On Sunday, April 9th the opera scene celebrated the 12th Annual Opera News Awards at the Plaza Hotel in NYC and 360° of Opera was there to tell the tale. The evening was divided into two sections. First, there was a cocktail, where the guests got to chat and meet the honorees and the press got to take photos. During the cocktail hour there was also a silent action going on, with all proceeds going to the Met Opera Guild’s Education program. About an hour later, guests an honorees moved to the dinner tables. During dinner, the auction continued and the honorees were presented with their awards. There were videos of interviews and performances, followed by heartfelt and honest speeches from the honorees. Kelli O’Hara performed a musical tribute and gave us a glimpse of what she can bring to the table next season for her scheduled run of Così fan tutte at the Metropolitan Opera.
During the cocktail hour, we had the chance to speak with three of the honorees: soprano Christine Goerke, tenor Matthew Polenzani and mezzo-soprano Frederica Von Stade. All three were wonderful and answered our questions with enthusiasm. Following are the highlights from these conversations.
Christine Goerke was the first to arrive and walked in with the signature energy and excitement we all love and get from her on stage. Turns out that is just who she is:
360: Hi Christine! My name is Eugenia Forteza, I’m with 360° of Opera and Shoperatic/ODDC. I have a couple questions for you if you don’t mind.
CG: Ooh yes! Hi, how are you? I love ODDC, I bought this purse from a friend on the site!
360: Amazing!! Suzanne and I are collaborating and the 360° of Opera blog will be hosted by Shoperatic.com. My first question is on the ability for singers to be great multitaskers. 360° of Opera and Shoperatic encourage singers to be more than one thing, who are you on top of being a singer?
CG: Oh god I’m a mother, before anything else. That’s my biggest juggling act, trying to give all of my time to both of those things. It is a failure on both ends but somehow I hope I’m doing enough to do each.
360: That is wonderful, one of the hardest things to balance in this business for sure. How about before being a mother? Have you had to work side jobs as you were getting yourself established as a singer? If so, what were they and how did you balance it all?
CG: So, it took me about 8 years to get a Bachelor’s degree because I couldn’t afford to go every semester and even if it was a state school, I was terrified to get myself into a lot of student debt. I know that there is a decent chance when we all try to do this that it is not necessarily going to happen for us, so I went to school when I could and when I couldn’t I tried to audit classes. I became the queen of funerals… sang at everybody’s. I also was an absolutely terrible, terrible server… really, they should have fired me the first day. This was at a dinner theater on Long Island where, once they realized what a lousy server I was, and there is a video of this floating around some place…one night when I’m very very drunk I’m sure I’ll show it to somebody, I did a Bloody Mary after chesting a high D. My teacher told me if I ever did it again she would throw me out of her studio!
(We both laughed because how can you not when Christine Goerke, in all her charm, tells you a story like this!!)
360°: Thank you for that story!! My last question is style related, how do you decide what to wear for an event like this?
CG: It’s very funny because I was having a hard time deciding about this one. It’s a long evening so I have to sit down for a long time and I’m also going to be eating so I don’t want to wear something that could potentially get stained! So, as you can see, a pattern happened this evening!! We got a high corset and lots of room in the waist… much like Thanksgiving! So, that’s the plan!
360: Fabulous strategy! Thank you so much for your time, have fun tonight and congratulations!!
Up next was Matthew Polenzani, who just oozes honesty and kindness. At the time, he was getting ready to open Der Rosenkavalier at the Metropolitan Opera, directed by Robert Carsen, who was also being honored that night.
360: Hi Mr. Polenzani, it’s so good to meet you! How is Rosenkavalier going?
MP: It’s going awesome! It looks beautiful, the cast is tremendous, orchestra sounds great. I’m really enjoying myself and working with Robert (Carsen) who had big shoes to fill with the previous production, which was glorified for all the right reasons. I think we have something just as great here.
360: Fantastic, we’ll be there to see the show for sure! Now, 360º of Opera focuses on highlighting all aspects of the art form, the glamorous and the not so glamorous. Traveling is a big part of what we do. What are some of your tips for singers when traveling so frequently?
MP: Well, it kind of depends. If you are married with children, like I am, I highly recommend Skype and FaceTime and text messaging, and things like that. Communication is important. We are lucky to have such access to that nowadays. It’s something that for previous generations, like Flicka’s generation, wasn’t so readily available. You had to pay a lot for it. But, as for the traveling, I like melatonin when I am going towards Europe. I find usually that two melatonin help me those first four, five days and keep me from having that big four or five hour break in the middle of the night when you are wide awake.
360: How many days would you say it takes you to get over the jet lag when you travel to Europe?
MP: It depends. If I’ve flown coach it could be a week, if I’ve flown business it might just be three or four days. Getting up early and going out in the sun in the morning is really important, that’s a big one. Those are my best tips I guess!
360: Wonderful, thank you! Now, this field requires making hard choices constantly. How do you go about it?
MP: I have a very, very small circle. My wife, my teacher, maybe one or two of my coaches and that’s it. Those are the only people I talk to about my career, what I’m doing, where I am going. I always had a strong sense of what I was going to be doing and how I was going to be doing it and even when I was going to be doing it, so choices get easier when you have a clear path. And of course, I was lucky in that the people around me were a little more conservative in nature in terms of what they wanted me to do and what they thought I should be doing. It makes choosing a little easier when the people who are around you are of a like mind. Making hard decisions is part of it, it’s just a life thing, not limited to opera. But we get stuck with hard stuff a lot, especially the older you get. So, I think having good people nearby who you can talk to is probably the most important thing.
360: One last question, have you ever worked on the backstage side of an opera?
MP: Never did that, but kind of wish I had because it gives you a whole other appreciation for the people who are making your life easier. But I got to be quite good friends with the people in the Met Opera crew. I know quite a lot of them, I’ve played golf with a few of them and I have good friends in the orchestra now too. Knowing the dressers is important too. If you’re good to these people, they are going to make sure you have everything you need, whenever you need it. It seems like a small thing to be nice to be people, but it is so important. A lot of people get wrapped up, and yeah we’re nervous, it’s hard to go out on the stage and expose yourself like that. So, I get it, but I always try to be nice to everybody around me.
360: That’s wonderful, couldn’t agree more, thank you so much!
Towards the end of the cocktail hour, we managed to talk briefly to Frederica Von Stade. She was the center of attention and we got a glimpse of how much everyone loves her for what she is, a living legend, but also just one of the nicest people in the field.
360: Flicka, what does this award mean to you?
FVS: I am absolutely thrilled! I never expected to sing at the Met, I never expected to sing so long at the Met and I have loved that company since 1969 so it’s a long history of affection for a great company, a great and noble company. And this is a chance to meet with my buddies and that’s really fun.
360: Why do you devote your life to this art form?
FVS: Oh, it’s more fun that you can imagine. Singing is like playing your favorite sport and get paid to do it, so it’s wonderful. It takes you to other places, it’s very athletic and it’s just…fun! Opera singing is like being in third grade, we’re all goofy. Even in our seventies, we’re goofy!
360: How wonderful, thank you so much for your time and congratulations!
These are just highlights of what was truly a fantastic night from every angle. 360° of Opera is beyond grateful to everyone at Opera News for welcoming us with open arms and letting us celebrate with them!