Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Interview with the lovely Jennifer Rowley

*What is your daily musical and physical routine like?

I am a big advocate of fitness for singers, and I personally like to line my practicing up with my work outs. I am also a very big believer in rest too, and I believe that there are a lot of things that one can do to "practice" with out actually using the voice. 5-6 days a week I tend to have the same routine: I like to head to the gym for a 45 minute to an hour long cardio work out and stretch, then I come home to shower and steam, and then I practice vocally. I work for an hour to two, depending on how much I need to get done. I like to save score study for the evening when I want to rest. Like I said, there are so many things one can do to practice with out using the voice - between translation, diction work, score study, memorization, and character research, there is plenty more to do when not singing!

*How do you prepare for a role?

I have a process for preparing a role that really works for me - as an actor and singer, you have to find a process that works for you; Every one is different! I start with the score - preparation begins with highlighting for me - My score usually looks like a coloring book! I use different colors for different important things that I need to know: my vocal line, important orchestral lines that I need to pay attention to, important dramatic points that other people say, and things in the orchestra that will help my entrances. Then I translate; I like to know exactly what I am saying from day one. Then I look at the IPA; I want to know what vowels are open, closed, etc so that when I am working technically, I can focus on these things. Then I like to start researching the opera itself; I read the history. I read the book or source material that the opera is based on. I read any letters from the composer. I want to know if the characters are based on actual people, and if they are, I research those people as well. Then, I start learning the notes down an octave usually, to start. After I feel comfortable that I've got the notes and rhythms cleanly, I take it to my teacher and start working technically. Then I seek out one of my coaches to work on the role musically and stylistically. I have a great team of people that I really trust to help me prepare very cleanly and musically. There are different people who I trust for different things; for example, if I am preparing Mozart, I know exactly who I want to take that to. But he is not the same person I take my Verdi roles to, or some thing in French, etc. Then, after I feel technically solid, I memorize. To memorize, I write out the text and the translation in red pen. I buy a notebook for every role, and I fill the notebook with the text. Red pen has scientific properties which write into the memory - two or three times through writing text, and I usually have it solidly memorized.

How did you get cast in La Boheme?

I was very fortunate to be cast in a new production of Boheme in Oslo, Norway, which was directed by the incredible Stefan Herheim. It was a very special production, and a concept that was unique and worked exceptionally well. The Met sent a VIP to Oslo to see the production, and when I was finished with my contract and back in NYC, I was invited to come and audition for musetta there! After that audition, my manager was called and told that I needed to do another audition so that Mr. Gelb could see me on the stage. A month or so later, I went back to the Met to sing on the stage for the whole team. There must have been 6 or 7 people in my audition. I was asked to sing in Lizst hall first, and then was invited to the stage, and Mr. Gelb was called down from his office. I had never been on the stage before! It was an absolutely surreal experience for me. I couldn't help but smile and giggle: I was actually going to sing on the Met stage! I sang "Quando m'en vo" and that was it! A week later, we got the offer! It was one of the happiest moments of my life! I felt so bad for my neighbors - I ran screaming up down my hallway, while jumping up and down and crying! After dreaming of it for years and years, There it was - the offer for my Met debut. The feeling was incredible.

What is your experience of singing at the Met like?

The Met is an unbelievable place to me; so much talent and history under one roof. It is difficult to take it all in some times, but the sense of pride that I have to be a part of it, is major. I started at the Met last season as the cover of Desdemona in Otello. I felt so supported by every one in that production, so my experience started off extremely positive! It was as if every one from the conductor, to the director, to the coaches wanted me to succeed. You really can't help but do your best when you are placed into an environment like that. It was an incredible way to learn Desdemona, and to get my feet wet with the company. I have had a very similar experience with la Boheme this season as well! The conductor is so kind, and really wants every one to have a huge success! He is tough - naturally! He knows the score inside and out, and he wants it perfect. But he wants it perfect so that the performance can be everything that he knows it can be, and more. The team of coaches has been very supportive of me as well - they work hard, and have pushed me to work even harder myself! But I really do feel this energy that every one wants me to have the best debut possible! I have been very fortunate to have that feeling of support.

*What are some difficulties you've encountered and how have you conquered them?

Every singer faces difficulties. It is part of having a career. Some have them on a much more public scale than others. I have, like many, faced my own share of difficulties and challenges. But, I have made it a point to learn something from each experience, positive or negative. It's important for young singers to know that the business isn't always easy, and not every one is going to like you. I am fortunate to have been able to take my experiences and lessons in the business, and to use them to help the next generation of singers. I love lecturing and giving masterclasses to university students; I love helping young singers understand the business, and hopefully thrive in it in the future! At every age, in any discipline, artists have to face challenges. It's really what you learn from those challenges that make you grow as an artist and a person. I have taken my challenges and allowed them to teach me, so that I can pass along advice and information to young singers - I am happy to have taken my lumps, especially if it allows me to help some one else for their future!

*Best advice you've ever received?

Jose Cura quoting Oscar Wilde - "Jen, be your self. Every one else is already taken. If you are going to have a dramatic voice, have it! Don't put it in a box to fit some idea of what some one else wants you to be."

*Your advice to young singers?

Learn how to be your own independent artist; learn how your own instrument works, and what it needs. Learn a solid vocal technique that will allow you to sing well, even when you are ill. Build a team of great people around you who help you prepare, practice that technique, but then when you are out to work, know how to do it independently of those people. Build a process to be able to prepare a role independently, if you need to! (Some times you may not be near your team when something comes up last minute!) You have lots of time as a student to learn HOW to be a performer; take that time and build that process for yourself. You will be happy that you did that work 10 years from now!

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