So, I'm trying something new and different tonight, because - why not? A very good friend of mine, who also happens to be my next door neighbor (literally, our doors are inches apart) is the wonderful mezzo Kate Aldrich. If you haven't heard of Kate yet, you will very soon. This season, she will be heard as Carmen at the Met (replacing Gheorghiu), Rosina at La Scala, Cenerentola in Pesaro, Carmen in Chicago, and Oktavian in Munich, just to name a few.
Kate and I worked together when we were recently out of school, and she also went to grad school with my best friend Georgia. But we reconnected a couple of years ago when we were both singing in Torino, and she really took me under her wing when I arrived, since she had already worked extensively in Italy, spoke fluent italian, and I was basically standing around looking like Eddie Murphy in "Coming to America." Since that time, her career has taken off to an even higher level, and I thought it might be interesting for you readers to hear the perspective of a singer on the brink of major stardom (she would be rolling her eyes if she heard me utter that phrase, but dude, it's true). Plus, she and I are so rarely in town at the same time, I thought it would be great to take advantage of this moment.
So we're going to format this blog post as an interview - and I am sitting in her living room right now (where you could drill a hole in the wall and see my living room) and asking her questions. However, she is recovering form a cold right now and trying to rest her voice, so even though we're in the same room, I'm asking her the questions out loud, and she's responding by sending me IMs on skype with her answers, which I am then cutting and pasting into this blog entry. Ah.....technology!!
Jenny: How old were you when you took your first voice lesson?
Jenny: and when did you decide - for realz - that you wanted to be an opera singer.
Kate: I didnt really decide to be an "opera singer" until I was in college- and even quite a way through college. Actually in high school I was pretty into my rock band, and almost didn't go to college for singing because I didn't want to leave my band (before you ask- the name was Liquid Daydream...). I went to college with the idea that I could keep singing the art songs that I was working on in school, and keep singing in a choir, because that was what I had done classically up until then. When I was in college I had my first exposure to opera, and I was very resistant at first- I wanted to say that it was too much, over the top etc, but I think I was afraid of it because I knew it was going to rock my world completely. I was also singing in a jazz group, and almost went that route for a while.... By the time I went to grad school, I was thoroughly intrigued, and had the good fortune to have been accepted into the Handel Project at the Manhattan School of Music led by Will Crutchfield, and it was there that I learned the full spectrum of what might be possible in terms of music making and creativity and mastering the art form. Then I was hooked, and the more I did from that point on, the more I KNEW it was the only way that I could artistically express myself.
JR: What was your first BIG job and how did you get that job?
KA: My first big job was l'Arena di Verona. I was in my second year at the Pittsburgh Opera Center (what is now the Pittsburgh resident Artist program) and Mauro Trombetta, who was the artistic director of the Arena di Verona at the time was in Pittsburgh to give us master classes. He was interested in me, and asked me if I had ever looked at the opera la Forza del Destino... My inside voice was "what's il forzo del destino what? by who?" and my outside voice was "Of course I know of it, but I haven't ever looked at it..." he asked me to take a look, and so of course, in that way that only young artists can, I got the score 5 minutes before he even asked me about it. I looked at it, and it was really right for me. The next time I saw him, I told him that I had looked at it. He asked me what I thought of the role, and I told him that it felt really good in my voice. This was his response: "OK- so- my secretary will send you the details, but the performances are August 9th, 19th and 22nd. I will give you her number so you can be in touch with her...." I was blown away, and wondered if maybe something was lost in translation... In fact I didn't even fully believe it until I saw a few months later that my name was listed on the roster... I had no idea even what l'Arena di Verona was about... I asked my italian teacher if she had ever heard of it, and she laughed at me. I will never forget the first performance there, which was, basically my professional debut. I had to walk up a million steps and mix in with the chorus so the public didnt see me until I broke through to sing my first phrase.. I will never forget seeing the audience with all their candles getting lower and lower on my horizon as I walked up the stairs. It's one of my most vivid memories professionally to date... but then of course I forgot everything after the time that I began to sing in that opera!! Something about being picked up and swung around by a super, chorus members pushing me here and there, other cast members whispering where to go... I had never rehearsed with the supers, chorus, orchestra, or set, let alone on the stage...
