Houston, Houston Grand Opera, Don Giovanni, Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Mozart, Richard Wagner
I think sometimes Americans are given a bad rap, like we're somehow kind of phony because we're really friendly-overtly friendly, overtly positive. It's certainly not malicious. I don't even think it's fake. It's just the fact that you have a face means that someone will greet you as such. Oh look there you are, another person. "Hey hun, how you doing?" You know, it's nice. It's actually nice. So, I'm enjoying that. The general warmth of the city. Also, the weather is nice. But, like I said, Houston Grand Opera is a place that has really high standards, so getting to participate in this art at such a high level is always a real thrill. It's good professional colleagues and I've actually also been able to make some solid friendships with people in the cast that I did not know before this production, but I guess that always happens. You know, we have a natural camaraderie being involved in such a unique process. But it's really wonderful to come back to such a warm and friendly place. It feels like a breath of fresh air.
Me: You've won the 2010 Metropolitan National Council Auditions and the 2011 Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition. What have those experiences been like for you?
Rachel Willis-Sørensen: That was the best day ever. Oh gosh, really good days. It was like outrageous. I never have had the expectation of success in competition. I am of the opinion that when you do a competition, you lose five years off the end of your life [Laughs] because it's so stressful. It's like that machine from The Princess Bride, where you suck a year of your life away or whatever. That's what it feels like. It's so stressful, terrifying, and high-anxiety. So, I never enjoy it actually, at all. Although, when I did the Belvedere I was sort of in a different place because I also won in Houston in 2009. That was part of what got me the job in The Young Artists Program. I got first place in that competition. That was the first time I really had success in a big competition, and that just really blew me away. It was like the last thing I expected to happen. I didn't even bear a hope that they would say my name, and then they said my name! It was just crazy! I mean it feels like flying, really. When you're so invested, you know. At the end of the day, I've learned all you can do is your best. And what I consider to be what I want to see on the stage is what I try to bring to my performing and my singing. So, to have somebody else acknowledge that that's a worthwhile thing to add to the world is just super thrilling. The best. It's the best day. Also, it affords you many great privileges, like association with really quality talent and, I don't know how to put this, like [Pauses] attention from people who can potentially give you jobs. So, there's like a kind of a job security involved. I mean, it's just really lovely. I can only say good things. I recommend it. Winning a singing competition is definitely in the top 10 of things to do ever.
Me: Performing in Opera takes you all over the world. What are your favorite aspects of traveling and performing opera in different cities?
Rachel Willis-Sørensen: Maybe, the food. [Laughs] I love trying different kinds of food. I know that seems strange, but it's real interesting to be exposed to different ways of life and cultures. The way people communicate with one another is also really exciting to me. I actually thought, you know, in my next life or whatever, maybe I'll be a linguistics anthropologist to see how language affects culture and to see how the way people communicate affects the way they behave. That's really fascinating to me. The way different people are and try to incorporate the best elements of every culture I get to be a part of into my own personal world view, that's probably my favorite part. But I do also like the food. I like to try the different kinds of food. Different desserts, you know what I'm saying. Everywhere you go there's a new idea about what's tasty, and that's always fun to encounter, discover, and explore.
Also, another great thing is the different grand opera houses in the world, where I have been able to perform. They each have a story, and they're so beautiful. It's really exciting to think that music has been made there for a long time, or even a short time. The fact that it's like a temple of art, a holy place where you get to go and participate in this art form that means so much to me. When I sang in The Met[ropolitan Opera] Finals in 2010, singing on The Met stage, at first, I was really intimidated because I thought, "Oh my gosh! This is The Met. Everyone ever has sung here. Everyone's voice who matters to me in the history of the last hundred years has sung in this building." The actual truth is that they built it in the 60s or something. They moved from a different part of the city, but anyway. In The Met as we currently know it, many, many amazing singers have sung, and I thought, "Oh gosh, this is really intimidating," but then I decided that, at the end of the day, what I really wanted to do was just go ahead and contribute my own little part to that important room where all these prominent people sang so many times. I got to participate and be a part of it. That's really something I treasure.
Me: So far, what has been your favorite city to perform in?
