Category Archives: Q&A

Tenor James Valenti returns to Met Opera stage in April

James Valenti

American tenor James Valenti will sing the role of Pinkerton in Met Opera’s ‘Madama Butterfly’ | photo by Dario Acosta

When Operatoonity.com last spoke with American tenor James Valenti, he was learning the tango for The Dream of Valentino, a new production for Minnesota Opera.

James Valenti as Valentino, courtesy of Minnesota Opera | photo 2014 © Michal Daniel

James Valenti as Valentino, courtesy of Minnesota Opera | photo 2014 © Michal Daniel

Now, fresh from portraying the silent film star and marquee idol Rudolph Valentino, James enthusiastically reports that he has mastered the dance that Argentina put on the map. (Let’s hope Valentino comes east soon, so that we, too, can witness his ballroom dancing prowess. If like me, curiosity has gotten the better of you, you can watch James tangoing in this YouTube clip.)

In less than two weeks, he opens in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly, which seemed like an ideal opportunity to catch up with him.

Welcome back to Operatoonity.com, James. You’re back in NYC to prepare for singing Lt. Pinkerton for four productions on April 4, 9. 12 & 15.
It’s always exciting being close to home. I get to see a lot of my old friends–my high school friends–and of course my family.

How are you preparing for your imminent Met appearance?
I’ve seen the Minghella production, and I just sang the role for Lyric Opera in Chicago this past fall. In fact I’ve sung the role many times. Of course, every theater has a different way they operate. Sometimes withe European companies, you don’t even get an orchestra rehearsal. I feel as though I have sufficient preparation time prior to that April 4 opening at the Met.

James Valenti in Madama Butterfly, courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago | photo by Dan Rest

James Valenti in Madama Butterfly, courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago | photo by Dan Rest

How are you different from the young artist who sang Pinkerton in 2008, when you won New York City Opera’s Debut Artist of the Year award?
I certainly feel differently. I have been working on a new dramatic repertoire, singing more lyric-spinto. My voice now takes on new colors. I got to sing Don Carlo and Valentino–Valentino was a milestone in my career, and I really grew a lot. So I am excited to bring my new technique to the role. I have a new way of singing, and I hope that I have a huge success and get invited back for the next ten years.

You sing a great deal of classic opera. Do you prefer more traditional versions or lean toward experimental interpretations?
Definitely more of a traditionalist. However, Anthony Minghella’s production is rather modern, and it works. The little boy character is actually a puppet. Puppeteers wearing black will be onstage manipulating him. This choice was controversial when Minghella first introduced it. But I have to say, it’s a stunning interpretation.

Will you have much down time while you’re in New York?
Certainly, I’ll have enough time to see other performances at the Met when I am not rehearsing or performing. I definitely want to see Werther and Andrea Chénier.

Any other fun things you plan on doing while you’re in the Big Apple?
There’s so much going on here. Great restaurants. I’ll do things in Central Park once it gets a little warmer. I love going to those nice hotel spas. I like to let loose a little, too.

James Valenti casualBesides a good tango, how do you kick up your heels?
My high school friends and I  head to Koreatown for a little karaoke. I like singing stuff from the 80s, like “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi and a lot of Journey hits like “Don’t Stop Believing.” I sing a lot of Billy Joel, too. I love all his music, dating back to his earliest album Cold Spring Harbor.

According to the the performance schedule on your website, you are getting a little break this summer. Any special plans?
I’m taking  a little time off to record my first CD. All Italian and French music that will probably be available around August 1. You’ll definitely be hearing more about that project. But this is the beauty of my life. I’m not married. I don’t have children. I don’t have anything tying me down that keeps me from picking up and going to Europe. I still get to fly by the seat of my pants.

(And, to conclude, an Operatoonity Q&A staple) The Lightning Round

Cheesesteak or Cheesecake? Cheesecake (with ricotta, the Italian way)
Jeans or khakis? Jeans
Sweater or sweatshirt? Sweater
Dogs or cats? Dogs
Spaghetti or lasagne? Lasagne
House of Pizza or House of Cards? House of Cards

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You can  follow James on Twitter @James_Valenti or become his Facebook fan at https://www.facebook.com/jamesvalentitenor, where he regularly posts content and photos from around the world.

