How did you start singing?
I first started singing when I needed extra school activities while at junior high school in New York City. I was drawn to a diverse mix of musical styles ranging from jazz to Broadway and back. Before the age of 12, I had already sung in Latin, German, French, Swahili, and Hebrew. It definitely set the stage for an international career.
La costanza in amor vince l'inganno was the first opera you performed in, which seems unusual. How did that come about?
When I was a senior at LaGuardia High School or "The Fame School," I was given the options of Gospel Chorus or Opera Workshop. Most of my friends chose gospel, as it was closer to pop music, while I chose opera. At this stage, I was truly obsessed with opera and would jump at the chance for free tickets at the Met to see some of my favorite singers like Pavarotti and Jessye Norman.
Aminta, from Caldara's La costanza in amor vince l'inganno, was my first operatic role. (Tenor great, Beniamino Gigli frequently included songs like "Sebben, crudele" in his concerts.) My opera workshop teacher would stay after school teaching the recitatives, because he saw this passion for opera within me. Interestingly enough, it was the North American premiere of that opera. I wasn't your ordinary 16-year-old, I would say. By the time I auditioned for Juilliard, I had already sung with full orchestras for three years as a soloist for regular mass and oratorio performances while in high school.
Do you like creating roles, as for Appomattox?
I have been very fortunate to have had experience singing traditional repertory as well as contemporary music in my career. I enjoy working along side living composers and creating roles like T. Morris Chester in Glass' Appomattox here at SFO. It's nice to not have constant comparisons to artists and ghosts of the past. It also keeps up my technique as far as learning music.
What are your favorite operas?
At this time, my favorite operas to perform are those of the leading Italian and French heroic roles. I feel that the timbre and weight of my voice lends itself to the music of Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, and Massenet. I also enjoy the dramatic and physical challenges of a role like Don José, the dangerous soldier and lover in Bizet's Carmen.
How did you choose the pieces on your debut CD?
The music selections for the CD were made between the producer, creative team from Universal/Decca and myself.
How has working with Joana Carneiro and Berkeley Symphony been?
I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Joana at Chicago Opera Theater on John Adams' A Flowering Tree. She is one of my favorite conductors around. Not only is she an incredible musician, but the sheer passion that she displays inspires me whenever I see her perform.
Tell me about the piece you are debuting.
The piece that I am premiering is comprised of three songs. The texts are poems written by Czesław Miłosz and the music is composed by Steven Stucky. The themes are nature and love, and are beautifully set.
Which singers to you look up to?
The singers of whom I look up to are the singers of the Golden Age. I collect historical recordings and often play them for inspiration and guidance. My favorite tenor and singer is Enrico Caruso who really changed what a leading tenor sounded like, combining a rich color capable of beautiful lyrical and dramatic shadings. The first time I saw and heard the voice of Leontyne Price, I was in love. It's like fine crystal and anyone I speak to who had the chance to hear her soprano says the sound was simply stunning. Other favorites include Gigli, Ponselle, Verrett, Bumbry, Callas, Corelli, and Cappucilli to name just a few.
You are really diligent with tweeting, how do you keep up?
I try to make time for it like so many things. The life of the modern day opera singer is very different from that of yesteryear. Being a New Yorker, I had to become good at multitasking.
What is your fitness regimen?
I try to do yoga as much as I can while on the road. I feel that it centers and helps me focus, as well as helps my breath in singing. I also love to enjoy the food and culture of every country and city I visit, so a gym membership is a must!
The picture you took of custard tarts from Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon was really cute. Are they really good for the voice?
They are good for the voice. Art is fed from life and great experiences. To be a great artist, you must be a communicator of many emotions. We feel special connections to our favorite people and artists. We do so because they are able to translate their experience through different mediums and forms of art. That custard definitely makes my High C a bit shinier, or so I like to think so.