Category Archives: Opera

Yes, there are 6 women attached by one massive piece of blue hair.

Akhnaten at Los Angeles Opera

I made my LA Opera big-stage debut as a daughter of Akhnaten this month. The time-bending score by Philip Glass found perfection in the setting by London director Phelim McDermott.

From the very first day of rehearsal, we knew it would be incredible. We began by exploring a new way of moving across the stage – called “molding” by Phelim – which increased intensity of energy while slowing down the body. Add to that juggling, choreographed by Sean Gandini (who also taught me how to juggle), and this production was a brilliant amalgamation of ancient Egypt, Hollywood, and Cirque du Soleil.

I was especially happy to sing with two other Curtis alumni – J’nai Bridges (who graduated in the same class as me), and Michele Hemmings. (picture below)

Curtis Girls in Akhnaten

Did I mention that we all had blue or gold mani-pedis?

Also, there was this enormous hair-piece-wig-thing that connected Akhnaten’s daughters. Our page to stage said, “would the 6 daughters please come to Stage Left to be fitted with the Hectapus”… and yes, I giggled every single night.

Yes, there are 6 women attached by one massive piece of blue hair.
Yes, there are 6 women attached by one massive piece of blue hair.

I wish

Akhnaten Bows

Deborah Voigt International Voice Competition

This past weekend I was invited to Florida, to sing in the Deborah Voigt International Voice Competition. From a pool of hundreds of applicants, only 33 were invited to participate in the live rounds.

Singers from around the globe gathered at Vero Beach Opera, where we went through a challenging performance schedule, eventually cutting it down to the final 8 contestants. It’s my huge honor to say that I made it until the very end, and was rewarded with the Louis Lawson Award.

During the competition, I sang through a selection of repertoire in French, Italian, and Russian, including arias from La Traviata (Verdi), Roméo et Juliette (Gounod), and Don Giovanni (Mozart).

Sending out a huge thanks to Vero Beach Opera for hosting the competition, and to my wonderful hosts- who not only were supportive, but celebrated with me the next day by paddle boarding on wild rivers nearby.

LA OPERA: Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist

I am now in the MOST enviable position for all young singers in the world.

At LA Opera, Placido Domingo himself selects a small number of young singers, and he and the staff mentor and coach them for a period of 1-3 years. To have been selected for this program is not only a huge honor, but also the greatest opportunity yet of my operatic career.

Over the next years, I’ll be learning from the living legends of opera, and occasionally (eek!) even performing with them.  In addition to regular repertoire, I’ll also be focusing on the Russian repertoire and language (a particular passion of mine).

Also- this means I get to LIVE in Los Angeles, the capitol of the entertainment industry. I  look forward to understanding what makes LA Opera a thriving company, focused on both classical and modern opera today.

Photo from my first concert in December:

Photo by Alma Guzman
Photo by Alma Guzman

Hush-A-Bye: an all-vocal arrangement

I started writing this arrangement in the Cincinnati airport last July. Completing the arrangement, recording all of the vocal parts, editing them all, and learning a ton of new production tools… my site ip . 3 months later this is the result. And I’m hugely proud of it.

Note: most of this happened during Pearl Fisher rehearsals at Seattle Opera. This just goes to prove, that opera and composition and sound production CAN and DO work beautifully together.

Seattle Opera, finally!

Seattle Opera, Leila
Seattle Opera, in rehearsal as Léïla in The Pearl Fishers, by Bizet

Growing up in WA state, there is no higher musical goal than singing with Seattle Opera… … And I made my debut last Sunday.

Over the next weeks, my extended family and childhood mentors will all be coming to see my perform Léïla in The Pearl Fishers by Bizart (sung in French).

You can see from above, that the rehearsal process was an absolute joy. Seattle Opera treats their artists so well! Plus, we have a fantastic artistic team preparing the music with utmost attention to detail- but still being nice when they say “don’t sing flat here.” :-)

We also can’t help but look great in the production with costumes by fashion guru, Zandra Rhodes. (Mostly) She and I talk about the costumes in this sneak-peak below.

For more info and tickets, go to http://www.seattleopera.org.

Morning Star (Cincinnati Opera)

This was, without a doubt, my most fulfilling operatic experience to date.

Morning Star was composed by Ricky Ian Gordon, to the libretto of William Hoffman. I’ve known Ricky for 6 years, so when he asked me to create the role of Esther, I didn’t hesitate in responding yes. The show centers around an immigrant family in New York, and the horrific Triangle Factory Fire, which sparked the labor movement.

While the opera was incredible by itself, it was truly the hearts of my colleagues that made it such a special experience. Everyone arrived with an extraordinary willingness to share and be open to telling a true story. Even the first rehearsal brought tears to our eyes- the music is stunningly beautiful and often sad. The cast found such joy in working with each other, and that joy expanded to include the stage crew as well as our creative team. Every singer will tell you that Tech rehearsals are the worst, but this time was different- we were all happy to just get to hang out and help each other work towards greatness.