Rachel Willis-Sørensen: My favorite city? Oh my gosh, what if I don't say Houston? Do I have to say Houston? [Laughs]
Me: You don't have to say Houston.
Rachel Willis-Sørensen: Maybe, I'm supposed to say Houston! Well the truth is, I really do love singing in Houston, don't get me wrong. But, my most favorite city to sing in so far is...[Pauses]. I love singing in London. I feel I have something to offer that appeals to that crowd in a specific way, and like they are really warm and they have always received me really well. That's my favorite city to sing in. Sorry, Houston! [Laughs]
Me: To date, what has been your favorite role or roles?
Rachel Willis-Sørensen: My favorite role, huh? Of Mozart roles I have interpreted, I was the Countess [Almaviva] in [LE NOZZE DI] FIGERO. Fiordiligi from COSSÌ FAN TUTE is a very, extremely close second. I love doing Elsa [of Brabant] in LOHENGRIN [by Richard Wagner], but I've yet to do it professionally. I've just covered, but it's really wonderful. I just signed my first contract with that somewhere. I Can't Say yet until they announce it. Yeah, I would say my top three are Countess in LE NOZZE DI FIGERO, Fiordiligi in COSSÌ FAN TUTE, and Elsa in LOHENGRIN.
Me: What is a dream role that you have yet to play?
Rachel Willis-Sørensen: If I had heard myself saying this a year ago, I would have thought, "That's crazy!" But now that I've participated in The Ring Cycle for the first time, and I don't if it will ever happen. I actually don't know that I have it in me to ever sing this, but I think, you know, if somehow The Planets align and somehow my throat grew by three times or something and I was able to do it, I would love to sing Brünnhilde. Brünnhilde is like this amazing dramatic journey. It's a horrible name and it has this strange association-like you think of a really super fat woman with a cone bra, horns, and a spear, right. But actually, [Richard] Wagner wrote these crazy stories about her and enables a hugely powerful emotional journey. It's very exciting, and she has to go through all these great dramatic things that I think would be great to portray. So, maybe the dream role is Brünnhilde. There's so much meat there, so much really juicy stuff to delve into. Like I said, I'm 28 years old. I'd have to put it off probably until I'm like 50. It's like so much singing that I don't even know if it's in me, but I'd love to do that someday.
Me: As a young performer, what advice would you offer to others hoping to break into the business?
Rachel Willis-Sørensen: The best advice that I would have to offer anyone is to trust their message. It's not literal. It's not like a sentence that you have to share with people, but somehow, when you sing, you impart something of yourself to the audience. This something of yourself that you impart is the message, and it's the message that only you can give. No one else, similar voice or not, can give the message. And if you believe in your message, that it's worthwhile in the world, then other people will too. That's really important.
Secondarily, just do what you want to-and this is the thing. I don't know why, but this felt really groundbreaking for me when I realized it. But, I went to the opera somewhere and I didn't like everybody. I liked some of the singers. Really, I loved what they were doing. I liked some of the acting choices. I thought, "These are great." And some, I was like, "Oh, that's not what I'd do. I'm not crazy about that." And I realized I have taste. I have taste! I got to realize that I have my own stylistic choices that I have made...[Pauses]. How do I say this? When I go to the opera and I sit in the audience, I know what I want to see and hear, and my responsibility is just to provide that. I don't have to do any more or less, and that means if I provide a product that appeals to other people and isn't my own personal choices, my own tastes, my own message, then it's not integrity. You can't necessarily look in the mirror and feel good about what you're doing. So, what you have to do as a singer, and I think this ultimately is the thing that makes people successful, is to believe in the uniqueness of your message and actually just trying to give what you would want to sew yourself. Trusting your own taste. I think it made a difference for me when I realized that.
Don't miss out on your chance to hear this prize winning voice's triumphant return to the Houston Grand Opera and Houston stages! For more information and tickets to DON GIOVANNI please visit http://www.houstongrandopera.org or call (713) 228 - 6737.
Photo courtesy of Houston Grand Opera.
David is a Special Education teacher with a passion and love for the performing arts. He aspires to become a full time theatre critic and/or professor of Drama as Literature. |