Answering Opera’s Call

It’s tough work breaking into a sustainable career as an opera singer. You have your basic ten year plan: a four year undergraduate degree and a two year masters degree in performance; followed by four years of Young Artist Programs, comprimario roles, and whatever you can get. It’s not your proverbial ladder of success. Trying to “make it” from a different approach proves even harder. But at the end of the day, you’ll have to have what it takes: stamina, charm, versatility, and star power. All of which Ava Pine has in her back pocket.

Ava’s resume runs the gamut of baroque to contemporary with high accolades. Opera News wrote recently that she “all but stole the show.” Here you’ll find an artist who ran away from the calling to be an opera singer but couldn’t ignore it for very long.

OP: Did you pick opera as a career or did opera pick you? How were you convinced to pursue this art form?

Ava: I always sum up my path to opera by saying that opera — and specifically a singing career — kept tapping me on the shoulder, and finally I turned around and acknowledged it.  I studied music in college, but the opera program in undergrad was quite tiny.  One scarily bad YAP audition was enough to scare me off of operatic singing for a while, so I pursued musical theatre.  I got my equity card, did some chorus work and small roles, but just never felt the urge to make the move to NYC and pursue it for real.  So I took a “civilian” job, working in the marketing department of a company that published software for the very first Blackberrys.  I did that for many years, while keeping a fairly busy schedule of concert work.  The chance to do a baroque opera reminded me how much I love to be on stage, in character, and that’s when I decided to see if I could make a career as a singer.  When I started, someone in the business (who later became a close mentor) said to me: “If you want to have a career in opera, you have a LOT of catching up to do.”  And so I’ve worked very hard to do just that.

OP: What excites you about opera today? Is it the same or different from when you first started singing opera?

Ava Pine as Cleopatra. Photo: Ellen Appel
Ava Pine as Cleopatra. Photo: Ellen Appel

Ava: I’m relatively new to the business, so I’d say that opera is still basically the same as when I started.  Hopefully it will always be the same, fundamentally: gorgeous singing, compelling acting, and powerful emotions.  The emotion is key to me.  A night at the opera should result in many moments of shared emotions.  The audience and characters should feel things together, be it happiness, loss, despair, humor, frustration, optimism.  Opera is exciting to me because it is so often unbridled.  In a world where so much of what we say and do is in the microscope of the public view, and we must monitor ourselves closely, it is thrilling to experience the pure passion of characters who act without reservation, and who feel so deeply about something that they have to sing!

OP: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned that you wished you would have known as a student or emerging artist?

Ava: That nobody is perfect, and nobody expects you to be perfect.  But they always expect you to be prepared.

OP: What is the most enjoyable part about your career as an opera singer?

Ava: I love being able to step into another person’s shoes for the evening.  Portraying another character means I get to act and react differently than I do in my actual life, which is totally fun!  Right now, I’m performing Juliette in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.  I get to fall instantly, deeply, passionately in love during every performance.  What a thrill!

OP: How would you describe your singing process? What do you focus on first: technique, expression, emotion, etc?

Ava: I focus on expression most of all, and the other things seem to fall into place.  For me, text is equally important to notes and musical line.  There are times where technique has to take over for a while, and times when emotion can reign supreme.  It’s all about finding the right balance — that razor’s edge that makes live performance so exciting.

OP: What do you see as the next step in your career? Are there any roles/operas that you can’t wait to perform?

Ava: I have a big list of things I’d like to do!  Ultimately, I just want to continue working on rewarding projects and roles.  But as far as specifics…I would love to sing a Lucia sometime, perhaps Violetta, as well as the heroines in Hoffman.  I want to graduate to some bigger Mozart ladies.  I’d like to sing some Britten and some Strauss.  I’d like to take on more roles in contemporary opera, and do more world premieres.  The idea of being the very first to create a role is so exciting.  And there are some Handel heroines I’d love to sing too: Ginevra and Agrippina, for two.  And on the “yeah right, how about never?” list, Lady Macbeth.  The role is totally wrong for my voice type, and I’ll never sing it, but oh for the chance to play that fascinating character!  My voice type rarely gets to be the villain.

OP: Let’s say you come across someone who doesn’t think opera is relevant in today’s society. How do you try to convince them otherwise?

Ava: I’d ask them what art/music/drama they do find relevant, and then I’d show them the parallels.  Opera ultimately deals with very human emotions.  The situations may be different or stylized, but the emotions are the same.  We human-types seek out things we can relate too, and when people realize there is so much in opera that is relatable, it becomes less of a mystery to them.

Check out Ava Pine’s website to learn more about her upcoming schedule. 

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