Holding Court with Cleopatra: Meet Blythe Gaissert, mezzo-soprano

Mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert returns to On Site Opera to portray one of history’s greatest and most enigmatic rulers! We caught up with Blythe to see what she’s been up to since quacking her way into audience’s hearts as Auntie Duck in OSO’s inaugural production of The Tale of the Silly Baby Mouse.


Photo of Blythe Gaissert by David White

• OSO: When did you see your first live opera? What was it?

BG: In 1993, I saw La Boheme at the Met. Pavarotti was supposed to be singing and canceled. I fell asleep after the second act.

•OSO: Who is your favorite Diva/Divo?  

BG: There are lots of singers that I admire for different reasons, including some of my friends, but I really love to listen to Christa Ludwig. She just infused every word with so much meaning.

• OSO: What’s your dream role?

BG: Octavian from Der Rosenkavalier

• OSO: What role would you like to perform that isn’t in your fach?

BG: Ooh…so many! Tosca, Wotan, Butterfly…so many great roles!

• OSO: What is your favorite cocktail?

BG: I love a real vodka gimlet!

•OSO: What is your favorite restaurant/hideaway spot in NYC? 

BG: I really love great food, and there are so many to choose from here! We are lucky to have a few great places in our neighborhood: Saggio (a fantastic Italian place with homemade pasta and good wine); Tu Cachapa, (a quick Venezuelan spot near the GWB. Try the chicken cachapa with extra hot sauce), and Tampopo Ramen which was opened by a musician friend and his wife.

• OSO: What do you find most interesting about Cleopatra? How do you feel about playing such a famous historical character?

BG: It’s a huge challenge because of the stereotypes that people think of from the Elizabeth Taylor movie and all of the other versions of her we have seen over years. She was an incredibly strong, independent, and powerful woman with a keen intellect and a great sense of leadership.  I believe the seductress that is often portrayed is misconstrued. I think she was just so charismatic and passionate that she drew people to her without even trying.

• OSO: What do you find is unique about Berlioz’ take on Cleopatra?

BG: You definitely get her power and grandeur, which you expect, but her feminine softness and vulnerability are also really wonderfully painted in the music.

• OSO: In 2013, you joined us for On Site’s debut as Auntie Duck in Shostakovich’s The Tale of the Silly Baby Mouse, as an OSO alumni, tell us about some of the challenges/what excites you about performing site-specific opera? 

BG: It is so great to have the audience so close to you so that you can really focus on the drama and telling the story in an honest way. It can be challenging to get over basically screaming in someone’s face! Lol

• OSO: What is the greatest music-related advice you’ve ever been given?

BG: “Organize your mental furniture,” which carries over into everything I do, and “Just sing the words, Blythe,” which I literally remind myself of before every time I start to focus too much on the technical challenges of a piece.

• OSO: Besides On Site’s Double Bill, what projects are coming up next for you?

BG: I am actually doing another monodrama in December here in Brooklyn called White Witch and will be reprising the role of Hannah After in Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell, and Kimberly Reed’s beautiful chamber opera As One at Opera Colorado.  I’m also doing chamber concerts here in NYC, Sarasota, and Omaha with my ensemble I the Siren and a recital with my husband Louis Levitt of Sybarite5…all while starting my doctorate and taking care of my two amazing sons!

Blythe GaissertMezzo-Soprano Blythe Gaissert (Cleopatra) has established herself as a fresh and exciting artist in demand in the United States for opera, concert and recital engagements. The Texas native has received praise from critics for her rich sound and intense, dramatic interpretations of operatic roles. In the 2016-17 season, Ms. Gaissert will perform Cleopatra in Berlioz’s monodrama La Mort de Cleopatre with On Site Opera and reprise the role of Hannah After in a new production of As One with Opera Colorado. She will also continue her relationship with American Opera Projects’ Composers and the Voice series, serve as soloist in the Mozart Requiem with the National Chorale at David Geffen Hall, and perform a solo recital with double bassist Louis Levitt of Sybarite5 as a part of the Phoenix Concert Series. Highlights of the 2015-16 season included performances with AOP’s Composers and the Voice project, two world premiere operas: The Whole Truth by Robert Paterson with American Modern Ensemble and Frau Schindler by Thomas Morse and Ken Cazan in a Los Angeles concert performance, and additional performances with American Modern Ensemble. www.blythegaissert.com

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