Category Archives: sopranos

Julia Katherine Walsh is celebrated for celebrating song

Reading, Pennsylvania native Julia Katherine Walsh came home Memorial Day weekend to sing for a friendly gathering at Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Reading, the perfect venue for an evening of intimate music performance.

Currently, she resides in New York and holds a master’s in music from Hunter College. However, since she was raised in Berks County and is an alumna of the Berks Classical Children’s Choir, in every respect Miss Walsh is the quintessential hometown girl-made-good. As such, her homecoming was celebrated robustly, on billboards around the county, on local television programs such as “Backstage” on bctv.org and radio shows in advance of the concert, and in the many personalized ads appearing in the event program, one of which said, “Thank you, Julia Katherine Walsh, for sharing your angelic voice with Berks County.” (From her friends at Performance Toyota–and if she doesn’t drive a Toyota, I think she should think about it.)

Indeed, her recital called “A Celebration of Song,” was something to celebrate. Well planned, well performed, very warmly received.

As far as classical music goes, I prefer a program that stretches me as an audience member and doesn’t indulge all my musical whims. Sure, a recital can contain a potboiler or two, but how much richer will the concert experience be if it introduces you to a new piece of music or several? Miss Walsh’s selections included some accessible pieces such as “America the Beautiful”–it was Memorial Day weekend after all–and “Caro nome” from Rigoletto. However, it also included four lesser known Baroque pieces by Handel, four Lieder by Richard Strauss, and a piece totally unfamiliar to me as a musical work, James Agee’s  “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” set to music by Samuel Barber, which turned out to be my favorite selection in the concert because of Miss Walsh’s performance of it.

Her particular gifts for interpreting Mozart, German Lieder, and operas centered on American Realism were well showcased in this program. She sings with intelligence and sensitivity. She has a strong, agile voice with a crystal clear ring to it, pleasing like a shiny silver bell–a tone I happen to be partial to. Her voice seemed to suit her. She is petite and effervescent and somehow, a dark, dramatic timbre would not have been nearly as fitting a vocal quality based on her stature and personality.

In addition, she showcased her voice to its full potential, including skill with coloratura, and most impressively, a knack for selecting pieces well-suited to her particular blend of singing and acting talents.

Backstage at New York Lyric Opera's Artist in Residence concert

Her aria from The Tales of Hoffmann, “Les Oiseaux dans le charmille,”  was utterly charming, capturing the requisite comic nuances such as the doll being thoroughly entertained and pleased by her own exploits as well as running out of oomph and needing to be wound up again to go on. I was likewise impressed with her facility with the “Queen of the Night Aria” from The Magic Flute, not listed in the program, performed almost as an encore.

Skillfully accompanied on piano by Rebecca Grass Butler, a professor of music at Albright College, the combined talents of Miss Walsh and Miss Butler, in addition to the pleasing venue on a comfortable just-summer evening, made  “A Celebration In Song”  a delightful event, which earned her a standing ovation. Her star is rising quickly, and the next time she comes to town, a recital by Julia Katherine Walsh may not be nearly as accessible or affordable.

I caught up with Miss Walsh via email after the concert, and she graciously agreed to answer some questions about her program.

How did you select the program (who selected the program)? I selected the program after considering these few parameters:

  1. What do I know that I can sing well, but still feel comfortable enough to perform in an intimate setting after a shortened rehearsal period;
  2. I wanted to sing some familiar pieces to the audience (hence why the Doll Song, “Queen of the Night,” and “Caro nome” made the list); and
  3. I wanted to have a good mix of different styles in the songs that weren’t familiar (which is why the Handel pieces were mostly Italian and simple harmonically, the Strauss were super-late in his compositional period and in German, and the Knoxville was a very authentic piece of musical ‘Americana’).

Did you translate what you were singing? Yes. It is absolutely imperative to translate what you sing as a singer, but I also want to say that the translations on the “Aria and Art Song Database” are sometimes 99.9% the same as my own translations, so I use those too, if I don’t have my own already typed up.

How long did you rehearse for this? Three months. I got back to the United States from my audition time in Germany on March 3rd, and practice for this began on March 5th.

Did you have a favorite piece that you performed? My favorite piece of the evening (talking about the whole piece, not just a section of it) was the third song of the Strauss set, “Saeusle, liebe Myrte.”  But, my favorite section of a piece from that evening was the line in Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” where the text is “By some chance, here they are, all on this Earth.  And who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this Earth? Lying on quilts, on the grass in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night.” I think that that is the best part of that piece, without a doubt.

I really liked the Barber piece on you? Tell me more about how long you’ve been singing that piece and why it made the program. I actually began working on the Barber piece in 2007 for about 6 months, but at that point it was a bit too big of a sing for me (in terms of stamina vocally-speaking) so then I put it aside and didn’t work on it again until just at the beginning of March of this year.  It seems to have become much more of a fit for me; the diction and vocalism are much easier to get across to the audience clearly (which before were a problem because of the sometimes difficult words in awkward places in the vocal tessitura), and the message of the text (so superbly written by James Agee from his book A Death in the Family) means more to me now that I have lived longer in the world since I last sang this piece.  It made the program simply because I think it’s a wonderful piece which is written in English and not nearly performed as often as it should be.  Plus, it was a big challenge to the audience too, I think, because of its length and form.

a photo from her website

I am sure not many people that evening had heard something that is almost a mini-opera unto itself like that, and I wanted to stretch the listeners’ ears so that they will be open to hearing it again (hopefully with orchestra in the future!).