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Filed under Golden Operatoonity, Heartstoppers, Interviews, Italian opera, Q&A, tenors

San Fran chamber opera offers contemporary double bill this weekend

OP-logo-siteHave you heard of Opera Parallèle? It is a young San Francisco company bringing high level performances of contemporary operas to the Bay Area (at great prices, nonetheless).

According to their website, Opera Parallèle is a professional, nonprofit organization that develops and performs contemporary chamber operas that are internationally acclaimed but rarely performed in the region.

In recent years, the company has expanded, even in a down-turned economy, receiving fabulous reviews such as this notice for their 2011 production of Philip Glass’s Opera, Orphée. The San Francisco Chronicle had this to say about Opera Parallèle:

“a San Francisco company devoted to contemporary chamber opera, scored a full-on triumph over the weekend…ravishing and delicate, haunting and playful, somber and romantic, the production fused story, music and stagecraft into an engrossing evening of music theater.”

Its upcoming double bill performance of Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti (see trailer below) and Barber’s A Hand of Bridge will be performed in San Francisco this weekend: April 26-28.

Here to introduce Operatoonity readers to the couple that runs the artistic direction of the company are Artistic Director Nicole Paiement and her husband, Concept Designer/Stage Director Brian Staufenbiel.

photo of Nicole Paiement

Artistic Director Nicole Paiement

Welcome to Operatoonity, Nicole and BrianHow intimate is your venue?  We generally perform at YBCA, which has approximately 700 seats. However, for our upcoming Bernstein/Barber production this weekend, we are excited to be at ZSpace, which only holds around 225. This will bring the audience that much closer to the stage and the performers. The intimate story of both “Trouble in Tahiti” and “A Hand of Bridge” make this the perfect venue.

What excites you about contemporary chamber opera?  The subject matters of most chamber opera will have more of an intimate and direct story line. I am a curious conductor who enjoys the challenges of mounting new works that are either rarely done or even have never been performed. I love the idea of bringing opera into the 21st century and helping redefine the form.

So many things excite us. First, because the orchestration is not as large, singers can sing with an even wider spectrum of colors, without worrying about being heard. You can truly hear pianissimo moments.

A smaller orchestra greatly widens the venue possibility – thus bringing opera to a variety of spaces and audiences to many more venues to see contemporary chamber opera.

photo of brian stauffenbiel

BRIAN STAUFENBIEL
Resident Stage Director, Production Designer

How did you two find each other and decide to found Opera Parallèle? (Okay, that might be two questions.)  I met Brian the first year I moved to California. He sang in some of my performances as a tenor. We quickly realized that we had a similar positive energy and artistic dreams.  I first founded Ensemble Parallèle – which was a broader organization. We focused on contemporary music and collaborative work.

After a few years, I realized that we needed to focus on one area and that contemporary opera was the most attractive form. It combines contemporary music with the narrative form, an important aspect in today’s film and television society and also has endless collaborative possibilities with other art forms.

How do you decide what productions to present? How long is that process, and what does it entail?  We are constantly working on repertoire and have a five year plan that keeps being revised as needed. Repertoire is a key element to a successful company. As we look at scores, we think of many things. Certainly, the quality of the piece is crucial. We also try to diversify our musical selection to enlarge our audience base. This is why we will have ranged from Berg to Glass; Harbison to Golijov.

We think of collaborative possibilities in an opera. With the Golijov this year, we were able to collaborate with the SF Girl’s chorus and Flamenco dancers including choreographer La Tania.

We consider the venue. Many works are venue specific.

We also try to balance between new works and masterworks. Wozzeck in the new chamber reorchestration brought back to life a great masterpiece of the 20th century. Same for Harbison (we commissioned that reorchestration). Golijov is a more recent work and our commission of Gesualdo, Prince of Madness, which will receive a workshop reading this June, brings new work in the repertoire.

We think of American versus works from other countries and try to present a variety of composers. Next year we will do a French opera and an English opera.

We try to bring “premieres” to the area, since SF is such a curious city. Once we identify works, we have some many things to consider before finalizing the choices. Cost is certainly an important one. Number of musicians needed in the pit since there are few venues with sizable pits.

a photo from Harbison's Great Gatsby

Opera Parallèle presented John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby in 2012 | Photo by Rapt

What is the difference between contemporary opera and modern opera?  I think everyone has their own definition of this and I am not sure of the answer.  Contemporary comes from the latin root tempor – tempus, meaning something “of our time”–thus opera of “our time.”

