My Opera Story
Tanya, an active member of Opera Wilmington’s board and part of the ensemble in our past five productions, was Wilmington Symphony’s winner of the 2018 Young Artist Concerto Competition in the Collegiate Category. Her performance at the Wilson Center with the symphony earned her enthusiastic applause.
Tell us about yourself and your involvement with music.
I am a physical therapist and work in the acute care setting at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. I have always loved listening to classical music and was keenly interested in watching opera from a young age. For the past 19 years that I have called Wilmington home, I have sung in community choral ensembles: Wilmington Choral Society, Carolina Vocal Arts, and Cape Fear Chorale. To improve my skills as a musician and singer, and to gain confidence in auditioning for solo opportunities with the choirs, I decided to take a few private voice lessons. At about this time, I attended Opera Wilmington’s first production: Lehàr’s The Merry Widow. It reignited in me a passion to get more involved with sharing opera in our community, whether on stage or behind the scenes. With Professor King’s encouragement and support in helping me find my voice, I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music to better understand music theory and music history, and to take a more disciplined approach to voice study. All of this has been pursued to evolve into a classically trained singer, performer, and artist. Not coincidentally, through my return to studying music, I have gained a greater appreciation, love, and admiration for the operatic art form. Out of this love for opera and a strong desire to share my passion for it in our Cape Fear community, I was asked to serve on the Board of Opera Wilmington in 2017, and have been lucky enough to be able to sing in the choral ensemble of the past five operas that Opera Wilmington has produced: Rigoletto, Così Fan Tutte, Carmen, Die Fledermaus, and La Bohème.
When were you first introduced to opera?
My father was indeed an “operaphiliac”/classical music aficionado. So, when I was growing up–whether it was on public radio, or blaring from my father’s extensive vinyl record collection, or later, CDs–opera was always heard in the background and sometimes became the center of our family bonding experience. I distinctly remember turning on the PBS channel and watching “Live from the Metropolitan Opera.” The first one ever shown on TV was La Bohème in 1977, and I remember being captivated even at a young age by the costumes and singing. I recall seeing/hearing Luciano Pavarotti for the first time and thinking he was “larger than life” on the stage with that voice. I remember whispering to my father, ”Can you please turn the sound down?” During my childhood, I can remember my parents taking me up to the Cleveland Playhouse Square several times see live performances of opera; the first one I ever saw live on stage was Barber of Seville. My ears perked up when I heard the overture, and I promptly told my father that they “borrowed” this music from Looney Toons’ Bugs Bunny and retold the cartoon story about a rabbit from Seville for my father’s benefit. Then, with Figaro’s first entrance on stage singing “Largo al factotum” I tugged on my Dad’s arm and insisted that song was also in a Bugs Bunny cartoon that featured an opera singer. (It was from the Looney Toons cartoon “The long-haired hare”–where the title alone is filled with irony and humor on so many levels!)
How has studying music, opera, voice, and acting changed your life, or at least your outlook on life?
Studying music and opera and being actively involved with Opera Wilmington has BECOME my life when I am not working my day job! While I have always enjoyed attending performances, I have learned that I also enjoy singing and connecting with my artistic and creative side. My passion for this art form opened a door of opportunity for me to pursue a Bachelor’s of Music degree focusing on vocal performance. Before the Covid pandemic, my goal was to find a good balance between working my day job and taking advantage of local/regional auditions/performance opportunities. My outlook on life revolves around the words optimism, dedication, perseverance, hope, and resilience.
If you were marooned on an island, with the miraculous ability to see or hear one opera broadcast, what would you choose?
WOW, that is such a hard question to answer! It all depends on what we are referencing with respect to the opera. If I were looking to highlight historical significance, it would most definitely be the premiere of Turandot at La Scala in 1926 at which Toscanini put down his baton at the end of Act III shortly after Liu’s death and turned to the audience and said: “Here the performance finished because at this point the maestro [composer Giacomo Puccini] died.” If I were picking an opera for purely entertainment value, I would most definitely choose Puccini’s Tosca. Specifically, the first one I ever saw and was enthralled by was a replay of the late 1960s production starring Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli. I never grow tired of watching this opera and was thrilled to see a more recent version in 2017, in which Sonya Yoncheva played the title character. Finally, if I were thinking about an opera from a purely professional perspective for building repertoire and learning a role, I would most definitely choose Bizet’s Carmen.
What is your operatic dream role, and why?
This is an easy question based on the last response. As far as a “leading lady” role, hands down it would be Carmen (Bizet’s opera) because of her power, passion, and allure and a chance to play someone with less than the purest of intentions. And of course, I adore all of her arias: Habanera: “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle,” Seguidilla: “Près des remparts de Séville”, The Gypsy Song: “Les tringles des sistres tintaient,”and the Card aria: “En vain pour éviter.” Interestingly, long before I ever started taking voice lessons and at a time when I never really thought about playing a “leading lady” on the stage, I was so enamored with Rossini’s Barber of Seville. I didn’t fixate and aspire to be Rosina, but rather I wanted to be Berta, Bartolo’s maid, – indeed she is a comprimario [small supporting] role, but I fell in love with her character. She had her eye on Ambrogio, the butler, and in her aria: “Il vecchioto cerca moglie” she wonders why people in love act so crazy while at the same time wishing she wasn’t so old so that she could find out. This would definitely be my dream comprimario role.
What opera composer(s) or singer(s)-alive or dead-would you choose to invite for dinner?
My dream dinner party would include Maria Callas, Birgit Nilsson, Jessye Norman, Marilyn Horne, Renee Fleming, Frederica Von Stade, and Joyce DiDonato.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I hope to see Opera Wilmington and the operatic art form continue to grow and flourish in our Cape Fear community for years to come. And, while I have the platform, I feel very fortunate to serve on the Board of Opera Wilmington and work with such an amazingly talented and dedicated group of individuals.
Here's this week's Opera IQ question
On what work was La Bohème based?
- La Vie en Rose
- Scènes de la vie de bohème