It’s the first Friday in December, and Amanda Majeski is seated on the aisle in Carnegie Hall, listening to the Philadelphia Orchestra in Brahms’s Third Symphony, paced by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. A soprano of notable daring, Majeski made a headline-grabbing Met debut on opening night of the current season, when she sang Countess Almaviva in Richard Eyre’s new production of Le Nozze di Figaro — after stepping in for an indisposed colleague during rehearsals and moving up what had been her scheduled company debut by ten weeks. Despite the pressure, Majeski scored a hit by keeping her cool — a word that might be used to describe her appearance tonight. Slim and poised, smartly dressed and coiffed, Majeski has the classy good looks of a Hitchcock film heroine, but without the chill; her natural friendliness and warmth, to say nothing of her hearty laugh, are irresistible.
The only child of what she calls a “nonmusical” Polish–American family, Majeski was raised in Gurnee, Illinois, in the Chicago metropolitan area. After completing vocal studies at Northwestern University and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Majeski was invited to join Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Center, where she finished her term in 2011. Since then, Majeski has done impressive work in opera houses in Europe and the U.S. and has returned to Lyric for several leading roles. She spends tonight’s intermission talking animatedly about going home for the holidays with her husband, bass-baritone Sam Handley, and about her next Lyric engagement — Marta, the mysterious title character in Weinberg’s Passenger, in February and March 2015. “My family is really looking forward to it — they are going to love hearing me singing in Polish!”
The program continues after intermission with French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras in a dazzlingly fleet performance of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major — “My hands are cramping up just looking athim go that fast,” Majeski says as she applauds — before finishing with the Rosenkavalier Suite. The Strauss piece is the reason I’ve invited Majeski to the concert; she will be singing her first Marschallin at Oper Frankfurt next spring, and she’s begun to immerse herself in the score.
There’s a light, cold rain falling as we make our way down Seventh Avenue to Molyvos, the Greek restaurant less than a block from the Carnegie Hall stage door. After we order a selection of spreads and mezedes, Majeski offers a toast — “Here’s to Friday night!” — and talks about Der Rosenkavalier. “Ithas some of the best music ever — I can’t even process the fact that I’m going to get to sing it. As I was hearing it, I was mentally singing along to some parts — it’s such powerful music. I love it, and I want to do it justice. And that’s a big responsibility. I want my performance to be worthy of the music. Der Rosenkavalier is such a special piece. Those were some of the feelings I had running around inside me as I was listening.
“When Frankfurt offered the role to me, my agent said, ‘Just take a listen, and just see if it’s something you want to do.’ And my first thought was, ‘No,’ because I think I’m on the young side for the Marschallin. I just turned thirty. The Marschallin requires a lot of life experience, and I don’t know if I have enough of it yet. I know I’ll never sing Sophie — I don’t have that high, floaty stuff she needs. In a lot of ways, I’m in the Octavian phase of my life, because I’m a newlywed — I’m excited every minute about my relationship and my marriage, and it’s very new, and it’s very fresh, and my husband I are both ‘I love you so much’ all the time!”
Like many performers, Majeski finds herself “wired” after a show. “When I’m done, I take a breath — I absorb that high that happens. Sometimes I’ll go out. I usually crave chocolate, so I need to have some sort of sweet dessert item — a chocolate brownie with ice cream, or some wine if I have a few days until the next show. I can’t get to sleep after a show until at least three or four in the morning. That energy — it doesn’t know where to go. You’ve got to let it release itself!
“I have a little problem sleeping before opening nights, so when I woke up on the morning of my Met debut, I was happy to realize that I’d had seven hours of sleep. And then I hit my routine — I made myself eggs and bacon and toast, then zoned out a bit, watched Keeping Up With The Kardashians, some mindless television. Then I went to the gym. I tried to run about a mile, just to get the adrenaline out. Then a shower, warmed up, ate my Subway sandwich — turkey, double meat, no cheese, which is great, because you can get it anywhere in the world — and then warmed up some more. Then I was on.
“You know, I was supposed to make my Met debut last night — I was originally scheduled for the last five shows in the run. But that changed. And my job was to stay focused on the task at hand — working with my colleagues and Maestro Levine and being true to the music and what we all wanted to accomplish. It’s funny — the more you do this, the more practiced you become, but it doesn’t necessarily become easier to do this. Sometimes all this other stufftries to get in your way. You have to learn to not give those distractions any space or time.
“The whole experience was crazy, and it was wonderful, and it was invaluable. I grew as an artist, and as a person. I feel that if I could do that opening and not run off the stage, when I had every emotion in the world coming out of my eyeballs, I was doing more than O.K. When it was over, I felt superhuman!”