One thing I’d like to add is that I really appreciated everyone coming out on a Friday night before Memorial Day Weekend to listen to classical singing. That was  a wonderfully heartening show of support by the community not only of my singing, but also of classical music in general, and I really can’t thank everyone enough for attending such a meaningful and transformative art form.

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You can follow Julia on Twitter at @operadventuress and friend her on her Facebook page at Julia Katherine Walsh. You can find out more about her musical background here. For audio clips and other goodies, you can visit her website at http://juliakatherinewalsh.weebly.com/. Visit her blog “Opera Adventuress” at http://operaadventuress.blogspot.com/, especially if you want to read about how she chose her gowns for this recital. (You chose well, Miss Walsh!)

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Filed under Classical Music, Concerts, Recitals, Reviews, sopranos

Polly want a soprano?

Sopranos aren’t always women.

There’s the boy soprano–like the wonderful Michael Kepler Meo appearing in New York City Opera’s Seance on a Wet Afternoon. And plenty of sopranos pretending to be boys (trouser roles). There’s also the countertenor, or a male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of a contralto, mezzo-soprano, or (less frequently) a soprano.

Sometimes, sopranos aren’t even human.

My favorite non-human soprano is the African grey parrot who sings (or used to sing–sadly, the parrot died) “The Queen of the Night Aria” from The Magic Flute. In this video, little Menino hits notes I could only dream of reaching.

Menino’s performance was so inspiring, I  refer to an opera-singing parrot in honor of Menino, in a scene from my opera book.

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Filed under Classic Opera, DEVILED BY DON, Mozart, Opera and humor, sopranos

meet Amy J. Payne, young British mezzo

Mezzo Amy J. Payne

Amy J. Payne is a vivacious British mezzo-soprano who is amassing an interesting collection: glittering reviews. She’s being singled out for her performances, as in the comic opera Spinalba:

“Particularly successful in both facets was Amy J. Payne as Dianora.”
–Nick Breckenfield

And in Dialogues des Carmelites at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama:

“Amy J Payne gave a truly remarkable performance as Mere Marie. Payne conveyed a strength and depth of experience in her performance which is rare, she gave Mere Marie a real feeling of solidity.”
–Robert Hugill

 She graduated with a Masters in Performance with Distinction in November 2010 from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she was taught by Theresa Goble. She also holds an Honors degree in French and German from King’s College, London.

At conservatoire, she has been directed in projects by Graham Johnson MBE (Vaughan Williams concert series, Nov 2008), Iain Burnside (Lads in their Hundreds, Jan 2009) and Sarah Walker CBE (Messiah, March 2009). In 2009 she was recipient of The School’s English Song Prize and won The Susan Longfield Competition. Last year she made her Barbican Hall debut with The Guildhall New Music Ensemble in Voices (Henze). Amy’s studies on the Opera Course at GSMD are very generously supported by Serena Fenwick.

As well as developing a career on the classical concert platform and on the operatic stage, Amy is a founder member of The Bombshellettes, the UK’s only 15-piece all-female swing orchestra.

Welcome to “Operatoonity,” Amy. It’s a pleasure to feature you this month–our first mezzo soprano.

Where did you grow up, what was your home life like, and how did it affect your life choices?
I grew up in a town called Newton Abbot in South Devon, UK., so I was exposed to a good mix of rural and urban living. I was blessed with a very happy childhood with one younger sister and parents and grandparents who provided every opportunity for us within their means. In terms of my life choices, I have have always felt that I have been ‘allowed’ to follow whichever path I choose and I felt that my upbringing gave me many choices as to which direction to take. My decision to follow a musical path was met with some concern by my family at first, but to their absolute credit they have always supported my determination to succeed.

When did you make the decision to pursue classical vocal performance as a career?  
In some ways I think I had always wanted to sing, but then I guess almost every six-year old girl wants to be a pop star! I remember singing constantly; making up songs and singing them to myself in the garden or in the school playground. I used to pretend to be Ariel the mermaid for Disney’s A Little Mermaid a lot! I enjoyed mimicking other voices. But the big moment came when I went to London with my mum and granny to see The Phantom of the Opera. I must have been about eight and became absolutely obsessed with the show. It made a huge impression on me, and I quickly learnt the whole piece by ear, with the aid of my double cassette original London cast recording and a libretto. Of course I wanted to be Christine, and I think probably then the first real seeds of an idea to sing for a living were planted then. Yet despite my mum encouraging me to join the local church choir, I didn’t really have the confidence, although later on I attended Newton Abbot Amateur Dramatic Society for a time. It wasn’t until I was fifteen that I had my first singing lesson (originally as a bit of a joke with my best friend!) and the teacher, Carolyn Harries, in her own words ‘got her claws into me’ and that was it, I was going to be a classical singer and no-one was going to stop me!

