Artist Profile: Marc Schreiner

Marc SchreinerResident tenor Marc Schreiner, who recently delighted Opera San José audiences as the witch in Hansel and Gretel, came to Opera San José from Minnesota, via Iowa, New York and Texas. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Music Education from Simpson College in Iowa and a Masters Degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Houston. In addition to his vocal career, Marc has taught piano and guitar, conducted a college choir, and he is also a leather craftsman, a portrait photographer, and a furniture maker. He grew up in Rollingstone, Minnesota. “It is a beautiful place with green hills and valleys and many of the people are of Luxembourg descent,” Marc said” His parents thought piano lessons at an early age important, “and driving. I could drive when I was ten. Lots of freedom back there!”

Marc stated that public education in Minnesota was excellent and he had a broad exposure to different kinds of music when he went to high school. “From an early age I loved music and singing,” Marc said. “I listened avidly to my parents’ record collection.” At fifteen he sang in the high school choir. “We had excellent directors,” he said. “I always liked groups that sang in harmony, like the Beach boys and the Mills Brothers.”

In high school, Marc auditioned and was selected for the lead role in Annie Get Your Gun.  The director started introducing him to classical music and did some recordings with him.

When he completed high school, Marc thought it would be “cool” to teach music. His parents and his sister were educators, so it seemed a natural path to follow. He went to Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, majoring in Music Education. Simpson is notable for being the only college in the United States with an entirely student-cast undergraduate opera program that is supported by a largely professional orchestra. They do two full productions a year and have an excellent young artists program run by the Des Moines Opera. Marc did two leading roles each year he was at Simpson.

By the time he graduated in 1994, however, Marc knew the wanted to be a performer. He also knew he needed a good voice teacher so he enrolled in the MA program at the University of Houston and studied there with W. Stephen Smith, all the while singing where he could, like in the chorus of the Houston Grand Opera. After completing the requirements for a Masters in Vocal Performance, he sang at the Salzburg Festival and for many regional opera companies around the country. He met Khori Dastoor, the Artistic Advisor to the General Director of Opera San José and a former resident soprano with OSJ, while singing in Opera Saratoga Springs, NY. She let him know that OSJ was looking for a tenor and that he should audition.

Now a first year resident, and the recipient of a Howard Golub fellowship, Marc says he likes many things about OSJ. “I like the long rehearsal periods, and I love the California Theatre and working with this group of singers.”

Marc Schreiner as the Witch in Hansel and Gretel

He also loves singing. “Whatever I’m doing right now is my favorite role,” he says. “I enjoyed singing Fenton in Falstaff, had fun being the witch in Hansel and Gretel.

Marc believes each singer brings something special to singing. “I get on a kick where I listen to one singer, really study someone. There’s a broad sense of history when singing a role, listening to all the past singers of BF Pinkerton, for example. It interests me that a man in, say, Japan, and a kid in Minnesota, get the same chill when they listen to 18th century music and opera.”

Marc continues, “If it sounds good, it is good. A good singer has something to sing about and is a storyteller. Singing to an audience can be a stressful, vulnerable situation and one can’t be thrown by criticism. You must be true to your style and self, and be in the moment. One of the few things that angers me is when someone who doesn’t know the process criticizes in a nasty, discouraging way.”

Marc prepares for a role by researching the composer’s process. He thinks about the character, what he wants, what his goals are. He records himself and constantly tries to refine his singing. “The source of energy for me used to be coffee, but I gave it up. Now it’s love, what is good, what is positive. I’m not so interested in the human condition as I am in the human potential. I believe that historically artists have always shown us a better way.”

 

 

Artist Profile: Lisa Chavez

chaveznewA“I am so happy to be singing in a West Coast company!” mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez says. “I spent ten years in New York, which was wonderful, and a tremendous career experience, but I am a Bay Area girl, happy to be close to home.”

Born and raised in Hayward, CA, Lisa says, “I have always sung. Mom and I used to sing in the car, and I sang in choir starting in fourth grade.” Her high school had five different choirs and she sang in most of them. “We went on tours and entered competitions. The Show Choir won some of them, too. In my senior year we went to Hawaii and won a gold medal.”

Lisa went to Cal State East Bay for her undergraduate degree in music. It was while enrolled at East Bay she had her first personal voice lesson and her first experience singing opera. “Although I enjoyed performing in our “Broadway” shows, I quickly became focused on opera.” In addition to singing lessons, preparation for her singing career involved diction lessons in English and in other languages, chiefly Italian, German, and French. “I like doing many things. I sew, make jewelry for myself and for gifts, knit, crochet, make cards. Being creative at home centers me.”

Immediately after receiving her BA, Lisa continued her studies for two years at the Manhattan School of Music. She took master classes with Martin Katz and Lauren Flanagan. She continued to work in New York and elsewhere on the East Coast. She met her husband, tenor Michael Boley, when they were both singing in the same show.

IDVAC 2013 - Opera San Jose“Two years ago I heard about Opera San José’s auditions. I was interested because I wanted to get closer to my family, but I couldn’t stay for the competition.” In Spring 2013, Lisa was able to compete in the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition, and was named Third Prize Winner.

“I am thrilled to be a first year resident. I had already sung in San Francisco. Last year I sang in Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, and Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti for Opera Parallele. Her first OSJ role was Meg Page in Falstaff. “There is lots of interplay in Falstaff, which is fun. I am looking forward to singing Hansel in Hansel and Gretel,”  adding that mezzos often sing male parts.

