During the 2015 season, the blog will feature interviews with our Filene Young Artists. Today, we hear from soprano Amy Owens, our Barbarina in Figaro and Florestine in Ghosts of Versailles. Amy is familiar to WTO audiences because of her appearances on our stages in the summers of 2011 and 2012 as a Studio Artist. She’ll also be featured on July 30 at The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. as part of our Vocal Colors series.
Which experience(s) most influenced your decision to become a professional singer? What’s the earliest point in your life that you can identify in pointing you in this direction?
I majored in music without the expectation of becoming a professional singer. The most career-influencing experience was probably getting into the Wolf Trap Studio. As for the earliest point, I have been performing for as long as I can remember. When I was in Kindergarten, my mom put me in this group called “Sunshine Generation,” which is like kinder show choir. I liked it so much that I wanted to wear my fluffy orange and yellow dress for my Kindergarten class picture. I recently watched a bunch of home videos from back in the day, and I was always putting on shows with my siblings. My grandmother taught me a tap dance when I was 7 or 8, and I practiced for two hours straight until it was perfect, at which point I did a performance for my mom. From all of this, I have learned that dressing up, practicing, and performing are inherent in my nature.
Can you tell us an anecdote or story from your training or career so far that will give us insight into what makes you tick as an artist?
I remember when Frederica von Stade came to my undergraduate college to give a recital. It was 2 hours long, just her and Jake Heggie at the piano. It was the best entertainment I have ever encountered. She brought her audience through the entire range of human emotion and experience. At that moment I realized that this was the best part about singing. Since then, it has been my dream to do concert/recital tours and share the messages I want to share. The only real practice I’ve had so far with that has been within the context of mandatory school recitals, but someday I hope to be my own director, programmer, and performer. I’m a story teller. I’m just trying to figure out the story I want to tell, so in the meantime, I tell other people’s stories in opera. It’s a good life.
If you hadn’t chosen this career, what would you have pursued instead?
I would have studied to be a nurse, which is ever-so-practical.
What non-operatic music do you enjoy? Do you dabble in performing/playing/singing any other genres?
I would enjoy singing other literature more if I could sing low better. It seems that pop, jazz, musical theater etc. all sit pretty low in the voice, and my voice prefers the stratosphere. I would love to sing more jazz though, and it would be fun to explore improvisation. I’ve enjoyed singing in chamber choirs in the past (this is much different than and 1,000 times more preferable to singing in an opera chorus), and choral music is still my greatest love. I used to be a bit of a snob when it came to pop music, but I’ve recently begun to enjoy some of that too, and I’ve even dabbled in song writing (pop style).
What interesting things have you discovered about yourself or about your character (in this summer’s operas) during your role preparation? What aspects of your character are natural fit with your personality and/or which aspects are a stretch for you?
My roles are pretty much type-cast.
What’s your favorite part (or parts) of the preparation/rehearsal/performance process(es)?
I enjoy almost all aspects of the preparation process. Sometimes a new piece seems daunting, but I have learned so much difficult music in the past, some within very constricted time frames, so I know that even though it may seem daunting, I can definitely do it! I mean, if I can learn “Le Rossignol” and “song for soprano and computer,” I think I can handle anything. I enjoy breaking up my learning and progressing through a score. When preparing, there always comes a day when I become consciously aware of the fact that I now know the music, and my brain does a little celebratory dance! The best part, however, is coming together with other artists and musicians and seeing what masterpiece we can create. Rehearsals are amazing, especially when everyone is on the same page in terms of preparation and enthusiasm.
What aspect(s) of this career do you find the most challenging?
I am typically a very structured and organized person, but I find it very difficult to structure my day when there is no semblance of routine in my life. I have been essentially “homeless” for almost a year, living out of a suitcase and having some things stored in multiple U.S. locations. My body clock is non-existent, and it’s easy to be scattered and find that a week has gone by and I have nothing to show for it. I’m still figuring out how to maintain a sense of consistency in my life without a home base, but I am learning that flexibility is almost synonymous with creativity, and this lifestyle is a great teacher for both.
Do you have any “hacks” that make your job easier/more enjoyable? (Anything from role prep to travel to career management)
My greatest secret is my husband. He makes things a lot easier! He manages finances, student loans, insurance, and much more. I highly recommend finding an analytical partner if you need to make your job easier. He does all that AND he is a very successful and talented baritone! Jackpot!
What’s the most exciting thing you think is happening in the opera industry today? The most discouraging/challenging thing? If you could change one thing about our art form and/or industry, what would it be?
These are questions I don’t think about very often, because it is much simpler to just live and experience my career as it is happening. I am too new to have a good grasp on the challenges of the industry. One thing I would change (if I could) is public perception of opera and classical music. The industry is doing all it can already, and I understand that opera is not for everyone. That is fine! I wish that all children could have the proper support and respect to be able to pursue this kind of career, however. It seems that music schools are being less-than-honest about the probability of making a living after an expensive degree in music. Anyone should be able to study and pursue music, but we should all be real about it. Young people should also be able to avoid patronizing questions like “what are you really going to do?” when they are studying music. For some reason, a life in performance is not respected equally with other professions. It’s just that: a profession. It’s an awesome one, of course, but it seems that those in entertainment are either idolized as stars or looked down upon in some way. Performers are just people. I don’t have the answer here, but it would be nice if everyone’s vocational choices could be equally respected.
If you were talking about opera with someone who has never experienced it, what part(s) of it would you be most excited to explain to them?
I think the most exciting thing about opera is the acoustic energy of the voice. Opera is unique in this way. There is a special kind of magic and connection experienced when a raw vibration from a human throat reaches another human’s ear. There is no filter, no amplifier, no distortion. Just vibration. Just music. Live, acoustic music is a transcendent experience, especially when the performers have gone as far as they can in terms of preparation and ability. In opera, we tap into the most that a human voice can do. That’s exciting stuff! This is it, people! If you want to be inspired to maximize the full range of your life, look at a Bel Canto aria and let that be your guide!
What’s your dream role and why?
My dream role is Gilda in Rigoletto. The music is just… it’s awesome. It’s so awesome that I can’t even find a better word to describe it. Since Gilda is a role I will probably grow into, it seems like something I can really reach for and work towards.
Do you have any artistic heroes? People whose careers or artistry you particularly look up to?
I admire different people for different reasons. I admire the vocalism of Joan Sutherland, the elegance of Kathleen Battle, the advocacy of Joyce DiDonato, and the grit of all the Verdi baritones. There is something to be learned from everyone. However, I find the most inspiration from people who I personally know. It is people themselves that inspire me, because I understand where the art comes from. I have deep love and admiration for Erin Morley, who I can learn so much from as a singer and performer, as well as a wonderful person and example. She is one of the best people I know, and that makes me look up to her artistry even more.
If you could travel back in time to meet any composer/artist from a former time, who would that be and why?
Leonard Bernstein. First of all, he did a fantastic job of bridging the gap between an ever-diverging course of classical and popular music. He was also a great advocate of broader musical education for children. Everything he said and did resonates with me, and I wish I could pick his brain about how I could use music to change the world in 2015.
What are you most looking forward to this summer?
I am really looking forward to performing beautiful music with wonderful people in a stunningly acoustic space. It sounds like heaven to me.