• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Ginger Costa-Jackson

    [Opera Lively interview # 110] On the occasion of the Glimmerglass Festival that ended a few days ago, Opera Lively's envoy interviewed in person the friendly and personable young mezzo Ginger Costa-Jackson who was ravishing as the Marchesa del Poggio in the company's production of Verdi's Un Giorno di Regno. Ms. Costa-Jackson was born in Italy from an Italian mother and an American father, and was raised since a young age in Utah in a musically-inclined family (her two sisters are also opera singers).
    She went back to Italy in her teens for vocal studies at the Conservatory Vincenzo Bellini in Palermo (her mother was a former graduate of the same institution), then came back to the United States for apprenticeship at the prestigious Lindemann Young Artist Program of the Metropolitan Opera House. With her exotic looks, secure acting, and full, agile, dark toned mezzo instrument, she is progressing fast in her career. Her youthful enthusiasm is very well expressed in this lovely interview.


    Photo by Walt Jackson

    Artistic Biography

    Italian-American mezzo-soprano GINGER COSTA-JACKSON is a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and a Samling Scholar. Her roles with the Met have included Smaradgi in Zadonai’s Francesca da Rimini, Mercédès in Bizet’s Carmen, Lola in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, Myrtale in Massenet’s Thaïs, Rosette in Massenet’s Manon, Eine Theatergarderobiere/Der Gymnasiast/Ein Groom in Berg’s Lulu, and Wowkle in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. Additionally, she covered Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Smeton in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, and Ascagne in Berlioz’s Le Troyens.

    In Manon - Photo by Marth Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

    Ms. Costa-Jackson debuted in the title role of Carmen with Glimmerglass Opera, and has sung Lola with Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu; Nancy T’ang in Adam’s Nixon in China with the San Francisco Opera, a role she performed under the baton of the composer with the Met in 2011; Marie in Rossini’s Moïse et Pharaon with the Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall; Puss in the U.S. premiere of Montsalvatge’s El Gato con Botas with the Gotham Chamber Opera; Celia in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe with the San Francisco Symphony; Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte with the Verbier Festival Academy; and Nerone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea with the International Institute of Vocal Arts.

    At Glimmerglass in King for a Day - photo by Karli Cadel

    She has just had the leading female role in the Glimmerglass Festival production of Verdi's Un Giorno di Regno (King for a Day) as the Marchesa del Poggio (as mentioned above, this is her second leading role there, given that she was Carmen for the company).

    Her next engagement is with Tri-Cities Opera, again in the title role of Carmen, on October 25 and 27, 2013 - click [here] for more information and tickets), in addition to covering Dorabella and Meg Page for the Metropolitan Opera's upcoming productions of Così fan Tutte and Falstaff.

    This is how Anthony Tommasini from The New York Times has referred to her:

    "The Carmen was Ginger Costa-Jackson, a ravishing mezzo-soprano from Italy...who easily conveyed the allure and willful recklessness of Bizet’s Gypsy temptress. Her voice has dark, rich colorings and considerable body."

    Her discography includes parts in three DVDs released by the Metropolitan Opera and Decca and DG labels, in Nixon in China, Thaïs with Renée Fleming, and La Fanciulla del West with Deborah Voigt. In addition to these, she was featured in the Francesca da Rimini (Zandonai) Live in HD broadcast alongside Eva-Maria Westbroek.

    The above accomplishments are even more remarkable when we consider that this singer is only 26 years old. She certainly has had a very promising career start.

    Her website is www.costajackson.com.


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Ginger Costa-Jackson

    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: this exclusive interview is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

    Credits - Questions by Luiz Gazzola. Photos of the singer are recovered from her website with authorization and credited when credit is known; fair promotional use. Some pictures were obtained by capturing stills from the singer's videos. Glimmerglass production pictures were kindly authorized by the Marketing Department at Glimmerglass Festival, and are credited under the image.


    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - First, let’s talk about this production of King for a Day. The physicality in it is enormous. You leap and jump and sing in all positions. How challenging is it?

    Ginger Costa-Jackson – It’s very, very challenging. I remember the first rehearsal. You just do one scene at a time, so you think “OK, I can do this.” Then when we do the final dress rehearsal, we have to do it all non-stop; my heart was racing. We had five weeks of rehearsals. After a month your body gets used to it. I did some exercises, like riding my bike and singing at the same time, or running and singing, to get that cardio and your lungs ready to go. I grew into the role.

