“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.
“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.