Modern can have the sense that it departs from a more traditional style. Not all contemporary operas are modern, if you think of it this way. There are “modern” operas that are not necessarily contemporary. Wozzeck is a good example.

For me, contemporary opera has a broader possibility of embracing a variety of styles.

Are those who worship classic opera disposed to appreciate the contemporary works produced by Opera Parallèle?  Definitely. Contemporary opera is in many ways a continuation of classic opera. It was not created in a vacuum. Our productions serve the music and the artform as a whole and I think any lover of the arts would enjoy our production.

How did you select “Trouble in Tahiti”? Does it exude the same kind of middle-class dysfunctional ennui as Revolutionary Road? There are definitely similarities between Yates’ novel and Bernstein’s opera. Both speak of the hopeless emptiness of their repetitive lifestyle in suburbia. However, in the opera, there is a feeling of redemption at the end that we certainly do not get in Yates’ book.

We were looking for an opera that would balance our opera in February, Golijov’s Ainadamar.  We wanted something American that would embrace a completely different style that would work well at Z Space.

How did you discover “A Hand of Bridge”? What made you pair it with “Trouble in Tahiti”?  In Barber’s opera, two couples play a hand of bridge, during which each character has a short aria in which he or she expresses their dissatisfaction with life. They are obviously also not happily married. We have cast one of the couple as being Dinah and Sam of “Trouble in Tahiti.” So in this way, Barber’s opera becomes the prologue to a Hand of Bridge – and the epilogue since we will repeat it in the lobby at the end of the evening. The 10 minute opera is brilliantly composed on a libretto by Menotti.  All these wonderful artists from the mid-1950’s come together in one program.

You can definitely hear that the work is a precursor to “West Side Story”? What is it about the score that creates that aha moment with the more familiar work?  When Dinah sings her first aria – “I was standing in a garden,” we hear the great lyricism that Bernstein will later write in West Side Story.  The “train” music when Sam leaves the house to get to his office,  we recognize the great syncopated rhythmic style of Bernstein – so unique and powerful.

As promised, here is the promo video for “Trouble in Tahiti”:

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, chamber opera, contemporary opera, Interviews, North American Opera, opera milestones, Q&A

Singer Sunday: an operatic family on a Germanic quest

Opera family: Ross, Jenny and kids

Tenor Ross David Crutchlow is a 6’2” red-headed baritone turned Heldentenor with a booming voice, an infectious laugh, and a huge presence.  Soprano Jenny Millsap is his graceful, demure wife, who is anything but demure when popping off high Fs in her dramatic coloratura roles.

Ross and Jenny have worked in opera, operetta, and musical theater in New York and across the United States.  They have two children – a very active two year old and a perpetually happy eight  month old.

Not every American family would cross the Atlantic to German-speaking Europe to sing there. But then Ross and Jenny aren’t your typical American family.  They are highly enterprising, too, and are using the very popular Kickstarter to fund-raise for their audition trip.

That’s why I’ve invited Ross and Jenny to stop in at Operatoonity today: to tell you more about their dreams and inspire you to support their project. Welcome Ross and Jenny!

How did you meet?

Jenny: We were doing Gilbert & Sullivan in NYC together.  I had been in the company for a couple of years and already knew everyone.  Ross was new.  I wanted to make him feel comfortable, so I made a point of being friendly and talkative with him.  It didn’t hurt that he was easy on the eyes!

Ross: Yeah, she kept following me around, so I figured I’d ask her out.

Jenny: And the fairy tale began!

Is it hard being married to another opera singer?

Jenny: In some ways yes, in some no.  The financial instability is hard.  But that’s true for any freelancer in the United States, really.  It’s an entrepreneurial way of living, which of course is a lot tougher in the arts than probably any other business.  We’ve been lucky enough to be able to work together from time to time, but we’ve also been separated due to gigs.  That’s always hard.

Ross: What’s really great about being married to another singer, though, is the support we give each other.  She knows my voice inside and out and I know hers.  We can say to each other, hey – that phrase sounded a little off, try this.  And it’s better.  We also get what the other one is going through as far as the psychological demands of auditioning and performing.  We can help each other in ways in which non-singers just wouldn’t be able to.

What’s it like having kids while being professional singers?

Soprano Jenny Millsap

Jenny:  Ha!  Well, there’s not much sleep, that’s for sure!  I remember that I used to make a point of getting a lot of sleep before big performances or auditions in my pre-kids days.  Now I just make sure I get a lot of coffee!