    OL – Yes. I once interviewed Danielle de Niese and she told me the same thing about the Giulio Cesare she did at Glyndebourne with so much dancing. Similarly, at first she thought she could do it, then her heart started racing, so she had to train on a treadmill while singing at the same time.

    GCJ – Exactly. It’s to strengthen the lungs, I guess, because what happens is that in opera it’s all about the breath support. We spend so much time rehearsing and practicing the breathing! So if you are exercising and moving a lot, your breath becomes very high, and if you are gasping for oxygen you can’t sing. Long distance runners learn to breathe very low and keep the breath controlled. The more cardio you do, the more you can control that breath.

    OL –Yes. I thought your acting was first rate. You had sensational comedic flair and stage presence. Please contrast the acting on a comedy like this, with your tragic acting in Carmen last year, and tell me how you learned to act.

    GCJ – I was a young artist at the Metropolitan Opera and we had two phenomenal acting coaches, Stephen Wadsworth from Julliard, and Dona Vaughn from the Manhattan School of Music. They did exercises that helped me be in tune with what you have inside. Singers act from instinct. We are very “feeling” kind of people. We can feel when our voices are doing what is right, and when to give in to the music. You practice so much with your voice…

    When you get on stage, it needs to be about the words. Instead of thinking “how do I sing this line?” we have to think like Maria Callas who said “I am an actress-singer, not a singer-actress.” It’s the idea that you say what you want to say, so every night it’s a little bit different. [She demonstrates two ways of singing the line “I love you.” ] You make the words come out; then the acting happens. If you only pay attention to the sounds and not to the words, you miss the feeling of the moment. It’s instinct, but I also definitely had training that helped me a lot.

    In terms of contrasting this work with Carmen, I actually think that Carmen is a lot less difficult. With the Marchesa del Poggio in Un Giorno di Regno, Verdi’s second opera, he was still trying to understand voices, and he cast a mezzo-soprano but it sits very, very high. It has a lot of high notes, as you can recall. The challenge with this comedy is one – the vocality is very difficult for a mezzo because it is very high, and two, it is bel canto, so it’s about the beauty of the tones and all of these interpolations and coloratura. Carmen musically sits lower and is easier to say the words; there aren’t many difficulties.

    Ginger as Carmen at Glimmerglass
    Still captures from videos - credit unknown

    Photo by Jiulietta Cervantes/Glimmerglass Festival

    But apart from music, the physicality of the Marchesa, being it a comedy, is all about timing. We work a lot on the timing. Comedy is also all about your colleagues. You are only as good as the person you are with. It’s true of drama, but especially of comedy, because you need to play off of each other and you really need to be actors. If you miss the timing by just a little bit you won’t get the laugh. You need to be very precise.

    Glimmerglass - Marchesa - Photo by Karli Cadel

    For Carmen, you don’t try as hard with your body. You just stand there and look good, but you have ideas. Carmen is about inner life. She thinks a lot and doesn’t move as much. The Marchesa del Poggio on the other hand, everything that she thinks is in her body. You see moving, running around, you see her react. Carmen takes a moment. Something happens to her, and she doesn’t react right away. She thinks about it, is very conscious, and is in control. The Marchesa is not in control. She is a chicken with her head cut off. Something happens to her, and she wants to see her lover who is the king in decoy, and she wants him to tell her that she is really his first love, but he is playing this façade of a king, and she is running after him and still doesn’t get him. On act 2 I finally get to be in the room with him but he will still not admit that he is my true love, so I get drunk, and try to get him to tell me what I want. In Carmen you play the person who is in control, and in this one, you play the person who is out of control. It’s more difficult to play, because you have to do more.

    Glimmerglass - Photo by Karli Cadel

    OL – Talking about playing with your colleagues, what about that adorable colleague of yours, the dog?

    GCJ – Oh my Goodness! The dog is interesting. It wasn’t my idea; it was the genius of Christian Räth, our absolutely phenomenal director. He came in and said, “I think for this first aria you want to come in with a dog, and you want to use one of the company dogs.” I told him, “actually I have a dog.” He said, “really??”

    OL – It’s your dog??

