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  • Writer's pictureIsabella Luchi

The Broadway Phantom in Brazil

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

Updated: June 13th, 2022

This post is the first of a new series of interviews with the intention of sharing with you inspiring stories from singers all over the world. Today, we’ll talk to Brazilian coloratura soprano Natalia Hubner. Natalia and I go way back (to when I could barely read music and she was already a master of sight singing): we first met in the Symphonic Choir of the Music College we both attended, FAMES, which is located in my hometown Vitória, an island in the Southeast of Brazil. Since then, our paths went different ways, and a few years ago, before the pandemic, Natalia moved to São Paulo and landed the role of Carlotta in an original Broadway production of the Phantom of the Opera. And today she will tell us all about it!

Before we talk about the Phantom, could you give us a little introduction about yourself?

Of course! First of all, Isabella, I’d like to thank you for your invitation to give this interview. I’m very proud to see the amazing artist that you’ve become, and it’s a pleasure for me to travel through the memories of our college times, when we sang together in the choir. As you know, I began my musical studies as a child, having the piano as my first instrument. I used to sing in choirs as well, and very soon I became responsible for rehearsing my church choir. The experience I had at church inspired me to pursue formal education in singing, so in 2007 I started to take an extension course at FAMES (Faculdade de Música do Espírito Santo), and later in 2012 I started my Bachelor’s degree. In that same year, I had my professional debut as Fiordiligi in a production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte for the Classical Music Festival of the state of Espírito Santo. Since then, a lot has changed.

Natalia Hubner (Countess), Isabella Luchi (Susanna), Willian Donizetti (Figaro)

Natalia, it is a pleasure to have you share your experience with the original Broadway production of the Phantom of the Opera in Brazil. First of all, how did you get in? How was your first audition process?

The thought of integrating the cast of the Phantom of the Opera had never crossed my head. It was on March 2018, when I had just arrived back from a festival in the south of Brazil (Festival de Música “Gramado in Concert”), that I learned about the auditions. I was in São Paulo to audition for La Traviata, when a colleague told me about this massive Broadway production of the Phantom of the Opera that was going to come to Brazil. He said: “why don’t you audition for them? They are opening a second call because they haven’t cast all the roles yet.” I wasn’t feeling very confident, since I had just gotten a big NO from the Municipal Theater, but I decided to apply at the last minute. A few days later, I received an email informing me that I was selected for live auditions, so the “marathon” started. [laugh] I traveled six times to São Paulo for the audition process. I remember the last one involved dancing, and I was almost sure they would fail me in that one – I dance pretty badly. [laugh] However, to my surprise, I received a call saying I had been selected for first soprano in the ensemble!

I’m going to skip the part when I had to move from Vitória to São Paulo in less than 20 days, and start from the beginning of rehearsals. The date was June 9th, 2018. My first “pinch me” moment was when I saw Arthur Masella in the rehearsal room: the man who has been directing the Phantom for 30 years was right there in front of us. We were a group of 38 artists between ballet dancers, and singer/actors feeling a mix of emotions… He said, and I remember as if it were yesterday: “Cherish all these emotions you are feeling today. You’ll need this memory later, after you've performed over 200 shows and feel exhausted. Remember that there’s someone in the audience who’s watching this musical for the first time, and maybe will never see it again.” His words stayed with me, and I remembered it every time we’ve completed 200, 400 shows… [laugh] We’ve reached the mark of 511 shows, and it is surreal to me that I could sing the same work so many times.

After some time singing in the ensemble, how did you end up landing one of the lead roles, Carlotta Giudicelli?

All productions have difficulties, and in the case of a huge production such as the Phantom of the Opera, it is expected that substitutions will be eventually made. In my first auditions, the judges asked me to sing excerpts from various roles – Christine, Carlotta, Il Mutto – besides my operatic repertoire. I believe they saw in me the versatility they needed for Carlotta. They then cast me in the ensemble – I had small parts in the choir – and also as a cover for Carlotta. The truth is that, after playing the small parts and hearing the entire show from backstage over 100 times, I had the role of Carlotta fully memorized. When I learned that the role would open, I reached out to the directors and informed them that I was musically prepared, and that I would love it if they could give me an opportunity to audition. They promptly accepted. I recorded a video which was sent to the creative directors on Broadway, and a week later I got the news that I had been selected!

Felipe Assis as Monsieur Reyer, and Natalia Hubner as Carlotta Giudicelli

Wow, that must have felt wonderful! I mean, you didn’t sit and wait for them to announce auditions. You showed up for yourself, and offered to audition. That takes guts! The performing world is very competitive and sometimes we get caught up in our heads thinking that we are not good enough, and we end up sitting and waiting for someone to recognize our potential and give us an opportunity to shine. What advice would you give for singers that feel that way and dream about getting into big productions?

It’s interesting that you ask that, because even after having this extraordinary experience, I find myself with similar feelings sometimes. For example, I came to the U.S. at the end of January to do some auditions, and the first thought that crossed my head was: am I ready to audition here? It takes time to get settled when you arrive in a different country, and I imagined it wouldn't be easy. Fortunately, I’ve been accepted to sing in the chorus of the Tanglewood Festival with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the rehearsals start this week. I’m very excited about it and, once again, I’m working hard to learn all the chorus parts, but I’m also studying the solos. Life is unpredictable. If the opportunity comes, I want to be ready for it. If it doesn’t come, I’ll leave with more repertoire in my pockets. It’s a win-win! I believe we need to be proactive and help create our opportunities, always with honesty and professionalism.

