During my #360ontheroad adventures, I was lucky enough to meet Ellie Dehn in the 24 hours she was in Paris. I was excited our paths crossed since Suzanne and Sara had done a photoshoot with her earlier in the summer in San Francisco, in which she wore items from local designers and from her own closet. At the time we met, she was performing the Countess in “Figaro gets a divorce” by Elena Langer at Grand Théâtre de Genève. She was, of course, also preparing for what was to come in the fall, her role debut as Manon at San Francisco Opera. I met Ellie on her second photoshoot of the summer, this time in the streets of Paris. The magical thing about Europe is that, just like the opera world, it is SMALL! So, if you are in Genève and have the chance to do a Manon themed shoot in Paris in anticipation of your upcoming project, you go for it.
It was quite the afternoon, in which the Boucheron jewels took center stage, not only for their stunning bling, but because we had a bouncer following us everywhere. The bouncer was a very interesting character, but that’s another story. Paris is infinitely beautiful and you could take a stunning photo in every corner. That, of course, is not what we did because time was of the essence. The highlight was being inside the St. Sulpice church and taking all that energy in with Manon in mind. I can only imagine Ellie must be drawing from all those wonderful images and memories of being there to create her own version of Manon in San Francisco, where she is pictured in Hayes Valley near the opera house.
I got to check in with Ellie during tech week and had one specific question on her character development: what is it about Manon that, despite making questionable choices throughout the opera, makes the audience cry for her at the end?
“We know that Manon has to be a bit of a narcissist with an incredible desire for the finer things in life, but the thing that makes her so interesting is that she’s so multi-faceted. The Manon Lescaut from the original book and from Puccini’s opera are a bit less likable, but Massenet gave her such a human edge. In this version, she only leaves Des Grieux because she really has no other choice. He was going to be kidnapped no matter what. She does in turn end up with a much richer man and has the lavish lifestyle and celebrity status that she’s always dreamt about, but we still care for her because she truly was in love. Also, her music is written with such sensitivity and heart that it makes her spirit shine. She lives her life moment to moment and takes the bull by the horns to get what she wants. Sure, she can be detestable in the 3rd and 4th acts with being a bit of a vampire, but karma gets her in the end. That last act is just too beautiful to give to a woman with an ugly soul.”
On this note, I went ahead and asked Ellie how she relates to Manon as a woman. Her answer was not what I expected but is was so honest and charming, just like Ellie is: “Who doesn’t like all of that glitz and glamour?”. I thought about asking Ellie to elaborate on this a bit more and then I realized her answer was just perfect and that I agreed with her, especially after having held those Boucheron pieces in my hand back in Paris!
Ellie has been singing all over the world and building a successful career for a while now. She also brings along her sweet, effortless personality everywhere she goes, which is a gift to everyone working with her, on and off the stage. Now, whether you enjoy traveling or not, the opera world makes you do it! So, I thought it would be interesting for all of us to find out what items make it into Ellie’s suitcase every time she travels, no matter what.
“I try to bring my yoga mat everywhere, and if my luggage has to be kept to a minimum, I’ll buy one wherever I’m headed. I also find that US over the counter meds are invaluable to stock up on before working in Europe. Also, I’m a big fan of (using a personal steamer) for any flights over 3 hours. You look like a total freak with it on, but it really does save your voice by keeping things hydrated and helps immensely with jet lag.”
Now, what about clothes? I was living off a suitcase for three months this summer so I know the struggle. You are expected to and most of the time, you also want to, look good and feel good in whatever you are wearing! This can become a difficult task when you are trying to have options, you are dealing with various climates, different kinds of engagements and you want to have items that are practical for travel, yet glamorous and that fit your style.
“I wish that I could say that I had any kind of fashion sense. The joke of it is that I normally call my style “homeless chic” and tend to buy clothes that fit or feel like jammies with comfy shoes. For rehearsals, I love effortless day dresses that move with tights or leggings. One skill I have improved upon is choosing what works for my body type with my cocktail dresses and gowns. Structure is KEY and nice heavy fabrics that skim the curves can make anyone feel extra sassy and confident. Obviously, fabrics that can ball up into nothing and don’t wrinkle are key for long trips away and keeping luggage weight to a minimum. Our scores are heavy enough!”
So, what’s next for Ellie? Manon at San Francisco Opera opens this weekend and runs until November 22nd. In December, she sings Messiah with Orchestra of St. Lukes in NYC and with the Florida Orchestra. Following that, she takes her celebrated Musetta to Teatro di San Carlo. We wish Ellie the best for all her projects and a spectacular time debuting one of her dream roles this weekend. You can learn more about Ellie at www.elliedehn.com and you can follow her on Instagram at @elliedehnsoprano and Twitter at @elliedehn.