    GCJ – It’s my dog! It’s a poodle! My little toy poodle. He said, “bring her in! I’d love to see her!” And of course he fell in love with her the moment I brought her in, and we rehearsed the full five weeks with her. What a better way to set the stage? My first aria, I come in with my fur coat and my glasses, my beautiful gloves and earrings, I’m this diva – what diva comes without a dog? Maria Callas had a toy poodle as well; hers was black. Actually Christian sent me a picture of her with her poodle, and said, “look, it’s the same scene!”

    Ginger as the Marchesa with her dog - Picture by Karli Cadel

    Yes, she is my dog, and she is not a trained dog. She is three years old. She had never been on stage before so I was a little bit concerned. She is my baby; I don’t want to make her uncomfortable with the lights and having so many people in the audience. The first rehearsal I could feel that her heart beat was a bit faster, but after that there was no problem. I think she actually really likes it. Yesterday there was a show, and she was a little bit depressed. My mother and I got her cleaned up. My mother is here with me. So we groomed the dog, and went in and did the first scene; I put her collar on her and I could tell she was getting a little happier. She goes on stage and when she is done she is just so excited! OK, good, we have two divas, I guess, in this family [laughs] who love being on stage.

    OL – Very nice. What did you think of doing it in English? You are a native Italian speaker. To be the Devil’s Advocate, although I liked very much the work done by Kelley Rourke with this new translation, I wonder if it is really necessary. You know, operatic singing changes the phonemes enough that the audience needs the supertitles in English anyway, so why sing it in English?

    GCJ – Vocally there is no advantage. As far as the technical training of opera, it’s going to be easier to sing a Romance language. The language sits more forward. All the work that we do is projection of the voice. Singing opera is to get the sound forward and out so that everyone can hear it and it is loud. English is a very back language. It takes more effort to sing English and to project it the same way you would Italian, and it is never quite as beautiful. The English language is not as sonorous, versus l’italiano è molto davanti e c’è una bellezza. It has a beauty, Italian, even just speaking it. There is a disadvantage of singing in English, because frankly, it’s not as beautiful. As far as the translation, I had learned it in Italian, and I have the DVD.

    OL – The one with Anna Caterina Antonacci?

    GCJ – Yes, yes, the one with Anna Caterina, exactly, and I love the Italian! But I’m completely enamored with the English libretto for this staging, for this production, because with an American audience there is a faster pay-off to have it in the native language. People who may be not as much opera goers, because it’s not part of the American culture, it makes it more accessible to them. Maybe it makes opera less frightening, and people think “OK, it’s in my language, I can understand it. “

    We set it in the sixties and it is so quirky. Her libretto is not a direct translation, it’s an adaptation. One of my favorite lines is when I come in to the Kelbar house, who is my uncle, and I say, “uh, if it wasn’t for you, my cousin, I would not step foot in this gawdy, guilded bungalow.” It really adds to the flavor of the comedy of the era, because it uses the jargon of the sixties, the way they would speak. For me anything that keeps it real to the time, real to your character, I will accept it. It makes your character come alive in a different way. But would I love to do it in Italian at a future point? Yes, it would make it a little easier, vocally.

    OL – So you watched Anna Caterina’s DVD. I interviewed her as well; she is gorgeous.

    GCJ – Oh wow!

    OL – Yes, when she was Cassandre at the Royal Opera House.

    GCJ – Oh, I just covered at the Met for a Les Troyens role, not Cassandre, but the boy, Enée’s son.

    OL – So, did Anna Caterina function as an inspiration for you? Do you usually look at your predecessors for your preparation?

    GCJ – It’s interesting. When I studied Carmen, I studied form the score, but then I watched DVDs and had them in the background over and over, because learning music is about repetition. Sometimes it’s boring to sit at the piano and continuously plunk notes. I had her DVD at the Royal Opera House, the one that Zambello directed with Kaufmann and Anna Caterina.

    So the two roles that I’ve been asked to do at Glimmerglass, I learned watching her DVDs. I think she is great. But I really think that the moment they put this in English, I can’t do anything. Sometimes you take a line that you would maybe sing the same way another singer would – the same kind of feeling – but the moment they put it in English, it’s really hard to take inspiration, because it changes what you are saying, it changes the feeling, it changes also the musical lines, I take breaths in different areas than she would take them, because the phrases are different. So, she was more an inspiration for Carmen; not as much in this.

