How have you been enjoying the first six months of your Adler Fellowship? In what ways have you grown thus far?
Soprano MARIA VALDES
is a first-year Adler Fellow who recently appeared as Susanna in Merola Opera Program’s 2013 production of The Marriage of Figaro
, and covered the role of Magnolia in SFO’s summer 2014 production of Show Boat
. An award-winner in the regional Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Valdes is also the winner of the top prize at the Corbett Opera Scholarship Competition at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She has been heard in concert with ensembles including the Georgia State University Singers, the Atlanta Chamber Players, the Atlanta Sacred Chorale, the choirs of Emory University, Bent Frequency, and the Bellingham Festival of Music in Washington. Valdes will make her San Francisco Opera debut this fall singing the role of Clorinda in Rossini’s La Cenerentola
My fellowship thus far has been an absolute thrill. I’ve done dozens of concerts, recitals, and auditions, and have even learned and performed two roles on top of that! In addition to all the performing opportunities I’ve had, the other Adlers and I have been so fortunate to participate in language, acting, movement and stage combat classes. It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been here six months when I’ve learned and experienced so much. I have grown quite considerably as an artist and as a person. The growing-as-an-artist part probably goes without saying, as I have worked with so many brilliant and inspirational teachers and coaches here at the opera house, and I am so thankful for their support and guidance. I earned my bachelor’s degree in the same state where I grew up, so this is the first time I’ve been away from home! It has been challenging to be away from my family and friends—especially having a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend, who is also a singer --- but I could not have asked for a better place to be in the process.
When did you first start studying music? Do you have a musical family?
My family is surprisingly not musical at all. Aside from my younger sister, who has a beautiful voice, I am the only musician in my family. When I was about five, I had a fascination with the piano. My nanny at the time—who ended up influencing most of my artistic interests---taught me how to read music, and the rest is history. I played piano and sang in choirs for years. My high school choir teacher had been an opera singer and really encouraged me to study music in college. She mentored me through high school and prepared me for college auditions. I didn’t really start studying seriously until I entered college at Georgia State University, where I studied with Richard Clement until getting into the Merola Opera Program.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time as a Merolini?
I have so many fond memories of exploring San Francisco with the other Merolini. I had really wonderful colleagues that summer. One would think that going into a competitive program would leave little room for building friendships, but I had the opposite experience. We were really supportive of each other. There were a few times where five or six of us would meet up for brunch on our days off. It was so nice to get together outside of work and just talk. However, I would have to say that, hands down, the coolest memory I have is of the San Francisco Pride weekend celebration. I have never seen so many people so happy and so free. Plus, I got to go to a party with some of the other Merolini at Harvey Milk’s old apartment in the Castro, where I really felt the richness of San Francisco’s history and felt proud to celebrate it in such a storied place. Musically, my favorite memories from Merola all involved The Marriage of Figaro
. I remember running the opera for the first time and thinking, “Wow, that was my first Susanna. How did I manage to learn eighteen passages of recitative!?” That opera really gave me the opportunity to play my first fully-developed, dynamic character. I can’t wait for the opportunity to try it again!
(Above: Maria Valdes as Susanna in the 2013 production of Merola's Le Nozze di Figaro. Photo by Kristen Loken.)
You’ll be making your SFO mainstage debut this fall, singing the role of Clorinda in this fall’s production of La Cenerentola, along with singing Musetta in La Bohème for Families and covering the role Oscar in Un ballo in maschera. Which of these are you most looking forward to?
I am certainly looking forward to all three, but Clorinda will be the most fun for me. Zanda Svede, who is playing my sister, is a fellow Adler and one of my good friends, and I know we’ll have a blast playing such hilariously awful characters together. Comedy is one of the hardest things to play, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
Do you have any favorite composers or operas?
I really love American composers and poetry. I love Samuel Barber, especially—both his songs and opera. I’ve been a fan of Jake Heggie for years now and I think he is doing such innovative things for the industry. His songs especially speak to me. Of course, any young singer would be crazy not to love Mozart. Mozart’s music really trains the voice and is written so brilliantly and meticulously. I think Le Nozze di Figaro
is an absolute masterpiece. On a completely different note, I love the more angular writing of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress
. Stravinksy really has a unique way of making things both rhythmic and lyrical at the same time, and I particularly love the orchestration.
What are some roles that you hope to play at some point in your career?
I really hope to play Cleopatra, Gilda and Manon. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Violetta!
You covered the role of Magnolia in this summer’s production of Show Boat, a role that requires dancing and dialogue, in addition to singing a different genre of music. How did you prepare? Did you already have experience in these areas?
I actually had no experience with musical theatre or dancing, but have always loved singing different genres of music. Since Show Boat is written in such a classical way, I actually found it to be quite fitting vocally. But I had to work extensively before staging on both the dancing and the dialogue. I watched previous archival recordings of the show and listened to as many Broadway recordings and videos as I could find. I was very fortunate to have been able to take some private dance lessons and learn some of the various dance styles featured in the show. I had a little help from my Southern roots with the accent, but I give most of my dialogue preparation credit to my boyfriend, who read every scene with me over and over as I was memorizing my lines. I will say he does an impressive interpretation of Queenie!
(Above: tenor Pene Pati and soprano Maria Valdes in the 2013 Merola Grand Finale. Photo by Kristen Loken.)
When you’re not at the opera house, how do you like to spend your time? Any favorite San Francisco hangouts?
I spend a lot of my free time talking with my boyfriend on Skype or the phone. One of my favorite things to do is watch movies together. If we need to pause or start at a specific spot we have a system where we write “3, 2, 1” back and forth so we stay at the same point. It always makes me laugh. I guess we are truly children of the communication era! In complete contrast to that, one of my favorite places to go is Golden Gate Park. I can walk there from my apartment and can hardly believe such a beautiful place is so close to the city streets. My favorite restaurants and hangouts are in the Mission on Valencia Street. I love the vibe of the people and the restaurants and shops there.
What is your favorite:
book? Letters to a Young Poet
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Dark and Stormy