That’s great advice, thank you! Now, let’s spill some tea: what are the perks and challenges of being in such a huge production such as The Phantom of the Opera?

There are so many details in this question… In total, there were 38 artists among the choir, ballet, and main cast. In the women vocal ensemble there were eight artists, between covers, swings and cast. For those of you who don’t understand the lingo, a swing is a singer who covers many roles in the ensemble, and eventually some of the lead roles. A cover will typically have a small role in the ensemble and also cover a lead role. I was one of those who covered a lead role, and performed a small ensemble role every show – we sang some onstage and some offstage. The swings had to show up every time, but they only sang if necessary. The dressing room was shared by all ladies, but each one of us had our station, with personal costume pieces, makeup and utensils. We had very short breaks in between the show, just enough time to change costumes and retouch the make up. Before the season began, we were trained on how to do our own makeup, and we received a kit with all items that we would need.

Natalia Hubner in the dressing room

We were generally called two hours before the show – so we could get dressed, do hair and makeup, warm up, then do mic tests – but very often we had rehearsals in the afternoon, so our schedule was very tight. Besides, we were required by the production to work out at the gym at least three times a week, in order to be physically conditioned to handle the show. Because of the volume of things and people coming in and out of the stage, we had two weeks of safety instruction about how to move around between scene and set changes. I guess the biggest challenge was to keep everybody safe and healthy (both physically and vocally), because the whole thing was very demanding. Naturally, the production provided access to one of the best gyms in São Paulo, and that was really nice. I particularly loved it, and went almost every day!

In this case it wouldn't be an overstatement to say singers are athletes, right?! Well, among all these memories, do you have a special one?

I remember well the first day that I watched the entire show – I had actually never watched it live before! At that point I had already performed it over 100 times... It was magical to see it for the first time: such a magnificent production! I could then realize the importance of my work, and of everyone in the cast and creative and production teams (the lights, sound, set, costumes…). Almost 200 people put in their sweat everyday to make the show happen. Seeing all of that was magical. That was the most special moment I had.

If I’m not mistaken, this was your first full musical theater production, correct? How was that different from being in an operatic production? You have played roles such as Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte) and 2nd Woman (Dido and Aeneas) in the past. Was Carlotta very different vocally?

Yes, it was my first musical in an original Broadway production. To me, one of the challenges was to keep myself motivated and excited to do the show again, after having done it 400 times. [laugh] In the operatic world – in Brazil at least – it is not common to have that many performances of the same show, so that was a big change for me. Keeping myself healthy and energized was a tough task. There were, of course, covers in case I felt ill, but I tried to keep in shape to sing all the shows. As I said before, keeping our voices and bodies strong and healthy was essential to keep the musical going.

For a classical singer, there’s always the factor of acoustics and projection in the hall. In this particular show, I didn’t need to change my technique much, given the fact that I was supposed to be part of an operatic choir, and later when I sang Carlotta, well, she was an opera diva. I did, however, sing with less projection than I would sing opera, and that happened for two reasons: first because I was using a microphone, and second, the volume of shows was so heavy that no one could really bear to sing 100% full voice every night – and stay healthy for another hundred shows… So when the season was over I needed to go through a process of renewing my operatic technique, in a sense of being able to project without a mic in the acoustics of a big opera theater.

Natalia Hubner, as a character of the ensemble; Phantom of the Opera, Brazil.

This was an original Broadway production translated to Brazilian Portuguese. How was it for you to sing this famous work in your native language?

My first experience singing a whole production in Portuguese was in 2017, when I premiered a new Brazilian opera, “O Caixeiro da Taverna” by Guilherme Bernstein. It was a wonderful experience, but I have to say that singing opera in Portuguese is a challenge, even for native speakers. Our language is full of complexities! [laugh] Because of that experience, I developed my technique around my native language, and when I had to sing the Phantom in Portuguese, I didn’t have any major issues. It’s worth mentioning that one of the most important jobs in the production was that of the versionist — the person who translated the lyrics and created the Brazilian Portuguese version. The fact that the audience could understand what we were saying allowed them to create a much deeper connection with the artists.

I feel that sometimes we are reluctant to sing translations, but from the audience perspective, especially those who are not intimate with the art form, it must help to hear the show in their mother language. But enough with the past. What’s next? What are your plans for the future?

Well, I’m currently in Boston. As I’ve mentioned before, I came in the beginning of the year to audition for a few productions, and I got into the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. I’m in their residency program until August, and we’ll perform various concerts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Among the repertoire, there are two audience favorites: Brahms’ Requiem and Beethoven’s 9th. Meanwhile, I’ll keep auditioning, and perhaps look into a graduate program. Who knows! The biggest lesson that I’ve learned from singing in the Phantom is this: to keep my body and mind healthy, and my singing ready for the next opportunities that life shall bring.

Thank you so much, Natalia! It was stimulating to hear your stories, and I hope they inspire our readers!

Follow Natalia:

Facebook Page @natalia.hubner1

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