    OL – Have you ever met her?

    GCJ – No.

    OL – Oh, she is so gracious; I think she’d love to give you some insights.

    GCJ – Oh, I would love to meet her.

    OL - You are a very young singer with a meteoric path. How old are you, now?

    GCJ – I’m twenty-six.

    OL - Let’s focus at length on your career experiences. I understand you were born in Italy and came to America very young, and in a household with three girls, all three of you have embraced the arts. You started as a violinist. Please describe how this came to be.

    GCJ – How did you know all this? [laughs]

    OL – I did my homework!

    GCJ – Both of my parents are very musically inclined. Neither had a career, but my mother when she was a girl in Italy attended conservatory and got a certificate in piano and voice. It was the same conservatory I went to. She always sang in the house and played opera. Being Italian, it is part of the culture. We always grew up having opera music around. On Saturdays she would play the Three Tenors CD, and she would get the up tempos on, and she would say, “OK, everyone, you clean to the tempo of the music!” So we’d hear “Di… Quellla… Pira…” [sings it with a very marked tempo] and we would scrub to the tempo that was being played. [laughs] So I grew up with opera.

    And then from Dad – he is an American – he was in the Barbershop Quartet in college, and loved symphonies and musicals. When I was very little he would put all three girls to bed and would pick out the flute from among the instruments, and would say “OK, in this piece you’ll see how the flute sounds like a little bird.” He would play a symphony and we’d close our eyes, and he’d ask “what instruments do you hear?” We watched musicals, Music Man, State Fair, My Fair Lady, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, we’d watch every single day and my sisters and I would dance to it, choreographing things and singing together. At one time we videotaped ourselves, because we made up an opera. Even at that young age, I played the prince, not knowing that I would be a mezzo and do pants roles. My sisters were the princesses and I would gallop on our fake little horse to save them. It was part of our culture growing up, so it was almost inevitable that all three of us became singers.

    OL – How old were you when you made up that opera?

    GCJ – Miriam was 11, the youngest, who is a coloratura soprano. Marina was 12, and I was 13. We made an opera DVD. I have to find this home video. Marina, my second sister, is starting her second year at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, and it’s so funny because she is doing Così fan tutte, she plays the role of Fiordiligi, and I’m going to the Met to cover Dorabella, so when we are together we study the music and sing along, it’s so fun! Miriam would make a beautiful Despina; she is in Utah right now and is married; she is actually currently pregnant, so she has her baby listening to opera.

    Marina, Miriam, and Ginger - photo by Josh Rossi

    OL – So maybe one day the three of you will perform together.

    GCJ – That’s our great hope. It would be inevitable for Marina and I. We are both East Coast. That would be the best thing I could ever do, more than any dream role, Carmen, Dalila, to be able to sing with my sisters. It’s interesting because when we sing together, the voices blend very well. I don’t know if it’s because we are family, or it’s the way we speak the vowels. We have these overtones when we sing together that don’t happen with any other soprano or when I do duets with a man. Whenever I come to her apartment in Philadelphia, she has a long stairway going up, and I start singing her name from the bottom, and I hear her responding [hums the music]. Music is just part of our family.

    OL – Super nice! So, how did you switch from violin to opera?

    GCJ – We were listening to a lot of musical theater in the house. I was in Utah. We were raised predominantly in Utah. Our public elementary school offered orchestra. Nowadays it’s not happening as much, in the educational system. They had people come to our school, maybe in fourth grade, and they brought four instrumentalists, and they had us all in the gymnasium, trying to recruit people to come to the orchestra. They had a lady playing the violin, and a viola, a cello, and a bass. When the bass was playing you could feel the vibrations in the ground. I remember thinking, “this is so amazing!”

    I came home and said, “mama, I want to be part of the orchestra.” She bought me a little violin, and I played it all into high school. I was the first violinist for the orchestra. The violin is actually the closest to the human voice. I didn’t start taking singing lessons until sixteen or seventeen, but it really helped to facilitate being a singer. I took violin, Marina wanted to play cello, and Miriam the viola. We all had an instrument, growing up.

    OL – Did you dream of performing in concertos as a violinist, or did you always want to be a singer?