Ross: I think I worry a lot more.  Before Jenny and I became parents, I didn’t think about the future so much or the long-term implications of my decisions professionally.  Now I do.  I have to.

Jenny: But the kids are really great.  We used to take Ewan (our two year old) with us to our rehearsals and coachings.  He would crawl around on the floor, watching and listening.  His first time in a green room at a performance was when he was five months old!  He still loves to hear us practice, and sometimes he conducts us!  Nathaniel (our baby) is not as big a fan of opera as Ewan is.  He cries when we sing loudly, so we try to practice when he’s sleeping!

Ross: It’s a lot to juggle, honestly, but both our singing and are kids are vital parts of our lives.  I can’t imagine life without both.

Germany seems like a big step.  What made you decide to head to Europe?

Heldontenor Ross David Crutchlow

Ross: Partly, it’s the repertoire we sing.  I sing primarily Wagner.  Jenny sings mainly Mozart.  We both feel if we want to really do justice to this music, we need to immerse ourselves in the language and culture that made it.  I don’t think we’ll ever feel like we truly understand these two composers as long as we are on this side of the ocean.  We really need to be in Germany.

Jenny: And part of it is very practical – it’s easier for two singing parents to sing and still raise a family over there than here.  It’s a smaller geographical area with a lot more productions –

Ross: And a lot more Wagner!

Jenny: Yeah, no kidding.  About 300 performances to the 30 that are done in the US.  And the German culture is just a lot more artist- and family-friendly.

So, you would stay over there?

Jenny: Initially, yes.  If one or both of us are fortunate enough to get a contract, we’d stay for 5-10 years.  We want a long enough stay to really feel like we soaked up as much as we can musically.

Ross: Long-term, we would like to come back to the US and use what we learn from the Germans about how they program, promote and perform opera to help revitalize interest in the art form here – particularly German opera.

Jenny: Mozart has always been seen as accessible even for people who don’t speak German or Italian.  But Wagner – well, unless you’re an opera aficionado, chances are you’ve never heard or seen a Wagner opera.  We’d like to change that.

Ross: I mean, seriously – The Avengers is popular.  Wagner is not that far away!

Jenny as Kathie in "The Student Prince"

What do you do when you’re not onstage or wrangling your two boys?

Jenny: I cook.  For me, it’s a no pressure artistic pursuit that ends in eating.  What could be a better hobby for a singer?

Ross: I hate to admit it, but video games.  It’s my down time and it keeps me sane.

Where can people go if they want to contribute to your Kickstarter campaign?

Jenny:  Our campaign is “Jenny & Ross: To Sing in Germany”.  Just click!  We’ve got some nice rewards for our backers, and we’re open to suggestions for new rewards, too.

Ross as the Pirate King in "The Pirates of Penzance"

Ross:  If you want to find out more about us as singers, Jenny has a website, and so do I.

Jenny:  We also have Facebook fan pages, if you want the latest updates about our singing:  Here’s mine.  And here’s Ross’s.

Ross: And if you can’t contribute financially, we would still very much appreciate everyone spreading the word!

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So there you have it. With a point and click, you can help this talented family immerse themselves in the artistic field they love and in which they were born to succeed. But you better hurry. Their Kickstarter deadline is June 28.

Good luck, Jenny and Ross! We look forward to an update someday from across the pond.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Best of Operatoonity, fund-raising in opera, profiles, Q&A, Singer Sunday, sopranos, tenors, Uncategorized

Singer Sunday with Jonathan Estabrooks, vlogging virtuoso

Baritone Jonathan Estabrooks

The official line on baritone Jonathan Estabrooks is that he is an emerging, classically trained artist based in NYC, originally from Ottawa, Canada.

Unofficially, he is a captivating singer/entertainer across disciplines, a compelling host, a gifted actor, a director, and visionary who speaks both English and French, and whose joie de vivre is, well, infectious.

He is also an avid opera vlogger, make that a vlogging virtuoso, of his show “A Singer’s Life”– a delightful series. Each episode is a pastiche of mini-interviews, backstage banter, and rehearsal and performance clips from numerous locations edited and underscored for maximum impact.

While his vlogs showcase all the artists around him, they also reveal a multi-talented, versatile artist who is as much a keen observer of his environment as he is an entertainer.

