During the 2015 season, the blog will feature interviews with our Filene Young Artists. Today, we hear from mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges, Suzuki in Madama Butterfly.
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?
A very long story short, in high school I was in the chorus of Tosca (my first opera) and was the captain of my basketball team. I had rehearsal for Tosca during the day and an important game at night. My basketball coach said it was okay if I went to Tosca rehearsal as long as I would be there for the game. After rehearsal, my mother drove me 2 hours up North to the game only to be welcomed by my coach sitting me on the bench and never putting me in. I was devastated and left in tears. From that point on, I decided to really think about what I wanted and what really made me happy. SINGING did just that! This was my junior (3rd) year in high school.
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?
Because I started singing quite late, my first day at Manhattan School of Music was quite intimidating. I will never forget to first day when we had to sing for each other in a performance based class. I remember listening to these incredible singers and feeling so insecure about my voice. However; hearing these singers inspired me to work really hard to rise to their level. While I don’t necessarily think of this actual instance all the time, I remember the feeling of wanted to always improve and get better within my own instrument.
If you hadn’t chosen this career, what would you have pursued instead?
What non-operatic music do you enjoy? Do you dabble in performing/playing/singing any other genres?
I love Jazz, gospel, blues, pop. I sometimes will play jazz piano just in my home :)
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?
Learning the role of Suzuki has been very interesting. I can say that it is a natural fit for me vocally, but not necesarrily a natural fit with my personality. I am not as submissive in general. There are some moments when Suzuki says how she really feels, and THAT is more of my personality.
What’s your favorite part (or parts) of the preparation/rehearsal/performance process(es)?
I absolutely love coaching a role. I discover so many things that I would fail to discover on my own. I also enjoy coming together with colleagues during the rehearsal process. I think it’s fun and interesting to hear and see each others ideas and connect them to mine. For me, Performing the show is the icing on the cake!
What aspect(s) of this career do you find the most challenging?
For me the most challenging aspect of this career is being away from family and loved-ones for such long periods of time.
Do you have any “hacks” that make your job easier/more enjoyable?
I learn music very quickly, which makes my job easier for sure! I love my manager for many reasons, one being he really believes in me and get me work!!
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?
I think the most exciting thing that is happening is the outlets to reach a bigger audience. With the Met HD’s, outreach, New Works and collaborations, I feel opera is really attempting to expose itself to everyone. I think the most challenging thing is because of HD’s and the time we’re in, image is a bit too much of a deal. If I could change one thing about the industry, it would be that hiring a singer is really based off of the voice. Not size, not race, etc…
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?
The most exciting part(s) to explain to them would be the collaboration with an un-amplified voice, a huge live orchestra, and costumes. Also, telling a story and making it come to life!
What’s your dream role and why?
My dream role is Princess Eboli from Verdi’s Don Carlos! I absolutely love Verdi and some of my most favorite mezzo’s inspired me to dig deeper into this opera. I think it’s one of the best, and the most amazing mezzo role ever written!
Do you have any artistic heroes? People whose careers or artistry you particularly look up to?
I really admire Shirley Verrett and Tatiana Troyanos. I greatly admire their artistic artistry because the had such musical style and elegance. From a non-singer side, I greatly admire Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou. They both have this quality of giving that I aspire to do and have.
If you could travel back in time to meet any composer/artist from a former time, who would that be and why?
I would love to travel back and meet Maria Callas. With such high emotion behind her singing, I would just love to see how she worked in a practice room and lived everyday life.
What are you most looking forward to this summer?
I’m most looking forward to making awesome music with my colleagues. I’m also looking forward to being at Wolf Trap and experiencing all it has to offer. I’ve wanted to do this program for years, and the time is here!!