“Opera San José is awesome,” Lisa says. “Being part of the residency program means a chance to bond with the other singers and make good friends. The entire group is fantastic. We have get-togethers and potlucks, go hiking. The productions are deluxe and we appreciate Irene Dalis’ dedication and involvement with rehearsals.”

“Opera can’t support itself without donations and other outside money. We also do outreach which often introduces people who had never experienced the art form to our work and our company. Earlier this year we went to the local Ebay campus and several employees subscribed after they heard us. People’s expectations change when they see how glorious opera is. We need to increase public commitment to opera that is accessible and educate young people to the wonder of the arts.”

Lisa’s favorite female singer is the late Tatiana Troyanos. Of the men, she admires Caruso and Corelli. “In earlier days there was less specialization,” Lisa says. “People sang a wide repertoire. Now, we have a narrower view of what people should sing. A good singer must communicate with the audience, no matter how small that audience is. In any live theater good communication is the whole point. A performance must leave the viewer with that ‘lingering something’ that you remember. The listener should feel touched, and a tug at his or her heart. If one doesn’t get that out of a performance, why not just buy a recording?” Lisa believes a person would not invest in singing lessons and coaching or singing professionally without a good voice, but the ability to touch the audience is just as important.

Lisa does not have to worry about language when preparing for Hansel, as the opera will be sung in English. “The role has some difficult passages, key changes, and tonal shifts that can be tricky to learn. The back story for this opera is dark and twisted, more typical of real life in those days than Disney’s portrayals.”

Choosing a career in opera not only involves studying, auditioning, and relocating, but overcoming financial difficulties. Young singers must find jobs to pay off large student loans and bills, and their jobs must be flexible enough to allow performing. Lisa worked six months of the years in New York restaurants. At Opera San José, her residency is made possible by fellowship grants from Prof. John M. Heineke, Prof. Catherine R. Montfort, Phil Park, and Izzy Lewis.

Artist Profile: Jennifer Forni

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Jennifer Forni with Fellowship sponsors Mary and Clinton Gilliland.

“I was introduced to opera and a very early age,” Opera San José’s new resident Jennifer Forni said. “My parents bought an old house in Puyallup, Washington, where we moved from Seattle when I was three years old. While Dad was remodeling the house, he played opera and always encouraged me to sing along.”

Her voice first came to the attention of her first grade music teacher, Ms. Jones, who told Jennifer’s parents “your child doesn’t sing like the other children. You should encourage her to keep singing!” When she was ten, she heard the American soprano Nancy Gustafson on a Pavarotti and Friends video. Unaware of the difficulty in classical singing, Jennifer commented, “Anyone can do that,” and sang right along with the recording, astonishing her parents. “When I was young, I thought anyone could sing, you just had to ‘pretend’ to be an opera singer.” At the same time, she began taking voice lessons, but not for long. “I loved to sing when I was young, but it was for fun and I wanted to keep it that way. I don’t think it’s very productive to have young kids in voice lessons. Music lessons are fine, but the voice really needs to develop and mature before starting strenuous lessons. Sometimes lessons can do more harm than good,” she said. In addition to singing, she grew up playing French horn and trumpet.

Jennifer, a full lyric soprano, began serious voice lessons when she was fifteen, performed in West Side Story in high school, but at that time did not plan to be an opera singer. Rather, she thought she might go to medical school and become a doctor. But when graduation time came, she only applied to one college, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, in Ohio. “It is a remarkable school,” she said “Undergraduates perform in fully staged productions, in full costumes, with full sets and with a full orchestra, often led by guest conductors. It was fantastic training!”

Upon graduation from Oberlin, Jennifer applied for and was accepted in the masters program at the University of Maryland. “I chose Maryland because their degree program emphasizes performing. Oberlin taught me how to be a professional, to be precise, and to stay on top of things. Maryland taught me how to be an artist. After I went to Maryland I stopped being a student and started being an artist.”

After she earned her Master of Arts degree, Jennifer went to Portland (Oregon) Opera for two years as a resident soprano. She left Portland to join the roster at the New York City Opera, where she understudied the role of Rita Clayton in the world premier of Séance on a Wet Afternoon. She was invited back the following season to understudy Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata. This past January Jennifer took her first bow on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in Wagner’s Parsifal. “I was so overcome with emotion and excitement that my knees were trembling when I took my bow. I had set a goal to sing at the Met before I was thirty, and I made it!” said Jennifer. Not only did she make her Met debut this year, she performed two concerts this past spring at Carnegie Hall, singing the Faure Requiem, Rutter Requiem, and Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony with the New York Choral Society.

Jennifer participated in Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Program in 2008-09. She was asked to step in at the last minute to sing the role of Nannetta in Falstaff there. “Falstaff is the last opera Verdi wrote. It is extremely demanding because it has difficult rhythms, challenging text, and complex harmonies,” she said. The performance was a triumph, and she was asked to finish out the run of the show.

Along with Madama Butterfly, Jennifer considers Eugene Onegin, La bohème, and the Strauss operas to be among her favorites. She especially admires soprano Mirella Freni and the late Maria Callas. She met Freni when she was with the Oberlin in Italy Program as an undergraduate. The now deceased Luciano Pavarotti and Franco Corelli are still at the top of her list of favorite male opera singers.