Here’s a show he filmed at the International Vocal Arts Institute Final Concert Gala in Virginia that *I’m certain* you will enjoy watching:

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If a behind-the-scenes world of a performer trained in the classical arts interests you,   there are many, many other wonderful episodes of “A Singer’s Life” on Jonathan’s YouTube channel.

Can you tell me a little about your childhood? How did you grow up and how did it affect your decision to sing opera?
I guess I could say that my childhood was pretty normal, aside from how busy I was. Both my brother and I were very active  both in terms of activities (gymnastics, skiing, track and field, swimming) but even more so in the arts. From the age of 8, I was a member of a local boys choir affiliated with Opera Lyra Ottawa, and soon joined a thriving musical theatre company called the Company of Musical Theatre. We also spend hundreds of hours each year performing at various charity and fundraising events known then as the Estabrooks Brothers. I learnt so much about collaboration but more importantly, how to interact and communicate with an audience. Through simply doing, I that realized what it took to step out in front of any audience, large or small and communicate a message through music. I guess it was sort of a natural progression to study music, and classical voice seems like the strongest base to allow for healthy singing in any genre.

A map, in case, like me, you're wondering where is Ottawa anyway?

When did you decide to relocate to New York and why?
After completing my Bachelor of music at the University of Toronto, I applied to a number of schools not knowing where I would be accepted. I was open to a new city and a new adventure. When I was accepted into Juilliard, I took the leap and moved to the Big Apple.

What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
It’s hard to choose just one thrill because if I wasn’t constantly thrilled and challenged, I would find another career. I would say that there have been a few. Singing for then President Bill Clinton (1999) was certainly one, and my debut with The National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa under the baton of Pinchas Zukerman. Then there are the less showy moments like having the chance to touch someone through music. Perhaps thrilling is too big a word, but bringing meaning to a special moment for even one audience member has to be up there. We are privileged with the ability to share great art and with that comes great responsibility. Not to sound cliche, but without a doubt, it remains a thrill and an honor to connect with and touch someone even for a moment.

The challenges are ever present from the constant turning wheel of auditioning, performing, learning new music and PR, but there is never a dull moment that’s for sure. Sometimes the traveling can be tough, but then I think about how blessed I am to work with such incredible artists and travel the world. It sure beats the 9-5; for me at least.

Jonathan in performance | The Elixir of Love

Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Baritone role(s)? Venue?
I would say that among my favorites are Rossini and Mozart roles (Figaro, Papageno The Count, Guglielmo), though Pelleas was also a thrilling role to perform, because of its high tessitura and the fact that for once, the baritone was the romantic lead! I will be making my Carnegie Hall Stern Auditorium debut in November, so I am extremely excited to perform in that venue.

Do you miss Ottawa? Any desire or need to go abroad to sing?
I do miss Ottawa but surprisingly, I have returned quite a bit in the last few years to perform so I get my fix. My parents live outside of the city, so I enjoy seeing them, but most of my friends are in Toronto, Montreal, New York or abroad. It is a global world we live in, but thanks to Facebook and the Internet, it makes staying in touch a whole lot easier.

(Here is a fun little clip all about Jonathan produced by a TV show in  Ottawa prior to his opening in Pagliacci:)

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Why and when did you start vlogging?
I have always had an interest in video production and how the camera can capture moments, whether performances or short films. There is something very intriguing about the power of the editor to share and shape how a  viewer experiences an event. This lead to a hobby in video making at a young age and has remained with me. It seemed like a natural move to use my interest and skill with video to share my life as a singer and the many intriguing people I continue to work with. ‘A Singer’s Life” on YouTube has certainly been a labor of love.

sitting by the Hudson River with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background

What do you think of the increasing numbers of big-screen Simulcast operas around the world produced by the Met and others?
You know the discussion of Opera in movie theaters has come up a great deal in recent years and even weeks. It is a two-edged sword. I think there is no denying that these broadcasts are bringing a new audience to the art form and hopefully peaking their curiosity enough to attend a live performance, but I worry that when they do see a live performance that there will be a let down because they don’t have the luxury of a close up, a wide shot and a sweeping camera crane shot at that most dramatic musical moment. My hope is that they will attend the live performance and continue coming.

The other challenge is on the performers because singing and acting for the stage vs camera are very different. It is certainly a balancing act but certainly more positive than negative.

