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Meet stratospheric soprano Holly Flack, from St. Pete Opera’s ‘Pinocchio’

Bill DeYoung

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From St. Petersburg Opera Company's 2019 production of "Pinocchio" (there wasn't a show in 2020): Holly Flack as Olympia (right), with Taylor-Alexis Dupont as Pinocchio (the role is being played this year by Sarah Klopfenstein). Photo: St. Pete Opera.

In its continuing quest to make it understood that opera can be for everyone, Mark Sforzini’s St. Petersburg Opera Company is opening the 2021 production of John Davies’ Pinocchio Saturday. This musical adaptation of the classic children’s tale – it’s about telling the truth, lest your nose will grow – is set to arias from several famous operas (with dialogue), all of it in English (the lyrics have been changed to further the story of the mischievous puppet boy).

It’s presented in several public performances, and for audiences of schoolchildren brought in especially for daytime shows.

Holly Flack

Clocking in at one hour, the fast-moving and entertaining show is “an easy way to brings adults – and children alike – into opera without necessarily making them sit down for the full toboggan,” explains soprano Holly Flack, who’s making her third appearance in the annual SPO production.

Flack plays Olympia, a wind-up doll who’s not treated very well by the black-hearted Dr. Dulcamara (Rim Karnavicius). New friend Pinocchio (Sarah Klopfenstein) to the rescue!

Davies uses music from Mozart, Donizetti, Offenbach and Verdi, performed by conductor Sforzini live with a small orchestra.

Holly Flack’s big moment arrives with “The Doll Song,” from Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman. The well-known piece is notoriously hard to sing, and Flack is more than up to the task.

There are three levels of the soprano voice: Mezzo, lyric and coloratura. Flack is in the latter category; it means she can hit the high notes. The really high notes.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a high voice,” she explains. “It just means ‘light and fast-moving.’ So you can have a lyric coloratura, which means kind of a middle/full voice, Tosca-esque, but she can move.

“I’m really more of a pure coloratura, with kind of a stratospheric range. There’s not really a name for it in the business – we call them whistle tones.”

In pop music, Mariah Carey is famous for her whistle tones, but they’re thin and brief, more of a parlor trick than a forceful musical ability.

“I can’t explain it,” says Flack. “Something happens inside, in my vocal cords. Anything above a G, I kind of slip into this very strong, pointed tone. Audrey Luna sang an A, which was the highest note every sung at the Met. I sang a B at Lincoln Center.”

That’s B above high C.

She discovered this particular talent during her junior year at St. Olaf College, and developed it over time with her vocal coaches.

“It’s a fun niche, but it’s also fun to sing something ‘normal,’ just to show that I am a well-rounded singer,” she adds. “I’m always glad when I can include them.”

For three seasons, Flack has been associated with iSing!, a program that brings Western opera to audiences in China, as well as classical and modern Chinese works, performed in Mandarin.

At the end of 2020, she spent three months in the country (although the first 28 days were taken up by Covid quarantine). With other iSING! performers, she brought opera in its myriad forms to four mainland cities.

Spoiler alert: Flack won’t be there for the opening public performance of Pinocchio Saturday (Nov. 13). Soprano Abigail Raiford will cover the Olympia role for this one show, as Flack will be onstage at Lincoln Center in New York, as part of an iSING! Concert called East/West.

Sunday morning, she’ll catch a plane back to Tampa Bay in time for the 3 p.m. matinee.

Flack, who lives outside Manhattan, has a good relationship with St. Pete Opera. She was Gilda in Rigoletto, the last show the company was able to do before the pandemic set in, and she’ll be back in February to sing the title role in Semele.

Are there notes for the upper range of a pure coloratura in that opera? Time will tell. Certain arrangers, Sforzini included, have been known to tweak a score, just a teeny bit, in order to showcase Holly Flack’s highly prized top-tier talent.

“I like to be known for it, but I also like to surprise people with it,” the singer explains. “Not stick 10 of them in, but stick just a couple in at the end, just for fun.”

For Pinocchio: All tickets and details are here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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