While she was in New York, Opera San José called Jennifer and ultimately offered her a residency. She will sing a different role in OSJ’s Falstaff than she sang in Santa Fe, the role of Alice Ford. Later in the season she will sing Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly, and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. She will depart briefly in October to sing in Die Frau ohne Schatten with the Met.

Jennifer says, “Opera San José provides singers a marvelous opportunity. We can sing in up to four great operas a year without having to travel all over the globe to do so. Opera San José feels like a European fest contract. Also, the company strives to put forth the highest level of artistic quality in their productions, and they have a wonderful theater to do it in, too. The California Theatre has excellent acoustics and is just a down right spectacular venue!”

Jennifer also appreciates the living arrangement OSJ provides for its residents. “Everyone is so congenial, outgoing, friendly, and helpful. Being housed in the same apartment complex almost reminds me of my college days,” she laughs. Already we’ve had many late nights listening to clips on YouTube and old records by opera’s great legends.” She notes, however, that there is lots of sunshine in San Jose, and as a person from the Northwest she misses the occasional rainy day.

Jennifer’s residency is made possible by the Mary and Clinton Gilliland Fellowship.

Artist Profile: James Callon

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James Callon with Fellowship sponsor Catherine Bullock.

“All good singing begins with the voice,” says second year resident James Callon,” but, in any real opera performance, good singing and effective acting are always intertwined.”

A Catherine Bullock Fellow, James hails from Southern California and from a musical family that lived in a home filled with music. “My dad played trumpet in high school and my grandfather sang barbershop,” he said. All through elementary school James sang in the school choir, and, while in the fourth grade, participated in a televised singing tribute to the then recently-late Danny Thomas. Only days before this event, James surprised his parents by climbing high in their avocado tree for a little practice. As he sang the lyrics to “O Danny Boy” in his young soprano, both parents turned to each other in wonder and plainly asked the other, “Where did that come from?” From that moment on, it was plain to see that music and performance would play a big part in James’ life.

As a freshman in high school he played the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, wearing a hot, furry costume and carrying a cardboard grin.“I liked being on the stage, performing. I was a theater geek, as well as a jock in high school. I played football, baseball, ran track, and even took karate my sophomore year. I had good roles in the school productions. I played a Russian dance instructor in You Can’t Take It With You, and Juror No.8 in a touring show of Twelve Angry Men. In the spring musicals, I played Doody in Grease and the title role in Bye, Bye Birdie. Eventually, my friends from the football team came out to support me. Some of them even started participating onstage. In my senior year, our team’s quarterback was one of the leads and almost all the cheerleaders took part, as well. It was a lot of fun! Playing sports has definitely benefitted my acting in the opera roles that are a bit more physical. Those are fun roles,” he said.

James attended U.C. Irvine, majoring in Vocal Performance. “When you begin to study music, especially singing, you learn a lot by ‘mimicry.’ Although it’s not necessary to share the same voice-type as one’s teacher, I find that I learn best from tenors.” He added, “Incidentally, I believe that tenors have the most fickle instruments. That is to say, because of the nature of their voices, theirs’ seem to be some of the least predictable. But, with the right teacher, hard work, and a healthy imagination, most of us can do some really top-notch singing any day of the week.”

Following graduation, James sought opportunities to perform. He spent six seasons with Orange County Opera, an outreach group that condenses a show from the standard opera repetoire to half an hour, translates it into English, adds extra humor as necessary, and travels with its collapsible sets, giving performances to elementary schools as far north of Orange County as Pasadena and as far south as Dana Point. Then, from 2007 to 2010, he sang in the Los Angeles Opera Chorus, making his LA Opera debut as Giuseppe in La Traviata and Tenor Vassal in Göetterdäemmerung. During this time, James also was a member of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, singing as tenor soloist in Handel’s Messiah and the Mozart Requiem. In June of 2008, he made an audition DVD which he sent to Tulsa Opera in Oklahoma and, subsequently, joined their Studio Artists program from 2009-11.

James has taken part in singing competitions, as well. In 2004 he won First Place in the National Association of Teachers of Singing’s Young Artist Auditions, Apprentice Division and, in 2008, took second place in N.A.T.S.’ Career Division. In 2011, he was a grant recipient of the Los Angeles chapter of Opera Buffs and, most recently, was a finalist in the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition this past May, 2013.

In 2011 James auditioned in New York for Opera San José. Last season, as a first year resident, he sang the roles of Nadir in The Pearl Fishers, Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, Manrico in Il trovatore, and Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi. This season he sings the role of Fenton, a young lover, in Falstaff. “Tenors usually play young lovers, good guys, heroes,” he says. In Hansel and Gretel he will play the Witch, “a role usually sung by a mezzo soprano,” and in Madama Butterfly he will sing the role of Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton. “I am very much looking forward to singing this role,” he says. “I sang excerpts of Butterfly for Los Angeles Opera and Tulsa Opera during the past few years. I can’t wait to put those past experiences to good use here at Opera San José.” In Don Giovanni James will sing Don Ottavio.

The process of rehearsals and shows gets him going. He loves what he’s doing and where he’s doing it. “What’s best about Opera San José is that it gives us residents the opportunity to sing major roles in a gorgeous space with good acoustics,” he says. “The California Theatre is an awesome venue.”

