American lyric soprano Amanda Majeski was named "Best Breakout Star" by Chicago magazine, and she's living up to the title. Roles like Vitellia in La clemenza di Tito, Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Countess Madeleine in Capriccio have kept her busy in recent years; last season she sang Countess Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, a signature role of hers, at the Metropolitan Opera under the baton of James Levine, which was broadcast worldwide in HD.
Majeski is set to sing the Marschallin in Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Der Rosenkavalier, opening February 8th. She managed to find some time to give us a beautiful interview about singing, the importance of being multi-lingual, and her enormous dedication to her work.
WHY DO YOU SING, AND WHY ARE YOU DOING IT PROFESSIONALLY?
I sing because it’s simply a part of who I am. Singing is life, in a sense. It’s wonderful but often heart-wrenching, it’s frustrating and satisfying, it’s hard work and beautifully simple, it’s success and rejection. I sing because despite the challenges I couldn't imagine myself wanting to do anything else.
I think early on I fell in love with the process of making music. I love woodshedding a piece in a practice room, refining with teachers and coaches, collaborating with my colleagues. There is truly something special that happens when all that work comes together for moments on a stage in front of an openhearted audience. For that evening, everyone in the room is held together by and shares that same music; there is something so beautifully uplifting about that. It’s truly infectious!
I think I’m singing professionally because of a combination of hard work, luck, and timing. I have spent hours upon hours translating scores, working through phrases, digging into a character, etc. I owe so much of my success, however, to the amazing teachers, coaches and mentors who have stuck by me at crucial times in my training. I have been so lucky to find these people when I needed them, and they have not only helped me grow artistically, but have also been wonderful enough to vouch for me in front of others, so that new doors could open for me. I have somehow been lucky enough to sing decently for the right people at the right times, which started the "snowball" rolling.
WHAT DOES "GOOD SINGING" MEAN TO YOU? WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE WHEN YOU ACHIEVE IT?
"Good singing" to me means I’m not thinking about "good singing." Everything flows together seamlessly. My breath is low, my jaw is loose, my body is relaxed, so that instead of thinking about my technique or saying to myself "Oh gosh, how am I going to get through that phrase?" I’m in the character, expressing the text in an honest, direct way, and living in the artistic moment. It doesn't happen often, but it is the BEST when it does. It feels like flying, and coming off stage after making music that freely is addictive.
WHAT DO YOUNG SINGERS NEED TO DO MORE OF? WHAT SHOULD THEY DO LESS OF?
Young singers absolutely need to do more language study! Trust me, guys, and learn from my mistake! Take your language courses SERIOUSLY, hire a private tutor, spend a year abroad studying, get Rosetta Stone, do anything you can do that’s available to you. Become fluent in as many languages as you can. It’s important for your singing, not only because it will save you oodles of time translating, but it makes a world of difference in your vocal color and expression when you can immediately understand the text you are singing.
Not only that, but as a professional singer, you will be travelling, a lot. All over the world. It can be so lonely to be in a country and not understand what’s happening around you. Having the ability to speak allows you to make friends, better collaborate with your colleagues, and do simple stuff like read your contracts, order food, or obtain your visa from a government building. I cannot encourage you enough...work on your languages as much as your singing!
Young singers should spend less time criticizing others. In the professional world, your fellow singers often become like family away from home, they’re the people who "get it," who are there for you when you need someone to talk with. It’s much less about "who’s singing the best" and much more about "how can we work together to put out the best art we can?" Singing is not easy, and takes so much courage, vulnerability, and inner strength. It’s not worth the effort to be mean or catty as someone is growing or working through a technical issue. Listen to others with encouraging and open ears, and discover how you can grow by what they’re doing. We’re all in this together, for the love of music!
DO YOU HAVE ANY "BUCKET LIST" ROLES YOU’D LIKE TO SING (REALISTICALLY OR OTHERWISE)?
Susannah in Susannah (Floyd). This was the first opera I saw that made me fall in love with opera, and the arias for Susannah are the most beautiful things ever.
Tatyana in Eugene Onegin. I first sang this role (in English) my senior year of college, and while it was waaaay too big for me at the time, I’d love to get a shot at it now that I’m older (and in Russian!).
Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The quartet of lovers seems like it would be a blast to play!
Scarpia in Tosca. But only in the Zeffirelli production...because I’ve been in love with that role since watching the video of Tito Gobbi play it with Maria Callas as Tosca. Singing/acting at its finest!
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN YOUR JOB TO NON-MUSIC FOLKS?
When a non-musician asks what I do, I usually just say "I’m a musician" and I leave it at that. If they press me further, I explain that I’m an opera singer, and it can be pretty fun to talk about what my job entails! Usually the words "freelance", "self-employed", and "travel" come up quite a bit.
The most difficult thing to explain is what I do on my "off time." So often, non-musician friends and family understand my time off as "vacation" or "party time!!" It’s been a battle for them to see that my off time is when I need to be the most structured. So much of that time is either used for resting my voice and getting ready for the next show, or it’s used for learning the next role, or heading to lessons or coachings. True, I can structure the time as I wish, but it’s not as much of a party as they think it is!
I’m always working on the next thing!