How would you describe your voice? When critics say ‘quirky,’ what do they mean?
This is a very difficult question! My voice is my voice and I can’t imagine having another. I feel lucky that when I sing I am recognisable as me and I guess that must be what critics mean by ‘quirky’. I stick out from the crowd a bit, which I like to think is a good thing! One thing I will say though is that I like my voice, I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I think it is important to love your own sound, not least because you’re stuck with it, and it is surprising how many singers you meet, who confess to not being fond of their own sound! I don’t think I would singing if I didn’t think I had something worth hearing.

How is the UK as a location to launch a professional singing career?
I suppose I have to answer ‘great’ to this question, as so far so good for me! Although I want to see the world through my singing, and am a very definite Europhile, having lived in France, Germany and Austria, I hope that my career stays rooted in the UK. I certainly intend to start my career here. Of course if opportunities dry up, I may have to look elsewhere and that would probably be Germany, but for now I am giving it my best shot here and hope it eventually takes me to other shores.

Singing with the Bombshellettes

You also sing in a swing band. What is your role with the Bombshellettes? (I watched a YouTube video of you singing “Apple Blossom Time”–Andrews Sisters style. In a word–fab!)
I’ve always been interested in keeping my vocal activities as broad as possible. Having sung in musicals, chamber choirs, operas and big bands, I feel lucky that I can use my voice in different ways and don”t see why I should stop doing that so long as one technique doesn’t interfere with another. When the opportunity to sing with The Bombshellettes (the only UK all-female swing orchestra) came up about two years ago, I jumped at the chance and was delighted when they were happy to take on an opera singer! Having sung and played saxes with the big band at Exeter College, where I studied A-Levels in Music, English, French & German, I really missed the ‘swing thing’ and the opportunity to be part of this new ‘1940’s girl band’, came just after I had returned to Exeter to sing with a band made up of college alumni and I well and truly caught the bug again. I don’t really play much anymore, so I just sing with the band – and it is so much fun! It’s lovely to perform when your sole purpose is to make people smile and dance – quite a nice antidote to the constant critical ears one is performing to in the classical world!

You’ve done opera performance, oratorio and recitals? Do you prefer one over the others?
Opera is without a doubt my favourite genre, although I do enjoy recital very much also, and hope my careers takes me in a direction where I can do both. I find oratorio the most nerve-wracking of the three, but when a performance goes well, it is often the most rewarding, as things are often rehearsed only on the day with all performers and can be a bit of an unknown quantity. However my real passion is for getting inside a character and finding their physicality and their voice. I am never happier than when getting to grips with a new operatic acquaintance in the rehearsal room. I feel the most creative freedom on the operatic stage and despite, portraying somebody else, I probably expose most of myself in an operatic performance than in recital or oratario.

What would you like to be doing in five years? Ten years?
In five years, as in ten years, I would love to be enjoying a busy and varied career of opera and concert work, and hopefully with a bit of swing and musical theatre thrown in for good measure. I am very at home in London, so I’d hope to be even more settled here, with maybe a place elsewhere where I could walk my dogs!

To what extent have you embraced social media and how has it impacted your career or visibility?
I’ve had a website now for about a year, and until recently I really hadn’t noticed it had made any difference, but I felt it was important that I was in control of what people would see if they ‘googled’ me. In fact, you are the first person to contact me through it! But I hope people do go onto it and have a clearer idea of what I am about! I have been using Facebook for many years and some months ago joined Twitter in order to keep Facebook more for social purposes. Twitter so far has proved very useful for professional purposes. Keeping up with the latest developments in the opera world is fairly easy to as most houses and companies have Twitter accounts and jobs are also occasionally advertised. So overall, certainly useful. I have been booked for several gigs now through Facebook or found audition notices, and Twitter has raised exposure for my website and brought about my first interview!

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
I am a huge fan of Robbie Williams, born of being a Take That teeny-bopper! It is an ambition to sing with him one day – I’d kill to be a backing singer on tour!

Where can we expect to see/hear you in 2011?
This year I am making my summer opera festival debut at Garsington Opera. I am covering the role of the Second Lady in The Magic Flute and singing in the chorus. Later on in the summer I shall be at the St. Endellion summer festival, singing Schwertleite in Die Walkuere. I know I am a bit young for Wagner, but it was an opportunity to share a stage with some of the UK’s greatest living Wagnerians (Susan Bullock and Robert Hayward to name a couple!), and I couldn’t turn it down! It should be a wonderful fortnight-long masterclass! Yet before all that there is a recital of Handel and Purcell here in London.

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To learn more about Amy and her promising career, visit her website, follow her on Twitter @AmyJPayne or friend her on Facebook.

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Filed under Interviews, profiles, sopranos

What’s your favorite soprano role in opera?

In celebration of Soprano Month on “Operatoonity,”  I created a poll to find out your favorite soprano roles. To see. To sing. Makes no difference in this poll.

Here’s a short list–hardly exhaustive–so if you’re not seeing your favorite, feel free to add in the comments.

