Nature is restorative. This is what the cast of Thumbprint, specifically Festival Artist Rolfe Dauz, is embracing this summer at Chautauqua Institution.
A San Francisco native, Dauz’s work as an opera singer has led him from the Hudson Valley in New York to Amsterdam. Now, he comes to Chautauqua to star as Faiz in the Chautauqua Opera Company’s 2022 run of the chamber opera Thumbprint, which has its next performance at 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 11, in Norton Hall.
Thumbprint tells the story of Mukhtar Mai, a real-life Pakistani human rights activist who survived a government-sanctioned sexual assault by several men in her community.
Susan Yankowitz wrote the libretto using a series of interviews with Mai, and Kamala Sankaram composed the music.
The heavy themes of the opera can create emotional strain on the performers, but Dauz has found Chautauqua to be an opportunity to slow down outside of rehearsals.
“I’ve been happy because it’s been quiet. I’ve been sleeping well, and that has been able to let me be the best version (of myself),” Dauz said.
Part of his general well-being comes from his schedule remaining quite open after rehearsals, too.
“You just finish your rehearsal, and then you can just leave it, and then you can do your thing, and you do not have to be so affected by the overstimulation of the big city,” Dauz said. “You can just dive into your work a bit more when you’re at a rehearsal.”
Dauz’s character, Faiz, is an accomplice in the sexual assault of Mai, and there are many complicated dimensions of this character that Dauz can dive into as he performs.
“You realize when you’re about to put this on for an audience, this is (something) beyond yourself, bigger than yourself,” Dauz said. “So it’s important to go as hard and go as deep and show the monstrosity that myself, this character, chooses to do. It’s a reminder for everybody else that, ‘Hey, let’s not sleep on these kind of matters.’ ”
He sees telling these stories through opera as part of his activism.
“I feel like maybe just staying in the theater or staying in music, that is my role to do that,” Dauz said.
Starring in Thumbprint has only deepened his respect for Mai’s activism, whose story he helps to tell. When there is a strong message the audience can take away from an opera, it only makes the experience richer.
“I have just the utmost respect for how (Mai) came out of what she went through,” he said. “But that’s why doing operas like this, I enjoy doing more.”
Above all, to Dauz, opera is about storytelling, and the story of Mukhtar Mai is an incredibly important one to tell.
“It’s not about me, my voice and all this kind of stuff,” he said. “It’s bringing life to the story, (bringing) life to the character, and as a team — as a collaborative identity — (bringing) the audience into what we’ve been doing.”