The dazzling vocal acrobatics of Grammy-award winning soprano Audrey Luna have raised the roof of many a fine auditorium the world over. Here, the American chats about ‘making it’ at the Metropolitan Opera, striking a balance between acting and singing on stage, her process for preparing new contemporary roles, and her favourite travel companion–Roxy.
There are times when I can make something in a room vibrate in a special way…I get a little dizzy and the wax in my ears will crackle. I love the sensation."
When did you find your ‘coloratura’ sound?
I listened to a lot of Beverly Sills, Renata Scoto and Natalie Dessay in my teens. I gravitated to their repertoire and began to experiment with trying to sing their cadenzas and interpolating their high notes into various arias. It was like a game to me…an extremely fun challenge. I guess that’s how I discovered I had notes well above a high C. Sometimes I warm up to a C above high C just to see how high I can go. I feel like a gymnast in the Olympics…it literally gives me a high. There are times when I can make something in a room vibrate in a special way…I get a little dizzy and the wax in my ears will crackle. I love the sensation. I know these notes won’t last forever, but while I have them, I almost feel a responsibility to use them.
At what point in your career did you realize that you had ‘made it’?
I guess it was the day I auditioned for The Tempest at the Met 8 years ago. I had already fallen in love with the role and had memorised all of Ariel’s music, hoping that I would be able to sing the role somewhere, someday. My manager called a few hours later when I had returned home to my apartment in New York. He was on speaker and the whole office was listening. He said something like, “Well, I have some news for you….(pause…pause….pause)….You will be singing Ariel in ‘The Tempest’ at the Metropolitan Opera.” At that moment, I felt that I had made it.
What do you love the most about your profession?
I am so appreciative of everything that this job has given me. I love walking through a new city with my dog, Roxy. She travels everywhere with me, and my favourite way to get to know a new city is by taking lots of long walks with her. It’s such a great way to get to know a new place, and the best part of these walks is discovering something new and exciting—a taste, a smell, something sensory. These moments always make me stop and take an inventory of my life…how did I get here?…I sing for a living!… I travel the world making music… I am so lucky.
When on stage, how do you maintain balance between singing and acting?
During the rehearsal process, I find singers often fixate on their sound, never wanting to make a mistake. They stick with what’s safe physically so that the vocal beauty remains number one. I understand the thinking behind this, because opera is first and foremost about the beauty of the voice. If I’m in a rehearsal room for 4 to 6 weeks, then I want to experiment and challenge myself, stretch and lean into the character, or else I’m bound to get extremely bored. It is the time to make mistakes, to see how far you can go dramatically, while still maintaining beauty in the voice. It’s through repetition that I find this balance.
During my work with the incredible choreographer, Crystal Pite in The Tempest, she had me moving in ways I never knew I could, while singing some of the most challenging vocal lines that have ever been written for the human voice. She gave me a sort of language of movement rather than choreographing every move, so I could find what worked best for me. I’ve used this valuable tool in other roles that I’ve done since.
As a touring professional musician, how do you deal with the loneliness of traveling and being away from your family for extended periods of time?
Until about 5 years ago, most of my work was in the US and the rehearsal periods were short, so I would be home every few weeks. When I saw that my 2012 schedule included more international gigs with longer rehearsal periods, I decided I would get a dog. On a gig in Kansas City, singing Madame Mao in Nixon in China, I found my amazing travel companion and best friend, Roxy—a long-haired Chihuahua. Traveling with her makes being away from home much more bearable, but I am also very thankful that we live in a time where resources like FaceTime and Skype make seeing my loved ones possible, no matter where I am in the world.
I found my amazing travel companion and best friend, Roxy—a long-haired Chihuahua."
Top 5 must-haves when on tour?
1 Roxy, of course!
2 Good internet.
3 Travel kit of spices for cooking.
4 A good knife I pack from home for cooking.
5 Music for my next gig.
I would say that the actual business of singing is about half the job."
If you were starting out again, would you do anything differently?
I would say that the actual business of singing is about half the job. Tax laws in foreign countries, the best way to receive your fee, saving for retirement, health care for a self- employed person, incorporating your business, and using social media for your professional life, are just some of the important things to know. None of these skills were taught in school. It would be great to see conservatories bring in working singers and/or artist managers to talk to students about such important aspects of the job. So, if I were starting out today, I would definitely learn as much as I could about running a small business. The internet is full of great free resources for this, and no matter what career path someone ends up having, knowing the basics of running your own business is valuable information.
How does your process for preparing for an established operatic role differ to your process for preparing for a new contemporary role?
With a contemporary role, there are usually a few opportunities to hear the completed work, but then again sometimes all you have are sketches that may not be complete until halfway through the rehearsal process. When I am digging into a contemporary role, I will try to work with a coach who is familiar with the composer’s sound world and style. One of the many exciting aspects of working on music by living composers is that you are often in communication with the composers while preparing to perform their work. I’ll never be able to email Mozart or have Donizetti come to a dress rehearsal, so having the opportunity to connect with the creator about a challenging passage, or clarifying their vision for that musical moment, is pretty great!
What inspires you?
Nature. I was born and raised in Oregon. I received my education in the cities of Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New York and Chicago. While I am thankful for my time spent in those cities, I always longed to get back to my roots…back to nature. For the past 10 years, I’ve lived in Hawaii. It is where I am happiest, and I think for this profession it is important to be able to go home to a place where you love to spend your time in between jobs and recharge. For me that’s Hawaii. Everywhere I look there is another breath-taking view, another trail to hike, another beach to call my sanctuary…. After time at home, I am re-energized and ready for the next adventure.
To find out more about Audrey Luna see: www.audrey-luna.com
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