To date, his favorite roles are Manrico in Il trovatore, and Alfredo in La traviata, which he sang for Rogue Opera in Medford, Oregon. “Someday I would like to sing the Duke, in Rigoletto,” he says. “It is one of the few roles where the tenor is a villain. And I think we can all agree that every good story needs a villain.”

James’ favorite male singers are Jussi Böerling, Fritz Wunderlich, and Carlo Bergonzi, all tenors, now deceased, with the exception of Mr. Bergonzi who turns 89 years-old on July 13th. The sopranos he most admires are Maria Callas and Montserrat Caballe. “Caballe did the best Norma. Her ‘Casta Diva’ is amazing. Great singers use their voices to emphasize the drama of what they are performing. However, it can be very difficult to keep the drama from taking over. It is an extraordinary balancing act for us onstage; singing and acting as beautifully as possible in order to draw in the audience for a truly spectacular, viscerally emotional experience. If the balance isn’t there the singer can be swept up in the emotion and he or she may lose the voice,” he said.
James Callon says nothing feels as good as singing well. ”It is a high without the guilt. I can feel when I’ve sung well and, when I hear the audience applauding, I know I’ve done my job. Excellent singing honors the audience, the composers, and everyone who supports us in our art. Every night onstage, we go on an emotional journey in the hopes that the audience will come along. If we all do our part, both onstage and out in the house, we will all truly have a night to remember.”

Interview with Zachary Altman

Zachary Altman

Zachary appeared as Dr. Falke in OSJ’ recent production of Die Fledermaus; Melody King sang the role of Roselinde. Photo by P. Kirk

“Born into music” is how Zachary Altman, a first-year OSJ resident baritone, describes his childhood. The Philadelphia native knew all the words to Evita when he was nine. He performed in his high school’s musicals and at sixteen he was selected for Julliard’s weekend program for high school students. He sang an aria from Don Carlos for the audition, his first experience with opera. “Everything I’ve learned since– theory, diction, singing lessons, doing scenes from operas, all built on what I got in that program,” Altman says. “Julliard also taught me about rejection. When I was a graduating senior I applied to eleven conservatories and only Julliard turned me down.” He eventually went to the Manhattan School of Music where he earned his Bachelor of Music in 2007, and his Master of Music in 2009.

After graduation, Altman auditioned as much as he could and he sang with several companies. He first learned about OSJ from Alex Boyer, a fellow student at the Manhattan School, who was headed to San Jose for an audition. When Altman heard OSJ was auditioning baritones he applied, and was soon invited to join the resident ensemble. He holds the W. Gibson Walters Memorial Fellowship and the Don and Jan Schmidek Fellowship at Opera San José.

Although he had previously sung in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, Altman says it’s really hard to adjust to California attitudes. “Everyone is so happy.” The roles he sings this season with OSJ make him happy, too. He recently appeared as Zurga in The Pearl Fishers and Dr. Falke in Die Fledermaus, and will soon perform the roles of Count de Luna in Il trovatore, and the title role in Gianni Schicchi.

When he prepares for a role, Altman gets coaching and sets himself deadlines. “Learning the music is comfortable for me, but singing, the technical part, is hard. Every day I spend time and energy learning how to sing,” he said. A perfectionist, “I do not meet my own standards for being a good singer. One must always strive to do better, be perfect. For me, it’s a process.”

Zachary Altman

L-R: James Callon as Nadir and Zachary Altman as Zurga in OSJ’s 2012 production of The Pearl Fishers. Photo by P. Kirk.

“This is true for all kinds of music. I take pop music seriously, too.” In addition to performing, he taught musical theater and pop singing in Manhattan to professional singers.  He continues to love pop singing as much as opera.  “Jennifer Hudson is probably the most vocally gifted pop singer I’ve ever heard. Beyonce and Adam Lambert are extraordinary,” he said.Altman’s favorite opera singers are Audra MacDonald and the late Leonard Warren, also a baritone, like him.  His favorite role so far is Don Giovanni. “Acting and performance are a big part of that role, which makes it fun,” he said. His dream roles are Macbeth and Sweeney Todd in those operas.  “Sondheim does not think Sweeney Todd is an opera, but I do,” he said.

“My favorite operas are Salome and Tosca.  I like loud singing, fat people in big costumes, smoke. I love both old school and American opera.”  He believes there is a middle ground between opera and musical theater.  Two examples are The Light in the Piazza and The Wild Party.

Altman spent a month in Germany perfecting his spoken (and sung) German for opera. “Roles in German are easier for me than Italian roles. All the people I seriously work with are in New York, and some of my lessons are on Skype. Marlena Malas, my teacher for eight years in New York, helped my professional growth enormously, and I benefited a great deal from Marilyn Horne’s program in Santa Barbara.  That was an eight-week intensive and selective workshop that I did for three years,” he said.

“Opera San José is so supportive of our careers! I was able to do a show with the Gotham Chamber Opera in Manhattan, for which I’m very grateful.  Opera is a great way to live!” Altman added.

He enjoys the outreach and community involvement which is part of the residents’ commitment to OSJ. He and Rebecca Krouner taught a master class at a local junior high school.  “The kids were doing Beauty and the Beast and we did some coaching,” he said.  

Ultimately, Altman hopes to run a company.  “This profession puts us in touch with people we would never meet otherwise, and some I’ve met might become involved.  The most difficult obstacle I would need to overcome is momentum, making every year more successful than the last. That is what makes a success.”