Where would you like to be in five years? In ten years?
In 5 years I would like to be booked 3 years in advance performing world wide in a variety of traditional Opera roles, new works, concerts, pops concerts and even film/music collaborations. I am open to interdisciplinary art, making and breaking down the boundaries between genres. It is so hard to plan so I say bring it on! I am excited to see where my artistic life will take me!

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
Well, like most singers, I love food and cooking when I get the chance. My favorites are my mom’s recipes often involving some sort of comfort food, be it Shepherd’s Pie or her signature-ish honey/dijon/curry chicken and rice. And how can I forget apple pie! All this talk of food. I think I need a snack!

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Jonathan has some great upcoming gigs at Carnegie Hall with the Oratorio Society of NY this November and with Toronto Symphony and pops conductor Steven Reineke in October. For more of his wonderful “A Singer’s Life” vlogs, visit his YouTube channel.  Though his website is currently under construction, you can like his Fan Page on Facebook. You can also follow him on Twitter @estarp.

 

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Filed under Baritones, Careers in opera, Interviews, Opera and food, Opera and humor, opera and technology, opera challenges, Opera vlogging, Performers, Q&A, Singer Sunday

Opera singers, aria ready to go pro? You need this book!

Here’s a one-question quiz for classically trained singers: Who is the product, the company, and the person who *really* manages your business?

(Here’s a hint: it’s someone you’ve known all your life, no matter how old you are.)

Artist and author Carol Kirkpatrick believes it’s you, opera singer extraordinaire. And she knows of what she speaks. She’s thrilled audiences and critics alike throughout Europe and North America during her professional career as a dramatic soprano. You can read more about Carol’s background here.

And she has stopped by Operatoonity.com to do a little Q&A,  to tell you that it’s your responsibility to build your career while learning how make prudent use of your time, energy, and money in the second edition of her handbook for opera singers:

ARIA READY by Carol Kirkpatrick
The Business of Singing

All-New Second Edition of the Acclaimed Career Guide for Singers
ISBN 978-0-97705-240-0, paperback, 304 pages, including index

Welcome to Operatoonity.com, Carol. Aria ready for my questions? All righty then.

Q. Who is most likely to benefit from this book?

A. Anyone interested in pursuing a career as a singer or musician from high school through to professional singers.  It is also important for teachers, coaches, apprentice programs, summer music programs, opera guilds, etc., who are interested in giving their students the best foundation they can for building a career in singing. My book not only tells you what needs to be done to prepare for and enter the professional world of Opera, but you are given step by step instructions on how to get there. First you have to know the name of the game you are playing, then you need to know the rules, but most importantly, you need to know how the game is played.

Q. What resources were available to you when you were launching your singing career?

A. At University sad to say, there just wasn’t much available especially where I grew up and where I went to school. And I think that was pretty much the case unless you were involved in a more metropolitan city where they had Schools of Music like Juilliard, Curtis, Indiana School of Music, etc. I really didn’t know what I was getting into which was an interesting experience. The first opera I ever saw, I was singing in, with the likes of Corelli, Tebaldi, etc., with the San Francisco Opera!

Q. What are some things you wished you would have known when you embarked on your career?

A. I had no idea of how a career was built, or what I needed to be thinking about to prepare myself for a career. My career just sort of rolled me along which was OK, but if I had been more conscious of what needed tending to, I would have spent more time on creating and maintaining relationships and networked on purpose.

Q. This is the second edition. What prompted the update? Technology or something else?

A. All of the above. The 1st edition helped me put together my Aria Ready Bootcamps, and I called them that because they were grueling and demanding in ways that always surprised those who signed up for them. Everyone expected the same ole, same ole when they came but what they got was not only what to do, but how exactly how to do it. The singers also went through a process that gave each participant the opportunity to create a Personal Mission Statement that got rid of a lot of the old behaviors that were not creative or useful. This new way of thinking and representing themselves gave them a foundation on which to build their careers and live their lives going forward. It allowed them to become more of who they were each and every day and express that through example. Working through that process and as I got better and better at honing it down to its essence, I realized that much of this new, updated and expanded material needed a place to be; thus the 2nd edition of my book.

Q. Isn’t developing one’s Personal Brand a lifelong journey? It may be critical, but how is it possible for someone launching a career in classical performance to become that self-aware at such a young age?