    GCI – I loved playing the violin, but I didn’t want to be a violinist for the rest of my life. I loved doing it. I was a very straight-laced student. I was never tardy, never absent, and had a 4.0 GPA. I loved to do the very best in everything I did. Violin, I just saw it as another thing I wanted to be very good at, but I never wanted to continue on. I wanted actually to be a professor of English Literature. I was a studious person and loved reading.

    I wanted to become a singer for the first time when Miriam started taking voice lessons. She was 12 years old. I’m two years older. She took voice lessons for a year and a half, off and on. When I was sixteen, finally, I decided that I wanted to take voice lessons. I remember one night I was in my bedroom and I was laying down; Miriam was in the kitchen, and she was singing “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta.” I remember her singing the very high notes.

    OL – It’s not easy.

    GCJ – It’s not easy. She is very good; has a G, an A, an extreme top. For her those notes were nothing. She has a natural ability to do these piani that are very piano, like Caballé. I remember hearing that in my heart and I was thinking, “that sound is flying, I wish I would do that.” Little did I know that it would be a long time before I ever learned how to sing high notes, because I’m a mezzo. One, I would never sing that song [laughs], and then, when I first started taking voice lessons, I kept cracking, almost like a boy who is having a hormonal change of voice. I wasn’t very good, and I remember my mother asking – “Are you sure, Ginger, that this is what you want? Because you are good at everything else; you excel at school and with the violin; are you sure this is the path you are going to take?” But I was very determined, and said, “no, no; this is what I want to do.”

    OL – You’ve been described at one point as a contralto. I’m not sure if the journalist who said that was accurate. But you do seem to be a dark-voiced mezzo. What roles do you think will fit your voice?

    GCJ – It’s interesting, because I just finished doing Francesca da Rimini, where the role of Smaragdi sits very low. I remember this article saying I was a contralto. Now, this role of the Marchesa sits very high, and the maestro added two high Ds to spice things a little bit. And now, all the articles say “soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson.” People become maybe a little confused, but I don’t think there is anything to be confused about. A mezzo-soprano should have that range. Every singer should be able to extend both high and low. The difference that makes you a mezzo, a soprano, or a contralto, is where the changes happen, the breaks in the voice. I’m very happy knowing that I am a mezzo. If things change, they’ll change, but for now I have a deep chest voice, so that’s why people think contralto. But I do have the high notes.

    As Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana at the Met - Photo by Walt Jackson

    I would say that I will go on to sing mezzo roles that are dramatic, like Verdi, in the far future, but for now I’m just keeping things very bel canto. Also, I’ll be doing a lot of Carmens this next year. You have to sing each role with your voice, and pay attention to the size of the house and the size of the orchestra. Singers are very limited nowadays. They try to put you in a box; they say “this is who you are,” and I don’t believe in that. Someday I want to do a Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, do a Jenny. You look at someone like Maria Ewing, for example, she did the Carmens, the Rosinas, but then she went on and did Salome, and Tosca! People try to limit artists, but I’ll want to say, “no, you can’t limit me.” So, the short answer to your question is, I am a mezzo but I have a top and I have a bottom, so whatever roles fall in between, don’t be surprised if I do them. [laughs]

    OL – That’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you keep your voice healthy. So, you made a very bold move, dropping out of high school at age 17 to go to a conservatory in Palermo, Italy. Please tell me about this experience. Was it psychologically hard to have the courage to do that and go away from your nuclear family?

    GCJ – When I was sixteen I took voice lessons, and that summer we had planned a trip to visit family in Italy – all my aunts and grandparents and cousins. That summer, they were holding auditions for the Conservatory Vincenzo Bellini. I wasn’t taking lessons for very long and wasn’t very good, but I auditioned. I think they saw the potential, the dark tones. I was one of the nine that were selected out of three hundred people. In Italy it’s free through the government, for citizens. My father is a high school teacher and my mother is a stay-home mom, we would never had the funds.

    It was hard for them to let their sixteen and a half-year-old daughter go. Luckily I lived with my aunt who is a second mother to me; she is my mother’s sister. She has two children, my cousins, and I had my grandparents. I wasn’t alone. I definitely had the support of family there. I did two years there, then the Young Artists Program at the Met saw me at a competition and invited me to come audition for James Levine. Life just took off. I removed myself from the high school system in America but I continued high school through correspondence. I actually finished high school; I just did it while I was in my conservatory studies. They sent me the books and the tests. I had to teach myself but I got through it. Now I’m in this crazy career.

