Artist Interview: Jasmina Halimic

Jasmina Halimic and Jan Schmidek

Jasmina Halimic and Fellowship sponsor Jan Schmidek at the Santana Row summer concert, July 2011.

Jasmina Halimic is a young woman who is realizing the American dream, in part with help from Opera San José. An American citizen born in Bosnia Herzegovina, she was exposed to music from early childhood. “My mother says I sang before I talked,” she says, and before the Bosnian war of the early 1990s, she went to the government music school, a full immersion program which included piano and voice training. One day she overheard a mezzo-soprano a few years older than herself singing Schubert. Jasmina, in awe, decided she would work hard so that someday she would be able to sing just as spectacularly.

When she was fourteen, her family was forced to seek refuge in Croatia in order to escape the political tensions and ethnic cleansing occurring in Bosnia. After a year, family in America helped them immigrate to Pittsburgh, PA. Jasmina enrolled in high school, and her cousin alerted the principal that she could sing. As luck would have it, the choir class was preparing its spring show; she auditioned for a solo role, and from then on she was the class soloist. With her teacher’s encouragement, Jasmina continued to study piano and theory, and also began taking operatic singing lessons.

Following high school, she enrolled at Duquesne University to study music performance. Jasmina traveled to Rome to learn Italian, and also studied language and diction in France and Germany. After graduation, she worked as an administrative assistant and taught Italian at the local community college. To continue developing her voice, she explains, “my singing needed improving, and I began the long and difficult search for the best suited voice teacher.” In New York City, she found a mentor with whom she continues to study, former Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Patricia McCaffrey. In addition to her vocal training, she pursued a master’s degree at Indiana University, and in 2003 Tito Capobianco cast her as Valencienne in the IU Opera Theater production of The Merry Widow. “His production is legendary, and that comic role was a breakthrough for me, confidence-wise.”

Halimic applied to Opera San José in 2010, and she was cast in the role of Magda for the company’s premiere of La rondine. Her performance gained her an artist residency, and last season she sang the roles of Mimì in La bohème, and the title role in Anna Karenina, a modern American opera, which she says “made me a better musician and challenged all my talents.” This season, she will sing Elettra in Idomeneo, Nedda in Pagliacci, Violetta in La traviata, and Marguerite in Faust.

Halimic appreciates the uniqueness of Opera San José’s resident ensemble, and that “it allows people like me with big voices and limited opportunities to get experience. The group is collegial and has good chemistry and heart. It’s like we are all on the same team.” She loves the supportive San José audience because it encourages the singers to give their best on stage.

Opera San José’s extensive outreach program is another excellent opportunity for the singers to share their talents. “Opera is a serious art, not just pretty sounds, but it’s also entertainment. I love entertaining my audience and sharing the gift of music,” Halimic says. “A beautiful voice isn’t enough. Excellent technique is necessary if one is to become a fine singer; this means perfect command and control over the vocal instrument, in order to be true to the music and the composer’s intent.” Two singers who inspire Halimic with their technique are Luciano Pavarotti, and soprano Virginia Zeani, who has been a major influence in her life.

Halimic loves every role, and strives to bring honesty to each one. To prepare, she reads the story and works out how she can make the role her own. For Anna Karenina, she watched several movie adaptations in addition to reading the Tolstoy novel. In looking towards this season’s opening production of Idomeneo, she visualizes her role of Elettra as a kind of ‘queen of the night.’ Opera San José’s collaboration with the Packard Humanities Institute is “an attempt to do a truly period version of the opera–no other group has done it this way. Frescoes are being studied for the sets and costumes.” This production of Idomeneo will feature experts from all fields: artists from Ballet San Jose will perform the dance scenes, and well-known Mozart specialist, George Cleve, will conduct.
An award winning opera singer who is equally at home in recitals and on the concert stage, Jasmina Halimic epitomizes the kind of talented, dedicated artists that Opera San José seeks, cultivates, and encourages.

OSJ Patron Carolle J. Carter is a professor emerita from Menlo College, and a retired lecturer in history, San José State University.

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