Interview with Cecilia Violetta López

 

Soprano Cecilia Violetta López

Cecilia Violetta López with Fellowship sponsors Profs. John Heineke and Catherine Montfort

“My parents worked as laborers in the fields near Rupert, Idaho. We kids worked alongside them. Mom would sing as she worked, so I guess you could say I was brought up to sing.” – Cecilia Violetta LópezBorn and raised in Idaho to Mexican parents, Opera San José’s new resident soprano Cecilia Violetta López discovered her passion for music as a young child when she was first introduced to mariachi music by her mother.  Her parents still live in the south central Idaho town where her mother now runs her own restaurant. Cecilia started teaching herself to play the piano as a young child and formal piano instruction began at the age of ten.  She became accomplished enough as a pianist to play in her church, and while in high school, she sang with local mariachi bands.

After graduating from high school, she moved to Las Vegas and began her work in the medical field.  She got a job as an orthopaedic assistant.  “I took out stitches, rolled casts, scheduled surgeries, that sort of thing.”  But music eventually called her.  On scholarship, she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, majoring in music education and vocal performance, but when she was student teaching she realized “teaching was not for me, singing was.”  Studying mainly under the tutelage of Dr. Tod Fitzpatrick, Cecilia matriculated from UNLV with a Bachelors of Music in Vocal Performance.

While at UNLV López performed in her first opera singing Nella in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.  “I am excited to now get to sing Lauretta in that same opera,” she said.  During her years at UNLV, Cecilia performed roles including Pamina (The Magic Flute), Poppea (L’incoronazione di Poppea), Gasparina (La Canterina), Kate Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) and Micaëla (Carmen).

López chose to pursue a degree in vocal performance and she admits studying for her chosen field was intense. It included serious language preparation, mostly in Italian, French and German.  Ms. López’ additional training included traveling to Austria where she was a student in the American Institute of Musical Studies.  There she concentrated on vocal training, learning the German language and participated in master classes with Patricia Craig and Gabriele Lechner.  Ms. López furthered her training while attending the Hawai’i Performing Arts Festival working alongside mezzo-soprano, Juliana Gondek.  She continues lessons once a week with a teacher in San Francisco.

It was during her studies in the Hawai’i Performing Arts Festival in Kamuela, Hawai’i where López met former OSJ resident baritone Krassen Karagiozov.  Krassen later informed her that the company was auditioning for new artists and she should audition. López is now thrilled to be one of OSJ’s five new residents. She lives here in San José, while her husband and daughter remain in Las Vegas. “We Skype often, so that helps, and they visit me as often as they can.  My husband and daughter are both very supportive.” she said.

Her daughter Sara already has stage experience. She was in the Children’s Chorus in UNLV’s production of Carmen when she was six. “I took her to my rehearsals and finally asked her if she wanted to be in the chorus as soon as I saw that she expressed an interest in being with the other kids in the chorus, so I said okay. She showed remarkable stage presence. Soon she will start taking piano and violin lessons.”

When asked how she prepares for a role, López’s technique involves watching DVDs of the opera she is going to sing and listening to recordings.  She studies the plot and reads the background of the libretto, then reads her role in the language she will be singing and translates the words so it makes sense as a dialogue. She works with an accompanist an hour a day in addition to rehearsals, which are generally from 2:30 to 10:00 PM, with a dinner break.

Asked about her favorite singers, López sighed.  “It’s a toss-up for sopranos.  Leontyne Price or Renee Fleming.  I can’t chose. I favor Vittorio Grigolo, an Italian tenor, when it comes to male singers.”

No question about what makes a good singer as far as Cecilia Violetta López is concerned.  “Genuine passion and love for the music.  A singer who goes through the sacrifice and dedication to learn a role should eventually be able to genuinely communicate the emotions the composer is trying to portray.  Music is very powerful and has the ability to move people with beautiful melodies and harmonies.  Making music and a character personal can take it one step further and really create an illusion for the listener–pretty soon, language barriers dissappear.  If one didn’t have a personal connection with the character, it would just be pretty music, and, as we say in the field, it would be considered a ‘park and bark’ moment.”

“Music should uplift the listener, even “gloomy” music. As a listener I want to be transported to the world the composer or performer take themselves to when they are musically inspired. …when I sing, it’s like all of my emotions come out.  What I’m expressing, what I’m feeling, I want everyone, including those in the very back row, to feel.”

López, a Heineke/Montfort Fellow, loves the way the other resident artists are genuinely nice, kind, and welcoming. Preparing a different role for every opera is a challenge she looks forward to. “I am honored to be here.”

Ms. López’s professional accomplishments include the title role in Suor Angelica with Opera San Luis Obispo, a role she will be reprising this season for Opera San José and Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Opera Las Vegas.

Don’t miss Cecilia Violetta López in her debut with Opera San José as Leïla in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, opening September 8 at the California Theatre in downtown San José.

 

An Interview With Michael Dailey

Michael Dailey

Michael Dailey and Betany Coffland take a break from their royal duties in the 2009 production of La Cenerentola, surrounded by new friends from the Girl Scouts.


“A teacher once told me that a person doesn’t pick music, music picks the person. And in my case, that’s been true.”

Despite possessing a voice that Opera News has described as “blessed with freshness,” Michael Dailey’s career as an opera singer occasionally surprises even himself. “I am not from a musical family, and extroverted behavior was not encouraged. Children were to be polite and quiet. Opera is quite the opposite — it is all about expressing yourself.” In fact, when Dailey experienced his first symphony performance on an elementary school field trip, he asked his teacher whether the musicians were playing the instruments or playing tapes!