    OL – Then you went to BYU but you didn’t like it.

    GCJ – Yes. [laughs] After being in Italy for a year and a half I was very homesick. I had my aunt and my cousins but there is nothing like your mom and dad and your sisters. To be separated from them was a big thing. I really wanted to be able to do school in America and continue my career, so I went to BYU for a semester. BYU has an amazing program with people who are doing very well, but for me it didn’t fit at the time. After one semester my gut told me, “the training you need is where you were in Italy – you need to go back; you need to do it the way it feels right to you.” So I left, after a semester, and went back to Italy. [laughs]

    OL – Did you leave when you auditioned for Levine?

    GCJ – I auditioned for him afterwards. I was 19 when that audition happened, and I was 18 when I went to BYU for a semester. It’s college. In the conservatory you study solfeggio, voice, music appreciation; you are immersed in music all day long. The problem is, I went to BYU and had all these general credits that I had to fulfill. I was taking physics, history, math, eighteen credits, and I was being burned out, doing all that homework, and only had one music class which was group voice lesson at 8 AM in the morning. I thought to myself “this is the path if I want my degree, but this isn’t helping me as a singer; this isn’t furthering my talent or teaching me acting and how to sing.” I was getting mono, because I am a perfectionist and was trying to get 4.0 GPA so I was studying up until 5 AM and never had time to practice singing.

    OL – You did a short circuit, a fast track, going from that to the Lindemann, bypassing for example the National Council Auditions. Was it very surprising for you that you were accepted into the Lindemann?

    GCJ – It was very surprising. I was doing a competition in Rome, the Ottavio Ziino, and Lenore Rosenberg was in the jury. I made it as a finalist. I didn’t win, though. I was backstage feeling pretty poorly because I didn’t win anything, and she gave me her card and said that they would be interested in having me sing for James Levine. She said she was very impressed, hearing me in the different rounds. She said they would fly me in December for a private audition.

    I remember auditioning for James Levine, and he had just come from a concert. He was late, because there was traffic. He finally came and sat down and put his hands over his eyes and his head down. I guess he had a headache. I came and sang my two songs. I sang “Va! Laisse couler mes larmes” and “Di tanti palpiti” and I remember being so nervous! But when I sing I give my emotions over to the music. You have to think “what am I saying?” because people want to be moved. If you are saying what you want to say with the voice, normally people will like the singing. Don’t worry about making the sounds.

    Anyway, I just gave everything I had. He didn’t look up once. He didn’t look at me at all. He just sat there like this with his head down. I walked off, and thought “this is not good. I didn’t even get him to look up once; this is not going to happen.” So I went back to my hotel room and was so nervous, but I thought, “if this is the path that God wants me to take, it will open up.” I tried to keep a good perspective. The next day I was flying home, and was at the airport about to board the plane when I got the call from Lenore saying “we are very delighted to welcome you into the program.” I guess he was listening. I remember, I immediately called my parents, and everyone was in the plane, and I said “just wait a minute; Dad, I got in, I got in!” I didn’t want to have to wait to give him the news. The airplane had to wait. [laughs]

    OL - As a young artist you debuted at the Met main stage, if I’m not mistaken, in Thaïs with the great Renée Fleming. Did she mentor you? Did you get advice from her?

    GCJ – She is so sweet! Every time we worked together she’s been gracious and kind. The biggest lesson for young singers is just hearing voices and seeing what these great artists do when they are at work, in the rehearsal process. To my embarrassment when you first sing opera you sing with all of your sound and you think you have to push. I was nineteen and a mezzo and I thought I had to make big, big mezzo sounds [she says it in a low big voice]. I remember hearing her singing in the practice room, and she had a beautiful voice, but I thought “oh, I’m louder than her!” Right? I was singing with this “booo” [makes again a big low voice] and then there comes this person with perfect technique with a very sharp sound that almost sounds quiet in a room. But then when you go on stage, because they are creating overtones, those carry straight into the hall. The person who is singing with the big voice on the back of their throat, sounds big in the bathroom, but on stage it doesn’t carry.

