Meet the Artist - Melinda Whittington
Melinda Whittington takes the stage as Rusalka (along with Sara Gartland) but first, we wanted to get to know this fantastic soprano.
Tell us about the first opera you saw.
The first opera I saw was actually Lucia di Lammermoor, with an 8 month pregnant Lucia! It was in Raleigh, NC, and I was a junior in college. The first role I sang was Mollie Sinclair in Carlisle Floyd's The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair. Not your standard fare, but my opera director at UNC Chapel Hill was very passionate about American opera. It's a passion that I inherited, as my dream role is another of Floyd's characters, Susannah. And, probably my favorite role thus far in my career has been Marie Antoinette in Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles, which I performed with Wolf Trap Opera in 2015.
You were with us last spring for Don Giovanni, what have you been up to since?
When I was with you last, I was fresh off the heels of my wedding and honeymoon! Since then, it's been nice to have a few extended periods of time at home to settle in. Lots of spending time with my husband, our families, and close friends, and knocking out some home projects. One career marker was (finally!) doing my first role repeat - Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte, which I sang at Ash Lawn Opera this summer. It's fun to revisit a role, as you discover so many new vocal and dramatic things. Not to mention, it's a lot less work on the front end! But the relief of a repeated role didn't last long, as I've been learning two new languages and roles simultaneously! Czech my debut of Rusalka, and Russian for my upcoming contract at Chicago Lyric covering Ana Maria Martinez's Tatyana in Eugene Onegin! I've also performed with the Charlotte Symphony, as well as some private recitals.
Do you have a dream role?
It's amazing to be able to say, I've already performed many of my dream roles! Violetta, Mimi, Marguerite, Donna Anna and now Rusalka! (Dvořák has always been one of my favorite composers!) But one I'm really itchin' to perform is the title character in Carlisle Floyd's Susannah. I was born in Knoxville, TN, have lived in the south for most of my life, and have Pentecostal ministers on both sides of my family. There are some terrible things that happen to Susannah to which I can not personally relate, but I think we can all identify with her longing to grow beyond her restricted world, that feeling of wanting "to see what's beyond them mountains!" Her character arc, her emotional vulnerability, and of course Floyd's stunning music with its ties to Appalachian folk music all give me a quite a hankerin' to sang it! ... (Said with my best southern drawl)
Do you have a favorite aria?
The aria that made me want to be an opera singer is Mimi's first act aria from La boheme: Si, mi chiamano Mimi. I can recall driving down the main road through the center of my college campus, with Mirella Freni singing this aria blasting on the radio, bawling my eyes out! I didn't grow up with classical music or opera; the depth of sound color and emotional expressivity tapped into a place in my soul that had never been tapped! And I guess from that moment on, I was hooked :) The aria begins and ends so simply, just nervous conversation between neighbors; yet the climax in the middle is so profound ... It's just perfect in every way :)
What are you looking forward to most about being back in Arizona?
The wonderful people! From the costume shop to the wig and makeup ladies, from the administration and staff of Arizona Opera to the amazing creative team they always hire, and it's a joy to back with my amazing hosts from Don Giovanni last season! In addition to the incredible folks behind the scenes, on the stage, and in the audience here in Arizona, I am also looking forward to enjoying and exploring the beautiful landscape, which is so different from my home in North Carolina!
What is currently on your Spotify/Pandora playlist?
Usually anything and everything but opera! Right now: lots of soul music, always some Ella Fitzgerald (always.), Marc Broussard, Brandi Carlile, Sia, Lake Street Dive, Led Zeppelin, Four tet, Aretha Franklin, and some really fun Zydeco music that nobody would be able to sit still to!
What is your most powerful memory related to opera?
This is SUCH a good question, and I've been thinking about it for days. My most powerful memory is probably standing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera and singing two arias, in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Semifinals. Back in 2013, I was one of 20 young singers from around the nation to have this honor. I remember being nervous for weeks leading up to it... And then I stepped onto that stage, and I was more present than I'd ever been in my life. While sitting in a dressing room at the Met, with MY name on the door, I had been mediating about all of the greats who had warmed up and felt anxious in that room before me, who had stood on that stage and shared their voices... I felt the power of that connection from the first breath I took and enjoyed 15 minutes of perfect flow and focus - no physical, vocal, or mental barriers to my expression. That's the stuff we performers dream of. :)