As a teenager, Dailey had to fulfill a fine arts requirement at Tallwood High School in Virginia, and on a whim he chose theater. “In my sophomore year they were doing the musical Pippin. I auditioned with a jazzy/soul interpretation of ‘Happy Birthday,’ and was cast as the lead.” Based on that performance, he was invited to sing with the Madrigals, “a small, prestigious group that sang classical pieces, not Broadway show tunes.” Dailey also competed for a place in the District Choir, and sang in the All-State Chorus his senior year. While still in high school, a friend invited him to see his first opera, a Virginia Opera performance of Rigoletto. He remembers getting dressed up in his Madrigals tuxedo for the occasion, and that by the end of the opera, he had been moved to tears by the drama and music.

When Dailey was a senior, his high school choral director Claudia Griffin encouraged him to sing for David Clayton, the choral director at Virginia Wesleyan College. A successful audition later, Dailey’s life had been given a new direction: “I was the first male in my family to go to college, and it was while I was an undergrad that I first studied with a voice teacher.”

It is often said that only one in 10,000 singers have a successful career in opera. Knowing early on that the odds were stacked against him, Dailey continued singing while pursuing a B.A. in Psychology at Virginia Wesleyan, and an M.S.Ed. in Counseling from Old Dominion University. All the while, he found himself thinking more about performances than his studies. “That is where music found me. I knew it had to be my life!” He finished his degrees and worked as a counselor for two years, while singing with the Virginia Chorale, in church choirs, and in the Virginia Opera chorus.

He was accepted to the resident artist-in-training program at Tri-Cities Opera (Binghamton, NY) with Opera Guild and Adele Bernstein Scholarships in 2006, and began singing opera full-time. In 2007 he toured Western Europe with New York Harlem Productions’ Porgy and Bess. “It’s an excellent company that only tours this one opera. It was my first time in Europe, too.”

Dailey joined the resident artist ensemble at Opera San José in 2008, on a partial fellowship from the W. Gibson Walters Memorial Fund. “The best thing about Opera San José is that it offers singers the opportunity to grow professionally, by doing so many leading roles. Many people don’t realize that it is the second largest opera company in the Bay Area, and that its productions are cast around the residents. Other professionals, usually former residents, are hired when other voices are needed.” In the past four years, Dailey has sung numerous roles for the company, including Alfredo (La traviata), Beppe (Pagliacci), Levin (Anna Karenina), Des Grieux (Manon), Prunier (La rondine), Don Ramiro (La Cenerentola), Don José (Carmen), Ferrando (Così fan tutte), Lensky (Eugene Onegin), Nemorino (The Elixir of Love), and Count Almaviva (The Barber of Seville) which is his current favorite.

Dailey prepares for a role by translating the score, listening to recordings in order to get the concept of the entire piece, and speaking the text in rhythm. For inspiration, Dailey’s favorite tenor is Nicolai Gedda, probably the most widely-recorded tenor in history. “He is a true lyric tenor, like me.” He also greatly admires Natalie Dessay and Joan Sutherland, because their voices are so unique. “They were never pushed to sound like anyone but themselves. Every note Sutherland sings is beautiful. ” Outside of opera, Dailey’s favorite musician is Prince. “’Around the World in a Day” was the first cassette tape I ever received — I would listen to it literally two or three times a day, and sing along.”

This season, Dailey concludes his fourth-year of residency with Opera San José. “Opera singing is a difficult occupation: a singer must have a beautiful voice, of course, but they must also be a good actor, able to draw in the audience, and able to accurately pronounce many languages. All of the resident artists at Opera San José hope to be better singers and performers when they leave, than when they arrived.”

The intersection of Dailey’s vocal talent and academic interests provide him with an array of interesting prospects for the future. “Music can hit me with its feeling and power,” Dailey says. “It has its own language. At one time I considered becoming a music therapist. Did you know some composers wrote pieces for their personal therapy, for instance, after suffering the loss of a loved one?”

In the meantime, Opera San José fans are not the only ones who see Dailey’s opera career taking off. In 2010, Dailey was invited back to Virginia Wesleyan to sing at the college’s 41st commencement ceremony, where he inspired graduates with performances of “Nessun dorma” (Turandot) and “Make Them Hear You” (Ragtime). Last summer, Dailey sang as an apprentice artist with Santa Fe Opera; he will be returning this summer as an understudy for the lead tenor in Maometto II, and sing an additional comprimario (supporting) role.

If you enjoyed Dailey’s recent performance as Alfredo in La traviata, be sure to catch him singing the title role in our upcoming production of Faust, April 21 — May 6, 2012.

An Interview with Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste

Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste with her Fellowship Sponsor, Catherine Bullock; June 2011

Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste knows that successful opera singers approach their craft with gusto.  Self-confidence is a must, particularly if the character one is singing is doomed to die a violent death. “Being stabbed to death on stage was a new way of dying for me,” Jean-Baptiste said, referring to her demise as Nedda in Pagliacci, “because usually in an opera, I die by suicide, or from disease.”

