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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Maria Zifchak Discusses her Contrasting Maternal Roles

It's a good thing Maria Zifchak is a Libra. By day she pleads for her condemned son's life while suffocating under the publicity’s scrutiny, but by night she runs a private, bucolic convent while offering sage advice. Of course Ms. Zifchak is only acting in both scenarios, but her performances are so convincing one would think she was leading a double life. 

“These roles are vastly different,” Zifchak said in reference to playing the tenacious Mrs. De Rocher in Dead Man Walking and the iconic Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music.

Maria Zifchak's headshot as featured on her website.
Central City Opera's Dead Man Walking opened on July 5, but Zifchak still finds herself navigating the show’s moral gray area as the mother of a death row inmate who raped and murdered a teenage girl. “There are still some things that are hard to understand,” said the seasoned mezzo-soprano. “How does a person feel having a family member, someone that they created, do such a terrible thing? I’m not a mother. I’ve said that through this whole rehearsal process; I don’t know how I’d handle it.”

Though not a mother, Zifchak possesses the genuine warmth and compassion all parents strive to exude, and she gracefully brings these traits to her Mrs. De Rocher. “It is a stretch. I have to try to think in a motherly way, but you can almost do that by thinking about your family,” she stated. “Even with nieces and nephews you worry about them and think what their future will be, so that’s kind of motherly.”

Zifchak has performed with the esteemed Metropolitan Opera, but she is facing one of her most challenging roles here during her fourth season in Central City. “She seems like the kind of person who didn’t have that great of a life, but she did the best she could with raising her kids. No matter how you raise your kids, you are a product of your environment,” Zifchak said of Mrs. De Rocher. “I still try to discover the ah-ha moments to get her inside me.”

Zifchak, as Mrs. De Rocher in Dead Man Walking, says goodbye to
her son Joseph, played by Michael Mayes. Photo by Mark Kiryluk.
And after completing a harrowing matinee, Zifchak gets to moonlight in a cheerier role where she’s often spotted high-fiving the Von Trapp children and cracking jokes with cast members. The Sound of Music, opening on August 2 in Denver, may be a lighter piece, but Zifchak is facing yet another challenge: this will be her first musical since high school. “The show’s a completely different tone. It’s laidback, its fun, but at the same time there’s a lot of stress because everybody knows this show,” she proclaimed robustly.

On top of the musical’s fame, Zifchak also has to tackle “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” one of musical theatre’s most well-known anthems. “It’s a little nerve-racking, but the song brings out your inner strength,” she said.

When comparing her two motherly roles, Zifchak said, “Mother Abbess is completely different structure-wise. She lives in a stricter world; there were rules, there were things you had to do in order to run this abbey. It was just a more structured life, easier in a way than Mrs. De Rocher’s.”

With roles this rich, Zifchak doesn’t seem to mind that she’s playing two mother figures in one season. “I guess typecasting bothers some people, but if it makes the show more believable then you’ll be cast how others see you!” quipped Zifchak.

The dual roles have certainly kept Zifchak occupied, but she still makes time to hike with her three dogs and even people-watch at the local casinos. Her time here may be approaching its end, but Zifchak is savoring each moment. “This summer has been a challenge; it has been the gamut of emotions,” she said deliberately. “I’m glad to have these roles because they’re not that big – they make their impact, and then they go.”

In perhaps Dead Man Walking’s most poignant moment, Zifchak as Mrs. De Rocher asks Sister Helen to take a picture of her and her sons knowing that their family of four will soon be reduced to three. Zifchak takes the center seat, adjusts her hair, and proudly gathers her boys around her. The camera flashes, capturing the smiling family for just a moment before it disappears, fading from everywhere but our memories.

Catch Maria Zifchak in the final performance 
of Dead Man Walking on Friday, July 25, 
and then come down to Denver for
The Sound of Music from August 2-10!

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