Mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier
is a second-year Adler Fellow who made her Company debut in last season's production of Rigoletto
. Renée graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, and partcipated in the Merola Opera Program in 2010 and 2011, when she sang Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia
. She has won numerous awards, including being a national finalist of the Bel Canto Vocal Scholarship Foundation Competition and a national semifinalist at the Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions in 2011. This season she has appeared in three company productions: as Pantalis in Mephistopheles
, a Maid in Dolores Claiborne
, and most recently as Meg Page in Falstaff
. Here, Renée reflects on working with opera legends, her past life as a violist, and how you can tell a lot about a person by how they feel about Arrested Development
What have been some of your favorite memories during your Adler Fellowship? With whom have you most enjoyed working?
There are so many moments from the past two years that I will treasure, but I think the neatest thing has been to watch all of us Adlers grow and develop into better singers and artists. I love seeing my friends on stage singing their hearts out, and performing with them has been such a joy! I'd also say that I simply adore our music staff, and having the opportunity to be coached by these amazing musical minds has been invaluable.
When did you know that you wanted to be an opera singer? Did you ever think you were going to have a different career?
I definitely didn't know opera was my future until I was well into another degree in college. I was a viola performance major and for my junior recital I decided to sing some Rossini songs to fill some time. After my viola professor heard me at the dress rehearsal, she pulled me aside and flat out told me “Renee, you should really be singing”. It was a bit of a shock to me, as I had only been taking voice lessons for fun and to maybe get a part in a musical. My brilliant voice teacher, however, knew far before that moment what I would end up doing with my future.
(Above: Renée Rapier with Bryn Terfel and Meredith Arwady in Verdi's Falstaff. Photo by Cory Weaver.)
Who or what are your musical inspirations? Who has been your biggest role model as a singer?
The greatest thing about San Francisco Opera is that there really is musical inspiration to be found everywhere: on stage, in the podium, and in the pit. To stand five feet away from someone like Pat Racette or Bryn Terfel as they make such incredible music, it’s about as inspiring as it gets! There are so many wonderful mezzos that I admire, but my biggest personal role model would have to be Sarah Connolly. I can remember watching a video of her years ago as Giulio Cesare and being totally blown away. Since then, everything I’ve seen or heard from her has been spot on. She is such an expressive and intelligent artist and I adore her voice. I'm hoping one day I get a chance to see her live!
You have also been involved in early music projects. What do you enjoy about performing early music? How is it different from the type of opera performances you see here at SFO?
My very first outing as a singer was to the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute in 2008, where I was surrounded by early music and fell completely in love with it! I think baroque music is special because of the knowledge and craftsmanship that the performer is expected to have. The early music specialists I know are equal parts musician and scholar. They are trained to know about the rules and history specific to each composer, time period, and region. It's those details that not only tailor the music to the artist's voice, but inject this oft maligned genre with incredible expression. That's what makes early music so intriguing: depicting the strongest of emotions within the frame work of rigid stylistic rules.
Do you enjoy performing other types of music? Have you played another instrument?
As I mentioned previously, I was a violist for most of my life and I sure do miss my days sawing away in orchestra! Some of my most precious musical memories come from my time in the viola section, things like Stravinsky’s Firebird suite and Mozart’s Requiem. I think being in an ensemble like that gives one a freedom to get swept up in the music a bit more. While I’d love to try things other than classical, my performance outlets apart from opera and orchestra are pretty much karaoke and broadway tunes at Martuni’s.
When you aren’t at the opera house, where in San Francisco do you like to hang out? Do you have any favorite restaurants or cafes?
When I’m not at the opera house I love spending time at home futzing around in my kitchen and trying different recipes. I’m not particularly great at it, but cooking is my go-to stress relief and I love trying new ideas and ingredients. I’m also quite lucky to have a BiRite and a farmers market very close by for all my fancy food needs. Every time I’m away from the city I find my appreciation for such a wonderful restaurant culture grows. One of the things I always miss when I’m gone are the food trucks of San Francisco which are a fun way to try new dishes on a whim. That, and Blue Bottle Coffee.
(Above: Renée Rapier performing at the Stern Grove Festival. Photo by Kristen Loken.)
Who are your favorite composers of and characters in opera? Do you have any dream roles you would like to perform?
My all-time favorite composer is Shostakovich and has been ever since I played the last movement of his 5th symphony when I was 14. As far as opera goes, I’m still discovering much of the repertoire (and loving it) so I’m sure this will change the more I learn, but at the moment I think my favorites are Verdi, Britten, and Handel. I was lucky enough to have performed masterworks by two of them this year! I don’t know that I have a dream role quite yet. Like many mezzos, I certainly look forward to singing my first Carmen or Charlotte, but I’m in no hurry! For now, I am enjoying fleshing out whatever character I’m working on at the moment.
Are there any roles you have performed that you particularly identify with? What have been your favorite performances in your career thus far?
I’ve been blessed with so many great experiences in my career but I’d have to say that this fall’s Falstaff has been the best so far! Everything about that show was stellar: the cast, the music, the production and the direction. Working on that clockwork of a piece with such a kind group of people made every night such a fulfilling experience. I really felt like a part of a team, more so than in any other situation I’ve been in since becoming a singer. It made me remember some great advice I got from Edgar Meyer, the genius bass player, which was this: find the best musicians you can find, and make the best music you can make.
What is your favorite…
Food? My favorite snack is roasted seaweed! Sesame flavor, please :)
Book? I don’t know if I have a favorite book, but I did just finish a really fascinating one called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and I highly recommend it.
TV show? My favorite TV show is definitely Arrested Development. It’s almost become a cult and I sometimes judge a person’s character based on how they feel about that show (there’s always money in the banana stand).
Film? Favorite movie is so hard! I grew up on the great 80’s trilogies like Back to the Future and Indiana Jones, but I’m loving seeing the classics like Hitchcock and Kubrick for the first time. Next up is Lawrence of Arabia and I’m very excited!