Jean-Baptiste brings enormous energy and spunk to her roles. Born in New York City to parents who had emigrated from Haiti, the family moved to Florida when she was still a child. At a very young age, she began ballet and piano lessons. “Music has always been part of my world, part of my culture,” she says. “Piano gave me a musical foundation, but soon I switched to violin, and played it all through high school, as well as dabbling in tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. I was a total music geek and I loved it. I still am very much that music geek!” she says, laughing.

Growing up, she sang in school and church choirs, but it was not until she was 20 that she decided to take voice lessons to improve her singing. From that point on, she was determined to study music full-time and make a career as an opera singer. Not only did she learn arias and art songs, she also studied language diction. She continues private vocal study with Oscar Diaz, Jr. in Florida. “Oscar is the best teacher I have had thus far. Without him I would not be anywhere near the level that I am at now vocally, and I continue to flourish under his tutelage.”

Jean-Baptiste’s voice is that of a lirico spinto, possessing both a lyric and dramatic quality in her voice. “My voice is ideal for Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, and Strauss, in particular,” she says. In spring of 2009, she was hired to cover the title role in West Bay Opera’s Madama Butterfly. “I met Carlos Aguilar, at the time a resident artist with Opera San José, and he helped me set up an audition.” That audition resulted in an offer for her own residency, an opportunity for which she is undeniably grateful. “A performer is never created in the studio, we’re created in the theater. Opera San José provides a creative environment in which to develop.”

Jean-Baptiste’s favorite role at this point in her career is Anna Karenina, which she sang for Opera San José in 2010. “Many elements in that role were very personal and reflected my own life,” she said. Her favorite singers are Maria Callas, Leontyne Price, and Anna Moffo. “Moffo’s rendition of Violetta is inspiring,” she noted.

To prepare her own interpretation of Violetta, she read La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils, on which La traviata is based. “It helped me really understand the character, and I like her. Verdi intended La traviata to be told from Alfredo’s point of view, as it was in the book. The opera is a flashback, as we hear with the Prelude. This is repeated in the final act when Violetta is only moments from death. So the entire opera is really Alfredo reminiscing about his time with Violetta.  We’re not sure of what happened from Violetta’s side, only what Alfredo tells us. Once we acknowledge this, we understand the opera better.”

To support herself while getting started in her career, along with temporary jobs, Jean-Baptiste sang with the Florida Grand Opera and Palm Beach Opera choruses.  “I learned how to sing with conductors, work with directors, and about costumes, makeup, and stagecraft.  All young singers should sing with an opera chorus for at least a couple years; it’s an invaluable learning and performing experience.” In her opinion, elements of a great performer include “excellent training, learning the music as written, professionalism in all things, humility, respect, and a positive disposition. And one must grow in every role, even if one has sung it before. These are what create strong professional singers.”

She admits that opera is a difficult profession. “This career is expensive before it is lucrative, if it ever gets to that point. And it can be emotionally trying at times, as well as lonely, because it takes you away from loved ones quite often. It can make it hard to form a lasting romantic relationship as well. So with the relationships you do have, you work even harder than most to keep those connections secure; they are so important to a traveling artist.”

Though one might see opera as being the only music in her life, Jean-Baptiste is quick to point out her love of other genres. The themes in rock and country music have many similarities to opera.”

Jean-Baptiste will be returning to the East Coast after her time with Opera San José, lining up auditions and singing contracts as her career progresses. One day she may decide to study vocal pedagogy, emulating her beloved teacher.

La traviata is sponsored by the Applied Materials Foundation.

Interview with Baritone Evan Brummel

Sometimes a person chooses a career in the arts because parents and teachers encourage them to develop their talent; sometimes it is because of an unusual event. Both of these were the experience of Opera San José’s new resident baritone, Evan Brummel.

Born and raised in La Quinta, California, three-year-old Evan wanted to “solo” when the family sang Christmas carols. “We were a sports-oriented family.  No one was musical,” he said, “but my mother, who teaches dance at the high school, encouraged me, and when I was nine she enrolled me in a local children’s choir.” As part of its program, the choir made a recording of 50s and 60s songs, which included Evan’s solo of “Rockin’ Robin.”

At Palm Desert High School he joined a choir, which performed show tunes around the community. He enjoyed that outreach, and likes OSJ’s outreach, too. Brummel also did musical theater at the local junior college while still in high school. “There was no classical music at all in the Palm Springs area,” he notes. When he was a sophomore, he heard The Three Tenors on PBS and was amazed at their sound and expressiveness. “I knew I had singing talent,” he says, “but hearing them made me want to perfect my voice and sing professionally.”

At sixteen Brummel enrolled in a classical music program in Irvine, where he met his first voice teacher, Patrick Goeser, an instructor from Chapman University. After high school, he applied to and was accepted at The Julliard School in New York. While there, he attended performances at the Metropolitan Opera and sat in at a Master Class taught by Luciano Pavarotti, one of his favorite singers. After a year at Julliard he returned to Chapman University to finish his degree, then headed back to New York where he auditioned as often as he could. Sarasota (Florida) Opera hired him and, “While I was there, Joseph Marcheso, an assistant conductor with Opera San José, visited and encouraged me to audition for Opera San José.” He was accepted for the 2011–2012 season, and also placed second in the 2011 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition.

