PROFILE: ALAINA WARREN ZACHARY has starred in many local productions since moving to New Mexico. This month you can see her in Quartet at the Adobe Theater, opening April 19. For tickets: adobetheater.org, 505.898.9222

In Quartet, the four of you were quite close at one time, but your character now is estranged from the rest. How does that dynamic play out among the four actors?

The backstory is that I (Jean Horton) was a world class opera star such as those who influenced me: Anna Moffo and Leontyne Price and Beverly Sills. Jean was not close with the other three characters but they did a very, very successful production and recording of Rigoletto.  Jean was always on her own level. But the opera world is small in that we four probably sang in other productions. Gossip is coin of the realm in the operatic world, much as the theatrical world, so there’s lots of gossip and dressing room talk in the play about who did what with whom – or so they thought. It’s the real surprise of Jean ending up on charity at this musicians’ retirement community that spins the story.

You sang professionally. What personal experiences inform your portrayal of Jean?

Creating Jean for our production of Quartet is such a treasure! I fell in love with opera when I was a teenager. I hung out at the Van Aken Record Shop in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and the sales person invited me to hear an album that had just arrived: Anna Moffo singing famous arias. I had never ever heard sounds like that. My life was forever changed and I wanted to BE an opera singer. Anna Moffo was an amazing coloratura AND gorgeous. Right  now there is a glass apple sitting on my desk that was presented to her from Opera Index in 1996 and is very precious. It is to her that I dedicate this production. And to Bette Kelly, the first voice teacher who told me I could be an opera singer. 

I trained as a classical singer and in other vocal genres at Boston U. but I felt that I would be most cast-able in musicals. And so it was. My New York career was mostly original Broadway musicals but, very late, I re-engaged and retrained my voice for opera. Back in the day I was considered a lyrical coloratura and I got to do some very satisfying performances, ranging from singing Micaela in Carmen with members of New York City Opera in the Da Capo Opera in Provincetown, Mass., to opening the Hudson Opera Theatre in Hudson, NY, with Lee Hoiby’s one person opera The Italian Lesson to appearing with the Lake George Opera in their professional debut of Ned Rorem’s opera of Our Town. My favorite concert appearance was as guest soloist in Poulenc’s Gloria with the Columbia-Greene Community Choir in New York. So playing Jean is a very satisfying late-in-career role!

Is it frustrating to you that you don’t actually get to sing in Quartet?

In learning Gilda’s part in the Quartet from Rigoletto, I secretly wished I’d been able to perform it. I still have the notes and the range but the voice does age. There are boxes of old performance videos and cassettes and I’m in great danger of losing myself in the past – as Jean does!

I was a classical singer in New York with a grant-winning CD under my belt on 9/11: “Mon Coeur Chante! Songs by Cecile Chaminade.” Still sold on Amazon! Within 90 days of the attack, I was diagnosed with asthma and that pretty much ended my classical singing career. In its way, my career-ending story is similar to Jean Horton’s.  But I don’t want to reveal Jean’s back story! Let her tell it. This is probably the most personally meaningful role I’ve ever done.

Which is your favorite scene in the play?

Jean has delicious scenes and dramatic ones throughout the play. However, my favorite scene is with Reggie in Act 1 where I try to make peace with him. Jean is at her most vulnerable when she’s honest. Playing opposite fabulous Mario Cabrera is a treat. He’s impeccably responsive.

Does the play vary much from the movie version?

I don’t marry the film versions of the plays I do because I want to create my characters freely and out of whole cloth. That said, I did see Dustin Hoffman’s film years after I had fallen in love with the play. For the film, Harwood changed the relationship and backstory between Jean and Reggie. Our play version is definitely edgier!

Describe Marty Epstein’s style as a director.

Marty is a wonderful, generous director to work for and with. Phil Shortell and I brought Quartet to Marty, who fell in love with it. And how lucky we are that the Adobe feels the same way. Marty is collaborative as a director and loves his actors to come to the rehearsal process with ideas. In this case he’s got four strong personalities who are also theatre directors, so there’s a real richness and liveliness to this experience. You’ll see him moving around the audience constantly to look at the pictures on stage and he’ll compliment you when he particularly likes a choice you’ve made. Generous, too, in always bringing the best snacks!

Which role is next for you?

I’m thrilled and excited to work next for director Mario Cabrera in Tartuffe at the Adobe. Madame Pernelle is a hoot and I love Mario’s concept! Let’s just say this will be a big gear shift from Quartet—and folks better watch out for my fan.

Headshot by Russell Maynor.

Group photo courtesy of Adobe Theatre. Back row: Philip J. Shortell, Mario Cabrera. Middle row: Alaina Warren Zachary, Georgia Athearn. Front: Director Marty Epstein.