Tag Archives: ‘sì sì sopranos

gaga for Marcy’s #operaplot!

Marcy Richardson, aka @OperaGaga

By her own admission Marcy Richardson, aka @OperaGaga on Twitter, is a soprano. Oh, and a lover of Handel, contemporary music, and sophisticated musical theater. Marcy also has a shoe fetish, loves aerial pole fitness, and laughs every single day.   

And one more important thing. She is a big winner in the 2011 #Operaplot contest, where you had to distill an entire opera plot into a single tweet. Judge Eric Owens selected five top winners,  including this plot of Marcy’s:   

I should be able to f*ck my maid. Apparently, no one else agrees. #operaplot [Le Nozze di Figaro]   

Marcy Richardson’s pithy (a scant 76 characters with #operaplot), plotty perfection! It’s bold. It’s beautiful.   

It’s blue.   

How lucky are we, then, to have Marcy give us the 4-1-1 on her prize-winning plot!   

Why did you decide to enter #Operaplot? Was it your first time?
I entered operaplot because my good friend and colleague Jennifer Peterson (gaspsiagore on twitter) told me as soon as it started, “You have to enter operaplot! You’d be so good at it!” I was like, uh…what’s that? So I had a few glasses of wine, went home, and just started writing. I was an operaplot virgin before this year. I didn’t even tweet before December! My Facebook status updates are rather legendary I must say, so it was only fitting that I start tweeting.   

Did you feel you had a winner when your plot was complete?
Not really. Non musicians often ask me, “What’s such and such opera about?” if I mention a show I’ve done or would like to be in. I try to give them the shortest and most concise/amusing answer as possible, so I’ve actually had some real life operaplot practice. I just started picking shows I liked and went for it. I loved the plots I wrote for Lulu, Boheme, and Capriccio as well. The Figaro one…I wrote it…I thought about adding more…and then I realized, nope! That’s it. That’s the whole show. And then I kept writing more plots. That one came to me VERY quickly and then I moved on.   

You specialize in singing baroque opera. Have you performed in Le Nozze di Figaro or simply know the opera? 
Yep. I’ve sung both Susanna and Barbarina in Figaro.   

Some have said you’ve elevated the f-bomb to an art form. Any misgivings about dropping it in your plot?
Of course not. I never have any doubts or apologies when it comes to dropping the f-bomb. I tested out using “screw” or “bang” for media’s sake when I was typing, and then I thought, no. That’s just not it. There is no real substitute for the f-bomb. It’s a great f*cking word. I f*cking love it.   

Any unusual reactions since winning the contest?
Nope! Nothing but congrats!   

What prize did you choose and why?
I chose the Deborah Voigt recital. She is a phenomenal artist–I got to sing shepherd boy in concert when she sang Tosca in Vero Beach and haven’t had a chance to hear her since! Though some of the prizes around the country looked really fun, that would not have been possible without free airfare and accommodations for a hustling bitch such as myself.   

How are you going to top this year’s plot or will you retire at the top?
If the spirit moves me and I’m feeling inspired, I’d enter again.   

How did you come up with your Twitter username @OperaGaga?
People often yell, “hey gaga!” to me on the street here in NY, usually when I’m wearing sunglasses–I guess we have a similar facial structure in some ways, light blonde hair, petite, and I’m not exactly conservative when it comes to how I dress. One day my voice teacher (Trish McCaffrey) said, “Hey, Mark and I have a nickname for you! Gaga! We don’t know if it should be MarcyGaga or OperaGaga or what.” I liked OperaGaga for a twitter handle when I was trying to come up with one later, so there it is.   

Where can we see and hear you singing in 2011?
I’m the soprano soloist in the Mozart Vespers on June 27th at Alice Tully Hall and am singing my second Dalinda in Handel’s Ariodante this March in Baltimore with Opera Vivente. Also, don’t forget to look for my Handel CD which I’m producing from my live concert/recording session of seconda donna Handel arias April 29th featuring fellow tweeps Jennifer Peterson (gaspsiagore), Bryan DeSilva (countertenorbry) and the OperaMission Handel Band. Other than that, if I don’t get some more work soon, I guess any interested parties would have to come shower with me and hear me then.   

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Learn more about Marcy, the soprano, at her website. Or follow her on Twitter at @OperaGaga. Read all five winning #operaplots and runners-up at the Omniscient Mussel here.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Interviews, Opera and humor, profiles

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.


Filed under Interviews, profiles, sopranos

meet La Toya Lewis, whose velvety soprano is simply delicious!

LaToya Lewis, soprano

When you meet La Toya Lewis, you are first struck with her eyes, sparkling with warmth and wit. Then in no particular order, her poise and the rich quality of her speaking voice, assured, full of conviction,  yet warm as honey. And the whole time she’s speaking, you’re thinking, “This young woman can sing because I can just hear it in her voice. And she can perform, because I can see it in her movements from the way she uses her hands to her gait to her every stance.”  

And you want to say, “Sing something now. I want to hear your voice.” But you don’t because you don’t want her to think you’re a lunatic. So you make yourself a pledge that next time you can hear her sing, you will move mountains to make that happen.  

That’s the kind of charisma La Toya possesses. Oh, and not to mention talent in spades.  

She is an emerging soprano from Brooklyn, New York. The 2010 season was an exciting one filled with singing and learning. She was a featured artist with Opera Singers Initiative, performing in many of their concerts and receiving the Young Opera Recording Award. She also made her company debut with Light Opera of New York as Clementina in The Desert Song this past November.  