A. Of course developing one’s Personal Brand is a lifelong journey. Rarely do others spend enough time on helping those wanting to launch a career in classical performance, to dig deep into and really get to know that person inside the singer. To me this is of paramount importance and should start from an early age. Yes, growth and change is always happening, but when you understand how you are wired internally, what your inner systems, patterns and traits are and how that colors and influences your choices, it illuminates the “why” to many of the questions, doubts, anxieties and insecurities we have about ourselves. And once we can accept that, it gives us permission to allow others to be their unique and authentic selves as well.

Q. Is there a shortage of practical advice for singers? Are training programs long on artistry but short on industry?

A. Yes is the answer to both questions.  I have found that most training programs tell you only what to do. The singer gets motivated and excited about what is talked about, goes home and tries to take some kind of action on that information, but because no one ever gives these singers the “how to” part of the equation, they feel like they must be stupid, because they can’t make it happen so they stop trying. They are so hungry for real, honest, and practical information that answers the question how you do it and why.

Q. Who is likely to be more successful? A singer with loads of talent who isn’t grounded or a singer with less talent but with more self-awareness (stronger personal brand?)

A. In the long run it will be the singer with less talent (they still need to have a solid vocal technique) but with more self-awareness, a stronger personal brand if it is authentic and genuine. Having a singing career takes so much more than having a beautiful voice. If you watch “The Voice” or “American Idol” you always hear the judges and coaches talking about making it real, about getting into the emotion of the song and lyrics and letting the audience feel that. That is always a big part of getting your foot in the door, which means you have to have much more self-awareness, that inner mind-body connection to one’s self. That also requires a strong sense of self worth, feeling comfortable with who you are thus being free to express emotionally and musically the story, because we are after all, story tellers. And you also have to understand the business aspects needed in getting you to where you want to go.

Q. Don’t the spoils always go to the most talented, the virtuosos?

A. No, they don’t! Most people want to be transported to a different place, a different time, and have a front row seat into someone else’s period of time and life. I have been to performances where the singing has been absolutely spot on technically, but boring because it was all about making beautiful sounds only. I have also been to performances where every cast member transported me to that other time and place, and I felt a bit guilty because I was so up close and personal watching others’ struggles, joys, anger, pity, love, etc. It swept me away. Of course, the best would be to have amazing voices with great vocal technique and the ability to take the audience on a journey like this. And that is why we continue to go to performances, because we want to find more of that!

Q. What about reviews, particularly critical reviews and reviews that are not constructive? Any macro advice about handling reviews in the long-term?

A. When I was just starting out in this industry, I was told by several amazing singers that the best way to handle reviews was to either not read any of them or to collect them without reading them, put them away for 6 months to a year, then take them out, read them and only look at those specific things that were mentioned by more than one reviewer. You could either do something about it if you felt it had merit or not. Then put them in the trash. It is, after all, just one person’s opinion and if you continue to get work, you must be doing something right.

Q. What are some key takeaways about a professional career in opera performance that your book offers?

A. This is an excerpt from the forward to my book by Matthew Epstein: “The vocal study, artistic decisions, self-discipline, teaching, marketing, and audition process are all carefully analyzed, and detailed advice is given on a wide range of crucial matters, in the complex and often confusing progressions needed to arrive at a professional career in classical singing. Our field is very old-fashioned, in its personal requirements, not, surely, a path of instant gratification, and this book shows very powerfully the needs of patience, hard work and self-assessment required for the beginning of a career.”

Q. Where can readers get your book?

A. You can go to my web site www.ariaready.net, or Amazon.com

Q. What’s next?

A. I have just been asked to be part of an ongoing blog on Classical Singer’s Auditions Plus Blog so watch for me there. You can also sign up for my free monthly newsletter on my web site. I have a pretty full schedule with a very select vocal studio and do lots of consultations.

My newest project has been prompted by so many requests from Music Schools, Universities, Apprentice Programs, Summer Programs, etc. for my Aria Ready Bootcamps. So in response, I am now busy putting the final touches on my program to train Certified Facilitators of the Aria Ready Process (Bootcamps) in North America and Europe so we can meet these demands for teaching the Personal Skills and Business Aspects needed to build a singing career.

I also wanted to say that I have had the adventure of a lifetime with my singing, teaching and writing career. Now it is time for me to give back and I am doing just that as a Mentor through all that I do. Thanks to all of you for a great ride.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Books, Careers in opera, Interviews, profiles, Q&A