It is interesting though that some of the world’s favorite operas and/or most performed operas don’t have soprano roles on this list, Don Giovanni being one of them. In fact, the Queen of the Night is one of the few Mozart sopranos role listed here, the other being Susanna from Le Nozze di Figaro. My oversight? Or do certain composers–Puccini, for instance–create more memorable roles for the soprano voice? What do you think?

Hearty thanks to Twitter Opera folk @operarules, @operabetty, @mitchthetenor, @amzenon, @SpeeStuck, @ChiyoX, and @ReeseSondheim for their suggestions. and also to OperaAmerica website, which helped me constitute the following list:

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Filed under Audience participation, Classic Opera, Poll, sopranos

meet soprano Samantha Jade Ash, opera lover and opera hopeful, who speaks Urdu!

Samantha Jade Ash

She blogs. She Skypes. She Tweets. Samantha Jade Ash may be the friendliest teenager I’ve ever met on Twitter. Now that I think of it, do I talk with any other teenagers on Twitter? Not that I know of, unless the irrepressible @leboyfriend is really a teenager and was just putting me on. Not to mention, that I raised a teenager. I think my daughter’s entire vocabulary between ages 14 and 19 consisted of, “Good. Nothing. Fine. No. Yeah. Hunh-uh.”     

Something else you need to know about  Samantha Jade Ash is that she’s a very upfront girl. I remember one of Twitter’s Follow Friday’s (#FF) when Samantha said to me, “Hello, Operatoonity. Why didn’t you include me in your Follow Friday list?”     

Good question, Samantha. I doubt when I was seventeen, that I would have had as much confidence as she has interacting with adults. In fact, I rarely talked with adults. But Samantha’s a pro at it.      

I knew there was something different about Samantha, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then she posted a link to her blog on Twitter, and I read her profile.  That’s when I learned that Samantha was, in fact, totally blind.     

I could scarcely believe it. This self-assured young lady who is a presence on Twitter is physically blind? I also listened to her audio clip. Right then I decided that when soprano month came around next spring, I would ask Samantha if I could interview her on “Operatoonity.”     

And thankfully, she said yes. Because when you read this, you’ll be inspired by her story,  just as I was. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel a stronger connection to things that are good and right in this world, as I did, courtesy of one Samantha Jade Ash.     

Samantha, welcome to “Operatoonity!” So nice to have a chance to talk with you.     

Where did you grow up?
I grew up on the Isle of Man, a small island in the British Isles in between England and Ireland. I still live there and am planning to move to a college for the blind in Hereford, in the UK, this September, all going well, and if I get the grant.     

When did you begin singing? Did you start with lessons? Do you still take lessons?
I still take lessons. I started singing when I was about 4 years old, just singing little pop songs, that were on the television or radio at the time, and used to make my own, about how good my Nana was on the keyboard. 🙂 Apparently, people said I had vibrato in my voice back then as well. I told them: “I bet I sounded cute, didn’t I?” I then joined my first choir, in primary school, when I was 8 years of age, as a soprano.  By then I could already hit g5 which wasn’t a struggle. I then, moved on to the high school choirs at 11. There I was also soprano. I did not like the choir however, as they did not warm up before doing the pieces, they just  jumped straight in to them.     

I then was recommended by the teachers, that I join the Manx Youth Choir, at the age of 13. I joined, with the prospect of the choir going on tour. I was placed in the mezzo soprano section. I knew that straight away, it was too low for me and did not show my voice at its potential. Luckily for me, the sopranos were just a seat down, so I moved, without them noticing, telling them, “I am soprano, not mezzo.”     

How and when did you become interested in opera?
My granddad always used to play records of Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Jose Carraras, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, and all the greats. He would play Mario Lanza at Christmas and there is one song that will always be sentimental of his, and that is “Guardian Angels Around my Bed.” It was a prayer written by Harpo Marx, and Mario Lanza sang it. Every year, I would be in my room, and the sound of his voice would drift up through the house from the record player downstairs.     

I’ve been exposed to opera from the age of just a few months probably, but never really knew I loved it. The real time I discovered my true love for it, was Christmas 2007. Just before, I had suffered with a cold. I started to get pains in my back, which became worse over the week. One day, I could not move or breathe properly, as the pain was too bad. I was rushed to hospital and told I had pleurisy, where the lining of the lungs is inflamed. Sitting at home, recovering on Christmas day, I was called by Nana to listen to Andrea Bocelli‘s story on the television. I tried to decline, but came down. Immediately, when I heard his voice, I burst in to tears. I ran from the room, grabbed the CD I had received for Christmas, ran to the stereo in my room and played it, trying to find the song, “Melodrama” that made me cry and want to be like him so much. I found it and burst into song, as if I knew the tune already.     

"Time to Say Goodbye"

That is also where my dream for a singing career started. a few months after, I was told I could sing for  the school album. I decided I would do it. Running into the music room, I discovered they were writing their own songs, which I knew I could not and would not want to do. I asked, “Could I sing in Italian?” The teacher agreed. That was when I sang “Time to say Goodbye.” After that, I was stopped on the streets, being asked “Are you the young singer that sang ‘Time to Say Goodbye?’ My son showed it to me and that was the only song he loved on the entire album.”     