She graduated from Binghamton University where she obtained a Master of Music degree while singing with the Tri-Cities Opera. While there, she performed the roles of Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni) and Micaela (Carmen) with Tri-Cities. Miss Lewis was also the Soprano Soloist in the Bach B-Minor Mass with the University Orchestra. She placed second in the 2nd Annual Charles A. Lynam Vocal Competition in Greensboro, North Carolina, and was a finalist in the Spring 2006 Jenny Lind Competition.  

Since graduation from graduate school, she has enjoyed performing on local stages around NYC including Chelsea Opera, Underworld Productions, and Opera Manhattan Repertory Theatre. She did her undergraduate work at Purchase College where she performed Belinda and the First Witch (Dido and Aeneas) and Barbarina (Le nozze di Figaro.)  

It’s a pleasure to welcome you to “Operatoonity,” La Toya, and to have this chance to learn more about you.  

When did you make the decision to pursue classical vocal performance as a career?
Around the age of 18. I sang R&B and musical theater throughout high school but wasn’t too keen on going to college specifically for music. When I went to Purchase College, I intended to major in something having to do with advertising or news reporting . . . or something! Anyway, one day, I figured I’d go see if I could join the choir and stumbled upon the opera chorus. I was blown away by the sound they made and figured I’d take a stab at it. My life has never really been the same since!  

How would you describe your voice? What repertoire best suits your voice?
I’d say my voice is velvety and robust. It also has a shimmery quality on top that you wouldn’t expect. It actually sounds pretty delicious. I wouldn’t mind eating my voice. Right now, I sing Puccini and Mozart pretty well. I am also discovering that Verismo doesn’t sound too shabby either.  

You’ve done both opera performance and recitals? Do you prefer one over the other?
I definitely prefer to perform entire operas. I love to act just as much as I love to sing. Sure, you can act during recitals but it’s obviously not the same. I want to throw myself on the floor or run off stage and if I did that in recital, people might think I’m a nutcase.  

Favorite composer? Favorite opera? Favorite role? Favorite role models?
Favorite composer is a pretty difficult question. I’ll just say Puccini for now because I like most of his operas. My absolute favorite opera, however, is Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten. My favorite role, that I like to watch but can’t sing is Scarpia. He’s just despicable, and I love villains. My favorite role that I haven’t performed (yet) is Liu. She’s so brave and her music is beautiful, and I would love to dramatically stab myself onstage while everyone is screaming!  

La Toya in O Magazine

You were featured in O Magazine this year. How did that opportunity come about?
I saw an ad for it somewhere, took a chance and contacted them directly. Out of all the entries, I can’t believe I got the chance to get called in for a makeover- but I did!  

As a rising opera singer, what is your typical day like, living and working in New York, and is that the best place to be for someone with your professional aspirations?
Anyone who has spoken to me in the past few months knows I have really, really strong views on who should be in New York pursuing this career and who shouldn’t. So I may or may not come off brusquely with my answer. I think that New York is a good place for aspiring opera singers who already perform at a high level. By this I mean, those who just need some polishing and networking.  

It can be hard for emerging artists (fresh out of conservatory, or not so fresh out of conservatory) to feel like they’re not living above their means and spending all their money on lessons, coachings and auditions. While these things are vital to a singer’s growth, it can be enormously expensive. I moved back here because this is my hometown, so I can’t say that I know what it’s like to live here solely for operatic purposes.  

While I have thankfully landed a long-term temp gig right now, normally, I’d spend the day looking for work so I can afford to live here. And then, when I can, I take lessons and occasional coachings. At other times, I’d scour Youtube and the Performing Arts Library for rare recordings to give myself some ideas on how to interpret some of my rep.  

What would you like to be doing in five years? Ten years?
Five years from now, I’d like to have won a major competition or two and be making most of my income from singing regionally. Ten years from now I’d like to be on my way to superstardom, with various recording contracts and singing in major houses around the world. Go big or go home, right?  

You’re on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and you have two blogs. When did you embrace social media and how has your online network impacted your career or visibility?
Yeah! I’m a social media addict, it’s true haha! As soon as Facebook came out, I was on it. The same with Twitter. My friends added my videos to Youtube but I do plan on making my presence a little more known on there. I definitely took the necessary steps to get all those sites going but I could stand to throw it in people’s faces a bit more. So for right now, I think it has made me a teeny bit more visible but it hasn’t necessarily impacted my career as much as it could!  

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
I love books. I have a blog dedicated to them. I’ve challenged myself to read 112 books this year. I absolutely love math, and would’ve loved to become a math teacher in a different life. I was also on “Wheel of Fortune” when I was 19 years old. It was a lifetime aspiration of mine – to get on that game show. Something I never thought would happen. So this might sound kind of funny, but once I got the chance to do that, I showed myself that I am capable of great things!  

Where can we expect to see/hear you in 2011?
Well, 2011, for me, is all about self-improvement. I intend to solidify my technique (and subsequently my audition arias) and do a lot more work on my “brand.” So you may see me in concerts, recitals and masterclasses around NYC. I also sing in an opera open mic Wednesdays & Saturdays in lower Manhattan called Ido Sushi.  

Here is La Toya’s most recent YouTube clip, singing “Ne poj, krasavica, pri mne”:  

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For more information on La Toya’s musical career and to hear more audio clips, visit her website. Alternately you can read her blog, “Very Musically Yours,” follow her on Twitter @LaToyaLewis, and friend her on Facebook.


Filed under Performers, profiles

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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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.


Filed under Bel canto opera, Interviews, Performers, sopranos, Sunday Best

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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