“The famous prologue [Si puo, Signore e Signori- “A word, ladies and gentlemen”] was vigorously sung by Evan Brummel, a sirloin-voiced baritone, as Tonio, the hunchback clown.”
–Richard Scheinin, San Jose Mercury News

A first-year resident and a Jeanne McCann Fellow, Brummel made his debut with Opera San José in November, in the role of Tonio in Pagliacci; he will be singing Germont in La traviata, and Valentin in Faust later in the season. Each is a new role for him, and to prepare, he must translate the libretto into English, then focus on integrating the character’s words and emotions into the musical score. He believes that a good singer starts with good vocal quality, but also must communicate the text and accurately depict the character. “When I see an opera, I ‘study’ the singers and the production because I want to learn and improve,” he said. “Much of my singing is instinctive. I like to focus on how a character is communicating, and develop him.” To date, his favorite roles have been Tonio in Pagliacci, which he loves for the beauty of the music, and the title role in Rigoletto. “I like the vocal difficulty of the latter and the character has lots of emotion.”

Brummel’s favorite opera singers are the now-deceased American baritone Robert Merrill, and the late Italian baritone Piero Cappuccilli, a singer known for his breath control and smooth legato. “Music is a way for singers and musicians to express their emotions, and for the audience to do the same,” he says. “Each person’s life is different and the singer brings those experiences to the characters he or she will be portraying.”

This past summer, Brummel participated in Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Program, along with fellow OSJ resident tenor Michael Dailey. He was pleased that his voice teacher from Chapman University came to Santa Fe Opera while he was performing. Earlier, he took first place in the Career Division of the Gwendolyn Roberts Young Artist Auditions of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. He also received an Encouragement Award at the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions.

Evan Brummel is happy to be back in California where he has many family connections, and he is delighted to be affiliated with Opera San José. He loves that Opera San José residents are given the opportunity to sing many lead roles and perform in the beautiful California Theatre, without having to constantly move from company to company. “It is an opportunity to gain experience and learn my capabilities. I expect to be an opera singer forever.”

La traviata is sponsored by the Applied Materials Foundation

An Interview with Alexander Boyer

Alexander Boyer as King Idomeneo in the 2011 company premiere; photo by Bob Shomler.

“From earliest childhood I remember my parents’ house filled with opera and other classical music,” says tenor Alexander Boyer. “When driving, my dad would have the radio on a classical music station.”

Boyer grew up on Long Island, New York. In elementary school he played the cello, an instrument he chose because it was large. He never really listened to popular music until he went to high school. His public school had an excellent music program, occasionally offering field trips to the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, where Alexander saw his first opera, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. His school also offered a voice class and “I signed up to sing in the choir. The choir director was the music director of the student shows and I participated in the productions,” Boyer said. “They were my first on-stage experiences.”

The summer after his senior year of high school, Boyer attended Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute in western Massachusetts. That fall he enrolled at Boston University, majoring in music. “I wanted a university rather than a conservatory, so that I would have flexibility and choices in my education.” Boyer discovered that the music program at BU was so intense that it was very much like a conservatory. “I got a great technical foundation and some stage experience, such as when I carried a spear as a supernumerary in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Don Carlos.” He also sang in the chorus of Idomeneo at BU, making him the only member of Opera San José’s cast to have been in that opera prior to the 2011 company premiere.

Boyer next enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music for graduate study, staying a year after he earned his Master of Music degree in order to get a Professional Studies Certificate. While there, he had a coaching session with Luciano Pavarotti, one of his favorite tenors.

Boyer responded to Opera San José’s call for auditions at the Manhattan School of Music; he is now a fourth-year resident with the company, sponsored in part by a fellowship grant from Howard W. Golub. He has participated in the Merola and Santa Fe Opera programs, and is a winner of the Mario Lanza scholarship award.

Alexander Boyer sings as a lyric tenor. His first principal roles were in Lee Hoiby’s A Month in the Country and Lennox Berkeley’s A Dinner Engagement.  In Opera San José’s 2009 production of Carmen, he sang the role of Don José–one of his favorites, along with Luigi in Puccini’s Il tabarro. This season, Boyer will sing principal roles in all four Opera San José productions, including Canio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (opening November 12th).  “I may be a younger Canio than is usually the case, and Canio is already a complicated and difficult character to play.” It is a new role for Boyer, intense and emotional, and he is prepared to bring a physicality and violence to the role if the director wants that kind of interpretation.

When studying a new role, Boyer usually does not listen to other recordings. Rather, he reads a translation of the opera and does a bit of historical research, before plunging into the music. He appreciates the stability and constant stage time that he gets at Opera San José, saying, “It allows me to refine a role and polish my performance and technique. I keep striving to be a better performer.” Boyer does not think a good singer must necessarily have the most fabulous voice; he feels that it is more important for the singer to understand the composer’s intentions and the drama of the piece, as well as its historical context. “A good singer has awareness. One must be aware of oneself, of the performers around you, of the audience, aware of how he or she projects this art form.” He further notes that many singers do not sing well in their native language.

“For opera to survive,” Boyer says, “it is important that it not be locked into tradition.  There must be new and creative productions. Of course, these new interpretations must be ‘aware’ and the singers and directors must always keep in mind that opera is entertainment.” As the end of his time with the company approaches, he plans to audition all over the country. Let’s hope that his travels bring him back to Northern California—he likes the Bay Area, despite his observation that “There are no good delis here.”

Editor’s note: Any former New Yorkers out there who can offer Alex some tips on a good deli in the Bay Area? I’ll admit that I like the pastrami reuben at Max’s Opera Café in Palo Alto, but I suspect that true deli aficionados will not approve… ;)