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: 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.”