    I was thinking, “wow, that’s how loud she sings? That’s not very loud!” And then we got on stage… [laughs]… my voice was left behind, and she was this easy singer. She is one of the most natural singers I know. She doesn’t contort her face. She sings and the air just comes out. You need to play with the air gracefully. When you are young, you think you need to do so much… That was the greatest lesson from Fleming to see her voice in the hall go “voosh” and mine… [laughs].

    OL – Yes, I saw a master class with Frederica von Stade and she was stopping the young singers all the time, and saying, “no, no, no – do this pianissimo! You don’t need to belt and shout and yell!”

    CGJ – Yes, she’s definitely taught me that. I have great respect for her. She is such an amazing person!

    OL -It’s very nice for a young singer to have had parts in three Met DVDs already – Nixon in China, Thaïs, and La Fanciulla del West. Please describe the experience of being in Nixon in China.

    GCJ – Nixon in China, I don’t even know where to begin, there. The music is challenging because it’s repetitive and stretches me as a musician, but I actually really, really loved that opera. It’s so jazzy, almost! Even when I jog, I listen to the aria “News” [sings it, snapping her fingers to mark the rhythm]. When you first hear it, it’s not what you are used to. I’ve done it now at the premiere in New York, and in San Francisco, always in the role of First Secretary to Chairman Mao, Nancy Tang. Now, it’s one of these things… the music is really in me. And the history… this is actually what happened. It’s just so compelling when you put yourself into the words and know the feelings of what happened.

    And it was with Peter Sellars, he is so moving and gets so much of you. Did you see that DVD? [I nod yes]. Under Communism, all our movements are choreographed. We are always together and doing a lot of hand gestures. Having to do that while singing is almost like Yoga. You are singing and then your arms and your body are doing different things. I loved it; it was very fun.

    OL – And it is amazing to be part of a world premiere.

    GCJ – Yes, it really is. There is a feeling about it that is electrifying. And then, to have John Adams conduct you in his own music! He is so cool! He would come in with Star Trek T-shirts. [laughs] He is so intelligent. These people who are geniuses, they look at you and you can tell they are thinking a thousand things. They are not always with you; they are a little spacey. He is such a sweetheart!

    OL -You got two principal roles at Glimmerglass, and now I understand you’re slated to cover Dorabella and Meg Page at the Met.

    GCJ – There were some other offers but I turned them down because I had the opportunity to do Carmen twice this year, in Tri-Cities Opera, and also Opera Hamilton in Canada. These contracts are being signed as we speak. I turned down a Bersi in Andrea Chenier at the Met. I would love to do that, I love Pat Racette who will be singing there, but to be able to do Carmen again…

    OL - How do you see the future of your opportunities at the Met? How hard is it to make it to the bigger parts?

    CGJ –I’ve been at the Met for a very long time and I love it. When you are on that stage, it’s amazing. But for any artist, it will always be more gratifying to do a bigger role than to cover a role. When you cover you are not able to make your art; you are sitting all the time. You are watching and you need to be ready to go but most often you don’t go on stage. As far as doing lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera, that would be absolutely amazing. If that happens in my life, great. If it doesn’t happen in my life, as long as I can make my art…

    OL – Yes, but the cover roles… there are many stories, including that of Maria Callas, of singers who were covering and then stepped in and had a big break.

    CGJ – Yes, that’s true.

    OL – So being there can be exciting.

    CGJ – No, no, of course. I mean, it’s the Metropolitan Opera, the biggest opera stage in the world. And you have HD broadcasts… it’s such an exciting place to be. I’m a very simple person. Give me a role and I’m happy, as long as I can sing.

    OL – In this video media era, singers now are required to have the right look on top of the voice, and you do.

    Still capture from video clip

    CGJ – Thank you!

    OL –You also have a beautiful voice. What does it take, to make it and maintain it, in this competitive career?

    CGJ – I don’t know what it takes. I was very fortunate to be a Young Artist at the Metropolitan. I have had opportunities because of it. Who you know, counts. If people don’t know who you are, they are not going to hire you. It’s been very good for PR. The Met put me on stage, and people look and say, “hah, that’s who she is.” Then you are already in people’s minds and radars. My mother always said, “talent must always come forward.” If you are passionate in what you do and you take great joy in it… Yes, it helps to also have connections, but if it is destiny, it happens. If it doesn’t, it’s fine, as long as you are happy doing what you do.