Over and over I was stopped by different people. It felt really strange at first, but then as I got used to it, I enjoyed it. I was prepared to talk and still, always am. 🙂     

Have you been to the opera? If so, what are your favorite artists or recordings?
I have never been to the opera, but it is something on the list; I need to sort out, if I want to become an opera singer. 🙂  I have had the privilege though of going to classical concerts, and there’s nothing like a live orchestra! It is only an experience one can explain, if you go there yourself. The orchestra does that for you. The vibrations that go through you are absolutely awesome, not like anything you have heard on the television, it is simply the best experience you will ever have in your entire life.     

My favourite tenors and sopranos are: Maria Callas, Dame Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Montserat Caballé, Renata Tebaldi, Renata Scotto, Angela Gheorghiu, Jose Carraras, Placido Domingo, Juan Diego Florez, Rolando Villazon, Andrea Bocelli, and many more of them which would be too much to write probably. 🙂     

You’ve been blind since birth, yet you started playing piano at age two? How did you learn to play at such a young age? Do you still play?
I was born premature at 25 weeks, weighing 1 pound 11 ounces. I was one of a twin, but sadly after I was born, just two days later my twin, Benjamin, who was 1 pound 14 died. I was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity, where your retinas become detached. My nana started encouraging me to play the piano, as it would strengthen my fingers for a braille machine. I was given small keyboards, and got very cross when I couldn’t play with two hands on them. I used to say: “Why can’t I play with two hands on this thing! I want one where I can play with two hands.”     

I just knew my way round the keys because of the sounds and always found middle C, 4th octave before playing anything. I went in to a solo performance contest at primary school. I played a prelude by Bach. They had a hard decision to make between a friend of mine, who danced or me. When they said my name, that I won the cup, I was stunned. I told my friend to go and get it as she had won not me. She said: “No go up there Samantha! You’ve won!” Lifting the cup, I was amazed and in tears.     

Do all your hobbies revolve around music?     

Urdu, a language of India and Pakistan

No, my hobbies are also languages, geology, the likes of plate tectonics, volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and things like that. I also love languages, and speak French, German, Spanish, Italian, a little Urdu, and a tiny bit of Chinese and Russian. My German and Spanish need improving though as they are very bad! I also like the human body and medical things as well. I watched documentaries when I was younger about how everything worked.     

What are your goals regarding your music studies?
I would, after I have been to a college for the blind to develop my independence, like to study at a music conservatory and gain a degree in music and then opera, then, if singing works out, go and perform around the world in places like the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House in London, and go to all the huge arenas, too. I would also like to give master classes and teach people, passing my passion for singing and opera on to them too.     

You have a blog, and I met you on Twitter. I know you also use Skype. How are you able to use the technology or how is it adapted for you since you can’t see?
I use a screen reader, a piece of software that speaks items on the screen. For my mac, I use Voiceover, which is built in to the machine, for my net-book I use Jaws, a screen reader you unfortunately have to buy. I just use the keyboard for everything and learn all the shortcut keys.     

It’s been said that when one sense is taken away, people often have heightened development of others. Has this happened to you?
Yes, my hearing is more acute then any of my other senses. I notice that more so when onstage. All of a sudden, it’s like someone has turned up the volume, and I can hear almost everything around the room, even a pin drop.     

If you could tell people one thing about yourself you would like them to know, what would it be?
I would let my voice tell you that one thing, I love singing and would love to become an opera singer. If you listen to me singing, that’s when you’ll know. 😀     

Here is an audio clip of Samantha  practicing an aria at home with a backing track done by an orchestra:     

Samantha Jade Ash     

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You can follow Samantha Jade Ash on Twitter @SamanthaAsh1993 and read her  new blog at http://samantha-samanthajade.blogspot.com/. And Samantha, it is my sincere wish that you have a chance to see a live opera performance sooner rather than later!   

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Filed under Interviews, profiles, sopranos

Meet Alison Trainer, ‘sparkling’ coloratura

Alison Trainer, coloratura soprano

Coloratura soprano Alison Trainer is rapidly claiming her place among the most important emerging singers today. A gifted singing actress, she has won first prize in several major vocal competitions, including the Liederkranz, Sullivan Foundation, Opera Index, and the Northeast Regional Metropolitan Opera competition. 

Recently, she received critical acclaim for her European debut as Fiakermilli in Arabella in St. Gallen, Switzerland: The St. Galler Nachrichten raved, “Completely amazing were the vocal acrobatics of Fiakermilli, sung by Alison Trainer with virtuosic and sparkling coloratura.” During the 2010-2011 season, she returned to St. Gallen to sing Adele in Die Fledermaus and Lisa in La sonnambula. She will be featured in upcoming seasons as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Gilda in Rigoletto, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Oscar in Un ballo in maschera

She has been a soloist with opera companies including New York City Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, San Francisco Opera Center, New Jersey Opera, Cleveland Opera, Central City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, and Tulsa Opera. A favorite soloist with many up-and-coming conductors, Alison has sung with the National Chorale at Avery Fisher Hall, Phoenix Symphony, Syracuse Symphony, Sinfonie St. Gallen, Annapolis Symphony, Erie Philharmonic, Albany Symphony, Dayton Symphony, Charlottesville Symphony, and the Pennsylvania Symphony at the Philadelphia Academy of Music.  

