreboding atmosphere that I feel really brings out the events surrounding this part of the opera – Zita fleeing through the woods late at night in an attempt to escape from her would-be captor.
6. What can people learn from the story of IL GUFO IL TOPO?
They can definitely learn to be mindful of those around them – not everyone who shows interest in you or what you’re capable of always has your best interests in mind.
7. What aspirations do you have as an artist for the future? What have you done and what are you doing now toward that future?
For the future? Honestly, I’d love to do some more work like this. I’ve done recordings with rock ensembles and choral groups, but solo operatic work was a new experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m still working with many rock groups in a studio setting, so I’m refining my performance technique within the bounds of a studio. I’m getting better at taking creative direction, as well. Sometimes I have a difficult time finding the exact character that a producer is looking for, so I’m pushing myself to get better at doing that in the moment.
Will Suit takes us all to the opera to enjoy his recent release of IL GUFO IL TOPO (The Owl and The Mouse) in part 1 of this two episode adventure. You can find IL GUFO IL TOPO on your favorite streaming service. Read about it at www.willsuitmusic.com
A few years ago William Suit welcomed a new student to his studio. She was six years old and said she wanted to be an opera star. She looked at Will and never batted an eye. She was serious. Over the next few weeks Will came to understand that he had a serious singer on his hands. Elishka Baer was tackling everything he threw at her with enthusiasm. Will would leave the studio after her lessons inspired to teach and write. She appreciated every ounce of knowledge he would share. Week after week she improved and grew as a musician.
One day, Will shared some music he was toying with. It was in the early stages, but it would become Il Gufo Il Topo. (The Owl & The Mouse) Elishka was enamored. She asked about it regularly. So, Will let her sing a couple of the songs. As soon as he heard her, he thought she sounded like the little mouse, Zita. Elishka soon learned “The Dark Forest,” and declared that if he ever produced this, she wanted to be the mouse.
Here we are a few years later and the role of Zita on the recording is none other than Elishka Baer. We asked Elishka about playing this role and her thoughts about the opera.
How did you feel about being a part of this project?
Elishka: It was really an honor to get to work with William Suit again. This project has been a long time in the making, and I was so excited when I was asked to record the part of Zita. The other artists were so wonderfully talented and supportive.
Who is Zita?
Elishka: To me, Zita is a sort of metaphor and her character teaches a lesson. I feel that she shows that even when times get tough and things are uncertain, we can find our way back home. The story as a whole really is metaphorical for this, at least for me.
What drew you to this part?
In my opinion, the story is very real and true to life, which drew me in. Zita is a wonderful character and she truly is very symbolic to me, as I mentioned before. I really love the way this work was written, and it just immediately captivated me from the first time I heard it a few years ago.
How did you get into character for the part?
To get into character, I tried to put myself in Zita’s shoes. I imagined being a little mouse who had only ever seen the inside of a shop, and then she is going out into these beautiful woods, seeing, and experiencing everything for the first time. The lyrics and music really helped put me in that place as well.
I love “The Dark Forest”. It is an incredibly determined song, and the music to it is rather enchanting. All the songs are truly charming, but this one holds a special place in my heart. I think it might have also been the first or one of the first songs I heard from the opera.
What can we all learn from Il Gufo Il Topo?
To me, we are all Zitas in many ways. We are all small “mice” trying to navigate our way through a forest – life. We have people there ready to guide us and help us reach the stars, and our path is not always easy. Sometimes things get dark and the way forward is not clear. But in the end, we all can find our way back home, in whatever form that comes.
So, what about you, Elishka? What are your goals and accomplishments so far?
Music is a great passion of mine, and I can see myself pursuing it into the future. Singing in particular is something I really enjoy and am considering working towards having a career in it. This is now the second CD that I have recorded parts in with William Suit. I performed quite regularly before the pandemic. I have done many fundraiser concerts, including the annual Tower of Talent fundraiser for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. I will continue to take lessons and seek more opportunities to perform. Additionally, I record my own tracks using my violin, piano, and voice combined. I plan to do more of this, and at some point in the future I hope to start creating my own covers of songs.
Do you study privately?
I do take private lessons in voice. I started out working with William Suit about six years ago. I was so fortunate to have had a teacher like him who made sure that all technique and song choices were always appropriate for my voice. Then I transitioned to another teacher just short of two years ago to focus on classical training. In addition to voice, I take private violin and piano lessons.
I have cherished my collaboration with Will and I hope that we can work together in the future again.
You can download or stream IL GUFO IL TOPO on your favorite music service. Find the list by clicking here.
Will Suit Music is excited to announce the much anticipated recording of IL GUFO IL TOPO will be released this month, June 2020. The recording has been months in the making.
Will Suit recently commented on what listeners can expect, “Drama! Lots of dramatic moments with a little mouse named Zita and her chance encounter with the villainous owl, Silvano.”
There are 22 songs that make up the children’s opera. Will enlisted the talents of a familiar voice. Elishka Baer, who also sang on IN MY BACKYARD, takes on the role of Zita. Her captor, Silvano, is portrayed by the extraordinary Jackson Hodges. Joining Will to tell the story as narrator is Melissa Loga, whom many will recognize from the Pedal Point Music Podcast, WILLIAM TELLS. There are of course other creatures in the recording, played by a new talent, Leora Sokol.
Watch for the release any day now on your favorite music provider! In the meantime, listen to a sample here.
“Drama! Lots of dramatic moments with a little mouse named Zita and her chance encounter with the villainous owl, Silvano.”