Soprano Sarah Shafer stars as the young Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden premiering March 1 through 10 at Cal Performances. Shafer made her professional debut last season as Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro at the Glyndebourne Festival and at the BBC Proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall. Amid a busy rehearsal schedule the rising star took some time out to answer to answer San Francisco Opera’s Five Questions.
You are currently in the Master's program at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as well as performing professionally and making your debut at various opera companies around the country. Has it been difficult juggling both?
Well, I've been at Curtis for almost seven years, and the program I'm in now is great because it's flexible for exactly these situations. My work at school consists of preparing and performing roles, and not much anymore in the way of classes. So it's worked out wonderfully that when I am offered a role, I am usually able to take time off from Curtis to perform! My teachers and coaches at Curtis are all so supportive in wanting the best for me and my career, and I feel so thankful for the opportunities I've been given there, and also now as my career is starting!
Your character in The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox, is a young girl of about 10 years old. As an adult performer how do you get in the mindset of a 10 year old? Did you do any research for the role?
It's such a thrill for me to get to play a character who I have grown up with and related to as a child. Because of that it was an easy transition into the character of Mary. In many ways, I still feel like a 10 year old girl, so I didn't have to go very far! I did reread the Francis Hodgson Burnett story to get back into her world. But I found when I got into staging that it felt very natural for me to play a little girl! Even my hairstyle for the show is exactly like my hair growing up, so it really feels like a trip down memory lane!
Is The Secret Garden your first world premiere opera to perform in? How has it been rehearsing and preparing for a new production like this?
Yes, this is my first world premiere! It has been so exciting working alongside the composer and the librettist as well as the whole team to bring this story to life. It's been wonderful and so helpful to have Nolan there to tell us his original intention for some of the tricky lines, so that the piece is clear and each moment is filled with meaning. It's also been fascinating to see some of the process of the beautiful projections for the set - I think it will really take on a life of its own when all the elements come together!
The cast of The Secret Garden features a lot of up and coming young singers. How has it been getting to know the cast learning about each other?
It's been great! The cast is so talented and all come with great voices and their own ideas about their characters, which makes for an inspiring atmosphere in which to work. They are also all just genuinely top-notch people who care so much about their art, and the people around them. It's been a joy to get to know them!
Is this your first time in SF? Do you have a favorite spots to eat or shop?
Other than the audition for this role, this is my first time in SF! I'm still getting to know the city, but two favorites so far are Brenda's French Soul Food and the macaroons at Maestro's!