Originally from San Diego, California, she earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University, a Master of Music degree from Cincinnati Conservatory, an Artist Diploma from the Opera Institute at Boston University, and is currently a Doctoral Candidate at Stony Brook University. She has been an apprentice artist with Glimmerglass Opera and San Francisco Opera’s Merola program, and a vocal fellow at Tanglewood Music Festival and Aspen Music Festival. 

Hello, Alison! A pleasure to have you on “Operatoonity.” 

Where did you grow up, what was your home life like, and how did it affect your life choices?
I lived in San Diego until I was 11. I began playing the piano at age 4, and trained in acting, dance, and violin from age 5-11. At age 11, we moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. I happily spent two of my high school years at Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school for the arts in Michigan, studying singing, piano, and dance. After I graduated from high school, my parents moved around quite a bit, and they have now settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I am adopted, and neither of my parents are particularly musical or artistic, so my early natural ability and interest was perplexing to them, but they were very supportive of my desire to study music and the arts. 

When did you make the decision to pursue classical vocal performance as a career?
My mother says that I had a vast repertoire of children’s songs memorized by the time I was 3, and would perform them for any willing guest. By the time I was 5 or 6, I knew I wanted to be a singer and an actress. No one would give me voice lessons until I was 12, and my first teacher gave me the 24 Italian Art Songs. I fell in love with them instantly. At that point I sang pop and broadway music, and I was obsessed with Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Barbara Streisand. My voice teacher told me that I could sing anything I wanted, but that my voice was well suited for classical music and opera. I loved the linguistic and vocal challenge of classical music. By age 13, I knew I simply had to be an opera singer. 

Singing Mabel in 'The Pirates of Penzance'

How would you describe your voice? I am a lyric coloratura soprano. Roles in Strauss operas such as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, Fiakermili in Arabella, or Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier fit me perfectly. I am also moving into slightly larger repertoire, such as Constanza in Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, Lucia, Gilda in Rigoletto, and Pamina in Die Zauberfloete. I am comfortable singing in both the lyric soprano and coloratura fachs. 

You’ve done both opera performance and recitals? Do you prefer one over the other?
I need opera, recital, and symphony concerts in my life in order to feel fulfilled. I simply cannot live without any of these art forms. These genres fulfill entirely different aspects of my musical personality. Recitals are wonderfully intimate. I love being able to see my audience members and communicate with them directly. I love the poetry of song repertoire, and the close relationship one can explore with a pianist. Symphony concerts are also incredibly rewarding. When I sing with an orchestra, I feel like I am surfing on top of this enormous, lush wave of beautiful sound. There is no other feeling in the world quite like it. Repertoire like Carmina Burana, the Brahms Requiem, the Fauré Requiem, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, The Passion of St. Matthew (Bach) and Handel’s Messiah are the bread and butter of my concert work, and I will never tire of these incredible pieces. 

Alison singing Papagena

You’ve won lots of awards. Which of these means to most to you because it was the most difficult to attain or advanced you career (or for whatever reason)? I have been very fortunate with several vocal competitions, and I am immensely grateful for the support. The Sullivan Foundation has been especially helpful, because every year for their top winners they pledge not only a financial award upon winning, but continued support for the next five years. The Sullivan Foundation helped fund several audition tours for me, including the European tour that resulted in my fest contract here in St. Gallen. Being a singer is a terribly expensive endeavor, and this foundation has really made a huge difference to me. 

According to your resume, you’re going to be singing in Switzerland for a few years. What is your typical day like, living and working in another country?
I am almost finished with my first opera season as a fest singer here in St. Gallen, Switzerland. It was been quite a year. I have absolutely wonderful colleagues here in St. Gallen that have really made it feel like home. One of the biggest challenges here is that the language spoken on the street is Swiss German. Swiss German resembles high German very little, and I am completely lost trying to understand. It is my goal to become fluent in high German as soon as possible, but this goal has no doubt been slowed down by being surrounded by Swiss German. Also, there are many Americans and English speakers in the house, so it is all too easy to get by in English. I’ve had two German stage directors, and working with them advanced my German faster than any course could have. There really is no such thing as a typical day here. Rehearsals are from 10-2 and 6-10, and I often work seven days a week during the busy season. To make up for the long hours and relentless rehearsals, I have three full months free this summer, and two months where I have nothing other than a few scattered performances. During this time I will audition as much as I can. 

I will also work on my own musical projects, since there is no time for that during the busy part of the year. Perhaps the biggest challenge for me is getting used to living in a small city after having lived in New York City for the past ten years. The entire population of Switzerland is less than the population of New York City. I am a true city girl, and I don’t know if I’ll ever adjust fully. In the evenings, and on Sundays, when the entire town shuts down, I miss New York terribly. In my free time I hike, ski, and enjoy nearby Zurich. 