And greatness was achieved. When you have Ricky Ian Gordon composing,  it’s difficult to avoid greatness, but the Chicago Tribune also testified that Morning Star will be remembered (and hopefully performed again soon!). Here’s a link to the article:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/vonrhein/ct-cincinnati-morning-star-opera-review-20150702-column.html

Faust at West Bay Opera

Elizabeth Zharoff, as Marguerite
Elizabeth Zharoff, as Marguerite

Elizabeth Zharoff, in her first appearance with West Bay Opera, is beautiful and very appealing as the young and pure Marguerite, and stunningly powerful of voice. As Marguerite’s sad story unfolds, she becomes a wretched, pathetic broken rag doll, her madness spilling out over the stage. Brava.” – Mercury News

I’ve had the privilege of working with West Bay Opera for the past 5 weeks on a new production of Gounod’s Faust. Ragnar Conde directs, and Jose Luis Moscovich leads a fantastic (and very nice!) cast. Performances began last weekend at the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, and will continue this weekend. Tickets can be found at http://www.westbayopera.org.

Faust is one of my favorite operas. I love French opera in general, and Marguerite in particular is an intriguing character, because she goes through such a fast and dramatic change. No other character I’ve played needed to so much careful attention to the emotional progression. She begins totally innocent and vivacious, and then proceeds to fall in love, become pregnant, kill her baby, watch her brother die, and then finally go insane. Roles like Violetta and Lucia have a longer time on-stage to develop each of these states, whereas Marguerite evolves rapidly, with large time lapses between scenes. It is challenging- but ultimately inwardly gratifying- to follow her heart through this opera.

InnovoxVR

Innovox_Title

The past month, I’ve worked with programmer Keith Kaisershot and artist Samuel Hum to develop an awe-inspiring VR experience. I combined both composition and vocals into 360° surround sound. I really believe this is one of the most incredible ways to experience being inside a voice.

Short Description:

InnovoxVR is an interactive music/art experience inside virtual reality.

It was created during the 2015 mobile VR jam by opera singer/composer Elizabeth Zharoff, programmer Keith Kaisershot, and artist Samuel Hum.

The user appears inside of a dark sphere, which has 12 surrounding vertices. Each vertex corresponds to a unique vocal track. When all tracks play simultaneously, the user hears one voice weaving into a song. The audio projects from each vertex, so that the user is encompassed, and can experiment with auditory perception.

There is no directional movement inside the experience other than turning the head. To trigger a track on, the user taps once on the Gear VR headset. To trigger the track off, the user taps once more. Thus, the user can select different layers of the track, choosing which to hear. We used Unity 4 to develop the experience.

The art perfectly complements the audio, also flowing once a track is triggered. When a vertex is activated, an image resembling a galaxy spirals outwards. As the music intensity increases, the spiral speed also increases, making the entire sphere seem to pulse faster and brighter. Floating creatures also emerge and float around the user. At the end, the creatures and galaxies all explode with light, as the screen fades to white and the music ends.

 

Journey: a vocal arrangement

Screenshot from the game, by That Game Company
Screenshot from the game, by That Game Company

For those of you who love video games, you should listen to this.

For those of you who love opera, you should also listen to this.

I’ve been looking for ways to use my voice for video games. This is just one of the possibilities I have in mind- arranging incredible game soundtracks for only a human voice, and recording and editing all these tracks myself. (cough, cough- it takes time!) I hope to refine this a bit more after I hear comments, and also after I’ve completed a few other songs.

This song is originally heard in Journey, with music composed by Austin Wintory.

It’s still a work in progress, so kindly don’t download or post this elsewhere yet.

 

the Reality of Reviews

Reviews=Dread. You wouldn’t believe how much criticism a singer takes in every day, and then returns one hour or day later and presents their heart and soul again, knowing it will once more be picked apart. Of course- when we’re in rehearsals, we know this is meant to just be helpful. At ENO especially, the staff gives everything they can to help the singers be at their best. And we love them for it, and try to take the comments with a smile that shows we really do appreciate their work and careful listening.

But reviews. This kind of criticism- often from people who don’t know what is actually happening behind the scenes- this it the most difficult to take. Sometimes, the critical comments are completely baseless, revealing a deep miscomprehension of a production or singer’s qualities. But, sometimes they are spot-on. Sometimes singers have an off-night, off-moment, or perhaps an off-role, and I have to say: We are more critical of ourselves than any reviewer will ever be. Dreading the bad review coming makes it even more difficult to make it through those tough nights.

I don’t normally read reviews during a performance run, because the negative comments have too much weight on my sensibility. The musical staff that has prepared me knows the production and my voice better than any reviewer. I rely on their comments and my own technique to make each night better.

However- after what I consider a great opening night at the ENO Traviata, one of my friends posted the headline below on my Facebook.

Reviews: wonderful relief, when they acknowledge our hearts’ profound revealings.

Thank you, Kent, for posting this headline. I actually didn’t read past it, for fear of messing up my performance Zen. But the headline made my heart fly. :-)

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/la-traviata-english-national-opera-review-elizabeth-zharoff-is-a-delight-from-start-to-finish-10036148.html