By Rob Faubion

     When the curtain goes up on the Austin Lyric Opera's production of Dialogues of the Carmelites, it will be a native Texan who steps into the spotlight as the lead character "Blanche."  But the real story is that soprano Emily Pulley - how portrays "Blanche" - stepped into the lead role just two weeks prior to opening night.
     Originally cast in the smaller role of "Madame Lidoine," Pulley has performed the role of "Blanche" in the past.  But she only had 15 days to switch gears and relearn the role, when Heidi Stober - orginally cast as the lead for the show - had to withdraw from the production due to illness.
     Pulley boasts an impressive resume, having sung with the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Dallas Opera, Minnesota Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Seattle Opera, Opera Colorado, and Central City Opera.  And now she adds Austin Lyric Opera to her list of headlining roles.
     Although entrenched in rehearsals for the April 18th opening night, Pulley was sweet enough to take a few minutes to talk with about taking on the lead role with such short preparation time, the state of opera in Texas, and what Austinites can expect from this production of Francis Poulenc's epic opera.  You have performed the role of "Blanche" previously with the Metropolitan Opera, but how difficult is it to change gears midstream and again step into the lead role of this opera with only two weeks time to prepare?

Emily Pulley:  Well, I must admit it was a bit taxing on my tired soprano brain when I first started working on it again, but thankfully it all came back to me fairly quickly. I joked a bit when I arrived about having to bang my head against the wall to see if I could dislodge “Blanche” from my long-term memory back into a more accessible location. Still, I was very grateful and excited to get a chance to revisit the role, so that helped considerably.  You have performed some amazing roles - "Mimi" and "Musetta" in "La Bohème," "Marguerite" in "Faust," "The Countess" in "Le Nozze di Figaro," etc.; do you have any favorite roles from your repertory?

E.P.:   The main attraction of any part for me lies in the story itself - and the feeling that I may have something unique to contribute to the telling of it.  I think my absolute favorite role is "Minnie" in La Fanciulla del West by Puccini, followed immediately by the title character in Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, which I've performed more than any other role.  "Blanche" is very special to me as well, and I think I have a lot more to bring to the part this time than I did several years ago.  You are a native Texas - raised in Corpus Christi, graduated  summa cum laude from West Texas A&M and earned your M.A. in Music from the University of North Texas - and returned to Texas several times to perform.  Since you have performed with most the top opera companies in the nation, do you think Texas is starting to develop an opera "reputation" around the country, and that productions staged in Texas are improving in quality and gaining attention?

E.P.:   I am indeed a very proud Texan (actually raised - and still partially based - in College Station, not Corpus, but maybe we shouldn't tell the Austin crowd that...), and I am very proud of the opera companies in my home state. I often remark that one of the reasons I enjoy performing here is because Texans tend to be willing to try anything with an open mind - and will decide for themselves whether or not they like it based solely on their experience, rather than because they've been told they "should" like it.

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Emily Pulley (photo courtesy Herbert Barrett Management)