From Fairbanks, Alaska to a stellar career in OPERA
Sometime way back in December 1997 when VIVICA’s star was a barely perceptible blip on the opera world’s radar screen, FanFaire asked Vivica if she had any performances lined up between then and San Diego Opera’s Il Barbiere.
Her response: “NO!!!! and I’m so thrilled, because I finally have time to invite friends over for dinner…! I’m studying Ariodante and Lucrezia Borgia now with my teacher, because time is going to be a bit cramped this spring and I have a lot of music to learn for the summer and fall… I’ve got enough to do!”
A week later, she had her MET debut.
She was but a wisp of a girl from Fairbanks, Alaska when she first coveted a singing role. A thirteen-year old spending a sabbatical in Osaka, Japan with her parents (her father was then a biochemistry professor and her mother a high school English and foreign languages teacher), she learned that the Fairbanks summer fine-arts camp would be doing the musical My Fair Lady and decided to go for the lead. When they moved on to Galveston, Texas for the next phase of the sabbatical, she begged her Mom for voice lessons. They found a teacher, Dorothy Dow, who taught her the songs from the musical, and MORE – arias from Boheme, Figaro, and Faust! (It wasn’t her first exposure to opera and classical music to be sure – her Mom tuned in to the Met Opera broadcasts, her Dad listened to symphonies as he graded papers, and she played the violin for 9 years in the school orchestra.) Needless to say, when they went back to Alaska, she got the lead role and became active in the school’s musical activities.
After graduating from high school in 1987, she enrolled at the University of Rochester as a Genetics major and spent the summers in Galveston, Texas to continue her voice lessons with Ms. Dow. Then, convinced that singing was her real calling, at the end of her second summer she transferred to Indiana University where she studied with Nicola Rossi-Lemeni and Virginia Zeani and received a Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance. She spent five summers in Italy with the Ezio Pinza Council for American Singers of Opera (EPCASO). Today she is quite at home with the Italian language and is well on her way to becoming a specialist in the Italian bel canto repertory for the mezzo-soprano (concentrating on Rossini for the moment but with an eye to singing Donizetti in the not too distant future, and Bizet’s Carmen later on). She sings mostly Rossini for a good reason – she has to take care of her musical instrument and Rossini’s music does not push her voice too far, allowing it to mature over time.
How does she prepare for her roles? “I actually don’t listen to a lot of opera myself,” she says, “although now, to get more into the late-baroque style I’ve been listening to a lot of Handel, Pergolesi, Hasse, etc. Usually if I’m studying a role, I prefer not to listen to recordings because I have a weakness for imitating people. I’d rather study and coach in person, at least until I have a certain understanding of the piece, of my own image of the character I’m playing. After I’ve done that, then I can listen to other artists without just copying their interpretations. I listen to a lot of Italian pop music; I like the singer/songwriters there, and through the music and the text I have become a lot more fluent in Italian as well as more familiar with their culture. Plus, the pop music lets me relax; I don’t sit there listening to someone’s technique, I just enjoy the music!”
Her Italian debut at the Teatro Filarmonico in Verona in December 1995 was a memorable experience. “It was exciting because it was the first time I sang professionally in Italy. I’d been going there for four years to study, but had never worked there until then. Probably the most enjoyable thing for me singing in Italy is the fact that the audience understands what you’re saying, so it makes a big difference how you deliver a line. It is also a lot of fun working with other singers who are really conversant in the language… with Rossini, there is a lot of double-entendre and word-play in the text that can be hysterically funny.”
Vivica continues to study with Claudia Pinza, daughter of the late Italian bass Ezio Pinza. Vivica is the winner of several music competitions – the Palm Beach Opera Competition, MacAllister Competition, Baltimore Opera Competition, the Fort Worth Opera/Margaret McCammon Competition, the 1997 ARIA award given to young American singers of exceptional promise and the Dresden Music Festival 1999 Artist of the Year award. . Vivica is quite aware of the competition for mezzo-soprano roles, but she does not worry about it. She is very happy with what she’s doing and cares only about finding the right repertoire and learning to do better what she does best. Vivica combines talent with discipline, hard work and a great sense of fun. It is a truly winning combination that has put her career on the fast track. Already, she has performances booked into the new millennium!
Not bad for a young singer who as a teenager only wanted to sing Eliza Doolittle at summer camp.