When did you develop a love of yoga? How frequently do you serve as a labor doula in Switzerland?
I trained as a dancer for many years, and when I gave it up, I missed it terribly. When I found yoga, it was like coming home. I began training in 1999, and because of my dance background, the physical part of the practice came relatively easily to me. What amazed me the most at first was how much yoga helped my singing. I saw an immediate effect, and from that point forward, yoga has been a part of my daily life. When I was a young artist at Glimmerglass Opera, several friends asked me to teach them. It never occurred to me that I would want to teach yoga, but after working with them three times a week for the summer, I was in love with teaching yoga. I became certified in 2003 in New York, and have taught ever since. I teach mostly privately, since my singing schedule is unpredictable. 

In 2006 I certified in pre-natal yoga, in response to several of my students’ pregnancies. This led to my interest in becoming a labor doula, which is yet another calling of mine. I worked very sporadically as a doula in New York, fitting it in between singing gigs whenever possible. When I came to Switzerland, I had to accept that my work as a doula and a yoga teacher would be on hold for a while. I did, however, coach an actress colleague through the natural childbirth of her baby boy in January. And now it looks as though I will be teaching yoga to the dance company here at Theater St. Gallen. As always, this work is tremendously rewarding, in a completely different way than singing can be. 

Alison singing Barbarina in 'Le nozze di Figaro'

What would you like to be doing in five years? Ten years?In five and ten years, I hope to still be singing. I want to perform at a world-class level in the world’s top opera houses and with the world’s best symphonies. That is not a goal I ever intend to give up. I will always be a singer. 

You’re on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. When did you embrace social media and how has it impacted your career or visibility?
To be honest, I embrace social media because it helps me feel connected to my friends and the world around me. Especially here in Europe, Facebook and Twitter keep me abreast of what is going on in my friends’ lives, allows me to see pictures of their children, etc. I hesitate to use Facebook or Twitter for career purposes, although I know that can be very helpful. The marketing end of this business is my least favorite part, but I am working on getting more comfortable in this area. 

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
Hmmm, well, most people wouldn’t know that I am adopted, or that I have a degree in Sociology and am finishing my Doctorate in Vocal Performance. I am also a writer, and I am working on a book about adoption, and a book of short stories. 

The Bodensee in Rorschach, Switzerland

Where can we expect to see/hear you in 2011?
Over the next couple of opera seasons, I will sing Adele in Die Fledermaus, Oscar in Un ballo in maschera, Gilda in Rigoletto, Rosina in Il barbieri di Siviglia, and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. Some of my dream roles! I am really excited about what the next few years hold for me. 

Here’s a wonderful clip of Alison singing Edvard Grieg’s Med En Vandlilje: 

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More information on Alison’s career, including reviews and recordings, can be found at www.alisontrainer.com. You can friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @SopranoAlison.

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get to know Michelle Trovato, lyric coloratura

Michelle Trovato

“Spot-on.”  “A beautifully produced soprano.” “Already turning heads.” “A bundle of energy and vocal thrills.”   

 These are just some of the glowing comments reviewers have made about award-winning lyric coloratura soprano Michelle Trovato. Michelle received a bachelors of music in voice from the North Carolina School of the Arts School of Music in 2003. She trained with the New York Opera Studio, 2004-2005, and in 2008. She was a member of the Opera Colorado Outreach Ensemble in 2008, and performed with the Seattle Opera Young Artist Program during the 2008-2009 season.    

 A handful of Michelle’s recent honors include Grand Finalist  in the Concorso Internazionale di Canto Lirico, P. Cappuccili, Italy 2009; 3rd Prize in the Marie Kraja International Opera Competition in Tirana, Albania 2009; winner of the Opera Index, Inc Enouragement Grant Award 2009; and winner Concorso Lirico International Opera Competition, U.S. Division 2009.   

Welcome to “Operatoonity,” Michelle! So glad to have you.   

Lez Azuriales Competition Winner, France, 2007

Where did you grow up, what was your home life like, and how did it affect your life choices?
I grew up initially on Long Island, New York, which was very important because the arts are so active out there, and of course because of the close vicinity to NYC.  We were also bused into the city from school on a regular basis to see Broadway musicals, practice sessions with the NY Philharmonic….and operas!  I saw Aida at the Met when I was 13-years-old and cried during the tomb scene.  I had no idea what the opera was about, never saw a program, and there weren’t supertitles yet, so I had no idea what I was seeing or hearing! But I found it very moving, I just didn’t know why at the time.  And of course we were in the very last row, so I couldn’t believe the POWER of their voices!  I never thought that I could do that; it never even occurred to me.  But I was always singing and performing in musicals and plays both in school and in the community on Long Island.    

The big change came when I was 15-years-old, and my family relocated to Virginia, where I began immediately studying with a retired opera diva named Basel Landia Wowk.  We started out singing every legit soprano musical theatre song you can think of, and slowly she began introducing opera arias into my repertoire.  She would say: “You’re Italian, right?  Just TRY it!!” And she gave me books to read (most notably Bubbles, Beverly Sills’ autobiography), recordings to listen to and videos to watch.  The next thing I knew, I was hooked!   

When did you make the decision to pursue classical vocal performance as a career?
I pretty much decided to pursue singing as a career at around 18-years-old.    

singing Lucia for Center Stage Opera, CA / photo by vulia.com

How would you describe your voice? What repertoire do you sing best?   