    Photo by Walt Jackson

    OL – Would you like to have a career in films or musical theater, or do you want to remain in opera forever?

    GCJ – I would love to do some musical theater. I would love to sing cabaret music, or jazz. I grew up listening to musical theater. I would want to do everything – a one-woman show, cabaret, jazz… there is the Lotte Lenya Competition and I’ve done it a couple of times now. It’s so much fun to sing Kurt Weil’s music! He is actually one of my favorite composers. He is so real, with the quality of the music that he puts out, and the words are so heart-wrenching! I just love anything that you can sink your teeth into it, and become the character. All his characters are pirates, or whores; I tend to be typecast for that, so… [laughs].

    OL – That’s the destiny of mezzos anyway…

    GCJ – I know… it is; it is!

    OL -Psychologically speaking, is it hard on such a young person to be engaged in this kind of fast track? Are you prepared for the hardships of this life?

    GCJ – Yes, you take everything one day at a time. Any career is difficult. Opera singing comes with its own particular baggage. You are always on the road and you can’t always be with your family. You are being judged not on an instrument that is outside of you – like the violin – but you are being looked at. You are your own instrument. People are going to judge you every night based on what you do. You are alone on stage. There is no one who is going to come and help you, if half-way through a phrase you have no more breath. You have to make it happen.

    Photo by Walt Jackson

    But honestly… we had a show yesterday in matinee, and I’m so happy on stage! I love it when I can see the audience’s faces. I love the idea of doing recitals because I love to engage with the audience. People come to the theater and it is a therapy. It is to laugh, to cry… it’s an entertainment but so often in hearing a singer sing, it evokes some of your own emotions and thoughts and you can feel that you can relate to that character on stage. You can say “ah, she is crying; I know, I also have something in my life that is similar to this.” You can mourn with them. It’s an amazing therapeutic thing. There is such a symbiotic relationship between me and the people that come to the show! I need them, and they for that moment need me to play a character. I love doing it.

    OL - What are some of your extra-operatic interests?

    GCJ – I love to draw. I draw little caricatures and cartoons. I would love to write a children’s book. My father is a very good writer. We are working on a couple of books that he is writing. We spin ideas on each other and I illustrate. That’s very fun. I love to dance. I don’t know if I’m good at it. I love to watch TV and read and dance and bike and hike and be in nature – you know, the normal things. At the end of a long day of work, the best thing is to sit in front of the television on your couch and watch Bravo – mindless television! [laughs]

    OL -Please describe your take on life and your personality.

    GCJ – I heard – I don’t believe in Astrology so much, but I’m a Virgo – that I’m very, very perfectionist. I believe all the artists are like this. You are never happy with what you do. You always feel “I could have done that much more!” I’m a little bit hard on myself; not on other people, just on myself. I love people, in general. I love getting to know people. Even when we had donor events, this doesn’t sound so funny, but I like interacting with someone else. Later on, you may play that character. I like to analyze other people.

    About my take on life, that’s a very complicated question. [thinks] I believe very firmly in God. I’m very religious. I wouldn’t be where I’m at, if it weren’t for him. When I was sixteen, I listened to my sisters’ voices, and I remember praying, “Heavenly Father, this is what I want to do; please help me.” I believe very strongly in a superior being. We are all here on Earth trying to do good. We are all brothers and sisters. I think that’s why I love singing on stage because you can relate to people. I feel that we are all related, anyway. So why be nervous? We are all family.

    OL – That’s all I had. Do you have anything to add?

    GCJ – You were very thorough and had a lot of interesting questions. Thank you so much! I also talk so much! I get that from the Italian side. I guess I could add that my mother was my first voice coach. My greatest fan is my father. He does my website. Everything I do, my father thinks it’s amazing. My mother, I think she is my greatest critic. But she takes me through vocalizes. If you don’t have the support of your loved ones, you can’t make it. My father doesn’t make a lot, but he was able to support me through living all those years in Italy. Everything he makes, everything he has in the bank including retirement funds, is to help his daughters. He never wants anything in return. He thinks, “these are my daughters’ dreams, and I want to help them.”

    OL – That’s nice! OK, thank you so much!


    Let's listen to and see the charming young singer displaying excellent acting skills and comic flair in this nice clip of a competition that she won:

    Here, in spite of the bad sound of this amateur clip, we can understand how beautiful her voice is:


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