JR: But obviously that was a success - and that lead to you spending a lot of time in Italy and becoming fluent in Italian (which I am completely jealous about, by the way). Okay, now talk about some of the big moments in your career thus far that you know were really turning points - that specifically changed things and lead to newer, bigger things
KA: The Aida with Zeffirelli (that Kate did soon after the Arena di Verona project) because I was just beginning my career and here was this opportunity to do something major, for DVD, for TV, with Zeffirelli, in an opera that I had never planned on singing, at least not for 15 years!!! It is very hard to explain how that job affected me and changed me, and the stresses that went along with it. how it was at times a dream, and at others really scary.... I think that Scott Piper and Adina Aaron (the Aida and Radames from the production) are the only people that can really understand what that was. In hindsight we were rock stars in Italy for a brief time, and part of something historical. It was so incredible to be able to work with someone like Franco Zeffirelli at such a young age. He taught us so much... From him I learned to take risks and then come back within the margins, also to put myself whole heartedly into the dramatic staging of the opera. I think a lot of what we were going through emotionally at that time is visible in that live DVD recording...
Operalia, and meeting Placido Domingo. The competition is incredible because not only do you get to sing for so many incredible judges, but you get to meet all these fantastic singers. So many people that I met that year are out and about singing all over the world. But the best thing was meeting Placido Domingo. He was really instrumental in getting my career started. After Operalia he invited me to Los Angeles Opera to sing Fenena in Nabucco, and then I returned for 2 other seasons, plus made my Washington Opera debut. I got to sing by his side twice, and be conducted by him twice. It is thrilling to watch him work, and fascinating to see that he gets nervous too!
Singing Norma at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna with Daniela Dessi and Fabio Armiliato (she did that the same year we were in Torino together, and I was actually able to see it!!! See youtube video below). I got the call 3 weeks before we were to debut. I was singing in Torino in Lucrezia Borgia, when my agent called to see if I "wanted" to sing the Norma in Bologna with Dessi and Armiliato and Pido. There was going to be a DVD. she was debuting in the role... I was thrilled- Adalgisa is one of my favorite roles, and I had never sung before in Bologna. From that one contract I have gotten so many others in Italy from Barbiere at La Scala to Maria Stuarda in Palermo, to Cenerentola in Pesaro.
The Benvenuto Cellini at the Salzburg Festival. I was called also very last minute to step in for Kasarova. I was in Tokyo at the time, and they asked if I could come in 3 weeks to sing the role of Ascanio. Of course I had never sung it, and of course I said yes on the condition that they let me go to the US to be at my sisters wedding. I COULDN'T believe it but they said yes. I had this amazing opportunity to sing a great role in a fantastic production by Phillip Stoelzl, and we got to make a DVD. AND I was able to be at my sisters wedding!!!
JR: Now that you're at the top level and singing places like the Met and Scala, how do you deal with the pressure? Do you read reviews, and if so, how do you internalize them and keep them from affecting how you feel about yourself?
KA: I would lie if I said I DON'T read the reviews-- but I try to take them with a grain of salt. If you read the good ones you have to read the bad ones. You can learn from them, but they can also be dangerous if you take them too personally, good or bad. It's hard to give a definitive answer other than to say that you have the "you" which is the musician, and then there is the "you" who is YOU. That is what you cannot lose sight of when reading any kind of reviews, good or bad, or getting a great job and feeling on top of the world... Having good friends and loved ones also helps, because they always remind you that it's your turn to do the dishes, or that you cant forget to call your brother on his birthday.
JR: What's your dream role that you haven't yet sung but really want to?
KA: Romeo in I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, Giovanna Seymour, Anna Bolena
JR: and what's your dream role that if there were no such thing as fach and voice type you would want to sing?
KA: I have a little bit of Norma and Tosca envy but I will never sing them as far as I can tell.
Don Jose (Carmen), any male villain, Violetta in Traviata, and actually I would like a go at playing an ingenue. I haven't really done that. Like a really standard one- like Mimi or something like that...
JR: tell me (and the readers) one thing you like to do for fun that is weird (besides sitting in your living room and communicating with your next door neighbor via skype chat)
KA: cooking is my favorite thing to do on the road. Im a big fan of eating. and drinking. Im good at eating and drinking. I like doing crafty things, like knitting. Shopping, skyping, reading, biking (when the weather is good) yoga (my newest obsession), and just being a homebody.
Now we have to go because American Idol has been on pause this whole time and we need to see it. And also, we need to look at stuff on our own separate computers and not talk to each other - a typical night in an american household. Huge thanks to Kate for spending her evening sharing herself! I hope you all enjoy learning about this very interesting and down to earth artist!