I have that warm lyric sound with the upper extension and facility that works especially well in the bel canto repertoire.  I think this also helps in singing new music, which often calls for a large range and agility. Objectively speaking, I suppose that I sing Italian repertoire the best, especially works by Donizetti, Bellini, some Verdi, and Puccini (the lyric roles), but it is a big goal of mine to help promote new music.   

Favorite composer? Favorite opera? Favorite role?
I can’t even pick a favorite color!  I do have a dream of singing all the Donizetti Queens….I’ve already performed Anna Bolena in concert and really look forward to singing the others!  I would also love to play Baby Doe.  There is something about that role that really speaks to me…perhaps because she was an extraordinarily strong woman, just like the Queens.   

Do you have any opera role models?
Reading Sills’ autobiographies really gave me courage as a young singer, as did reading about Callas’ young life.  These women, coming from a poor background, who struggled for every bit of success that they achieved….amazing.  I would say that I identify with Sills’ brand of “good humor in the face of adversity” the best, but both women have inspired me a great deal.  My current voice teacher, Carol Kirkpatrick, is also a huge role model for me.  Not only as an artist, but as a human being, she is always striving to better herself. I admire her greatly for that and for many other reasons.   

“You’re Italian, right?  Just TRY it!!”
–Basel Landia Wowk, Michelle’s first voice teacher, encouraging her to sing operatic works
   

What was the single, most meaningful experience you’ve had as a performer or student of the classical arts?
Singing the Faure Requiem on the 1st Anniversary of 9/11 is something I will never forget.  There were thousands of people crammed into the sanctuary of a beautiful church, and even the basement, where they were piping in the concert, was full.  Singing the “Pie Jesu,” I had to remember that my job was to give comfort and to sing with joy, as we always should, even in the darkest times.  I can only imagine what 9/11/11 is going to be like, 10 years later.  I have hope that the event will be about honoring those who have died and bringing that same joy and comfort to those who are with us today.   

Michelle in 'La Traviata'

What would you like to be doing in five years? Ten years?
I would like to become more financially stable over the next 5 to 10 years by singing in larger and larger companies both nationally and internationally, but mostly I just want to keep SINGING.  Opera, of course, but I have already performed one recital program this year and am looking forward to a 2nd one in May.  There is a huge wealth of concert and recital repertoire out there and I have ideas for more programs than I can count!     

Do I have a dream to sing at the Met?  Yes, it would be wonderful.  But my goals are not focused that way.  I LOVE what I do and I just want to keep doing it and make enough money to live- not an easy task.  The way I view it, I want to continue to strive for artistic and vocal excellence and work with like-minded artists.  And pay my bills.  Beyond that, I am content.  (Even if I never make it to the “big house”!)   

When did you begin using social media to advance your platform and how has it impacted your career or visibility?
I developed a website back in 2007 after a big competition win.  (I finally had something to put online!)  Also, I was booked in YAPs for almost the following 2 years, so it was the perfect time to get my information on the web.  I also joined Facebook in 2007 to keep in touch with people I met at the competition (they couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it!) but I am quite new to Twitter.  I only joined Twitter a few months ago.  I am enjoying it so far, and am particularly glad to have made the connection with “Operatoonity!!”  Next is Youtube.  I have to learn how to edit video and get it up there; I am super technically unsavvy, sadly.  I WILL have more video online in the next few months, this is my Scarlett O’Hara “As God is my witness” declaration!    

As to how it’s impacted my career, of course it’s a huge help to be able to refer people to my website for further information about me and for sound clips, as well as production photos. I have definitely made some major connections on Facebook, and I have both gotten and helped others get work because I was able to connect with them there.  I have been contacted after performances from quite a few audience members who found me on Facebook (perhaps I should start a Fan page as well?) and have received numerous engagements from connecting with people online.  It’s amazing- you just never know.   

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
I’m on a pop album called “Incomplete Denial,” singing in the background on one track.  They paid me to go into the recording studio for an hour and sing the same phrase over and over.  I found the job on Craigslist!    

Michelle's Kennedy Center debut singing 'Mystic Odes' / photo by Robby Lamb

Where can we expect to see/hear you in 2011?
I have my 2nd recital of the year coming up, a program inspired by “Angels and Demons” at the Hudson Opera House in upstate New York on May 14th through Diamond Opera Theater.  This summer, I will be a member of the Caramoor Festival’s Bel Canto Young Artists program, the only program in the States (that I know of) that is focused on the bel canto repertoire, and then attend the International Vocal Arts Institute (IVAI) in Montreal.  And I’m fortunate that there are other engagements beyond that, which I can’t announce just yet.   

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You can follow Michelle on Twitter @michelletrovato or alternately friend her on Facebook  where she has posted some wonderful production photos. For more about her performances and for some wonderful audio clips, visit her website.

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don’t quote me . . . the soprano hall of fame

“I felt I could do any coloratura soprano role; I always knew what I was capable of doing. In the performing arts you need ego, a certain self-assurance, or else you’d never have the guts to face an audience.”
–Beverly Sills

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