Soprano Marina Harris
is a second-year Adler Fellow. Marina made her debut at San Francisco Opera as Susan Sowerby in the world premiere of The Secret Garden
earlier this year and sang multiple roles in the world premiere of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene.
This season, she has appeared as Elena in Mephistopheles
, a maid in Dolores Claiborne
, and Berta in The Barber of Seville for Families
. Along with her fellow Adlers, Marina will be featured in The Future is Now: The Adler Fellows Gala Concert
TONIGHT, November 27, at 7:30 pm at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center. You can also catch Marina one last time as an Adler Fellow performing with the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus in their Holiday Concert "SHINE!"
on Friday, December 6. Below, Marina answers our questions about her favorite moments as an Adler, what it's like to work on world premieres, and why she's glad to be a West Coast native.
You grew up and studied voice in California. What do you think is special about the classical music scene here? When you’ve performed on the East Coast, have you noticed distinct differences in musical cultures?
We are so lucky here in California to have such a diverse classical music scene. Our audiences here are so appreciative, and the musical environment is so positive and welcoming. Seeing the same smiling faces in the house when I was first in Merola as I do now is so wonderful and comforting. As far as my education goes, I am so grateful for my experiences at both Cal State Long Beach and USC. I was allowed to make mistakes, learn about myself and really get to know my own voice, and I think you don’t always get to do that in a conservatory setting.
You have now sung in three world premieres with SFO: The Secret Garden, Mary Magdalene, and Dolores Claiborne. What challenges do you face when you create a role? Are there advantages to performing a role that has never been done before?
I have had such incredible good fortune to be a part of these three productions, and to have spent so much time on stage here. There are huge vocal advantages to creating a role because there is absolutely no expectation of what it should sound like. It’s incredibly liberating! I find the whole process of creating a role really exciting, and I love the collaborative process that goes into it. When I sang Tamar in The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
, I worked closely with Kevin Newbury, Michael Christie and Mark Adamo to help create a relatable and understandably angry woman who finds her husband in bed with the title character of the opera. Mind you, the role itself is only about five minutes long, but it is a pivotal scene—Mary Magdalene is nearly stoned to death by guards Tamar has summoned before Yeshua (Jesus) intervenes, and it sets the entire opera in motion. I enjoy creating each character’s backstory and history, even if there’s little source information to be had. Sometimes that’s more fun because there are no boundaries, no right or wrong choices, just your own imagination and creativity.
Due to some last-minute shifts in casting this season, you appeared as Elena in four performances of Mephistopheles. How did you prepare for that role, and what was it like to find out you would perform it only three weeks beforehand?
Getting to sing Elena was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had. I wasn’t involved in Mefistofele
at all when I found out, and all I could think was, “I’ve missed so much rehearsal already!” But I ran down to the music library and got set up with some production footage, a score and a word-for-word translation, and I went to work. The next day, I had my first coaching with our Head of Music Staff John Churchwell, and a few days later I started rehearsing with the incredible stage director Laurie Feldman, who helped me delve into the character and her purpose in the grand scheme of the opera. To be perfectly honest, I had a hard time getting into the over-the-top diva character of Elena (after all, I am really a mezzo-soprano at heart) and Laurie was so kind and helpful in the process. I spent a lot of time reading the Helen of Troy passages from The Odyssey
and had my artist husband show me his favorite Helen renderings, and I practiced my staging and gestures in the mirror ad nauseum. But truly nothing could have prepared me for the moment the curtain came up for my first performance on September 14th (coincidentally, my twenty-eighth birthday). I am not normally nervous for performances, but I could literally hear my heart beating and see the thousands of people waiting for me to sing, and I thought, “Oh my goodness…this is actually happening!” After the curtain came down, the entire company sang me happy birthday, and I can tell you truly it was the happiest birthday I’ve ever had.
(Above: Marina Harris as Elena in Mefistofele. Photo by Cory Weaver.)
What are some of your favorite memories from your tenure as an Adler Fellow?
I got to sing a sitzprobe as Elsa in Lohengrin
onstage with Petra Lang and Brandon Jovanavich! It was thrilling! But most of my favorite memories were made with my dear friends that I have met in this program. We really are like a family, particularly those of us who went through Merola together, and I can’t believe how quickly the two years have gone by and how much progress everyone has made. When you spend up to twelve hours a day (sometimes more!) with the same people, you really create a bond that goes beyond what normal coworkers have, and I can’t imagine how hard it’s going to be not seeing them every day.
As your Adler Fellowship comes to an end, what are your hopes for the future? Do you know what you’ll do next?
I have my sights set on Europe! I very much want to land a coveted “fest” contract with one of the German houses. Right now, what I really need as a soprano is stage experience, and to sing my first Mozart ladies and get my feet wet in the German repertoire. It seems that Strauss and Wagner may be where my voice is headed, and luckily German is my most proficient language, thanks largely in part to my work here in the Adler Program with the Goethe Institute. I will also be singing my first solo recital with the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall as part of their Neighborhood Concert Series next February, which I am so thrilled about!
Who or what inspired you to become an opera singer? Who have been your role models as a professional musician?
My mother was an opera singer. She actually sang here in the chorus for two seasons, one of which was Kurt Adler’s last. I always sang as a child, and I played guitar, clarinet and piano, but I never really got serious about singing until I was in college. I spent a summer studying in Rome, during which I heard a performance of La Bohème
in an open-air courtyard and something clicked. And I thought, “I have to do that. Or I’ll die trying.” That’s pretty much the same mentality I have today. I have so many people I look up to in this business. My voice teacher, Shigemi Matsumoto, the incredible Patricia Racette, Jessye Norman, Sheri Greenawald (of course!), and about a hundred more people that I’m forgetting. But my role model is definitely Marilyn Horne—she is a truly incredible artist and human being. There is such truth and depth to her artistry, and she gives so much to this art form and to the next generation of young singers. I feel so fortunate that I have been able to work with her over the years and I have learned so much from her.
(Above: Marina Harris performs at the 2012 'Opera in the Park' Concert. Photo by Cory Weaver.)
If you could perform any role in opera, be it for a man, woman, or child, what would it be?
I would love to sing Rigoletto! What an incredibly fascinating role that is, and what an emotional journey for whoever sings it. But as far as my own repertoire goes, I’m dying to sing Elisabetta in Don Carlo
. I’m a few years away from that though.
What is your favorite…
Food? I adore Mexican food, probably more than is normally socially acceptable.
TV show? I love Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, and of course, Classical Arts Showcase on PBS. I have been known, from time to time, to stay up late just to watch it.
Movie? Star Wars! I also love classic movies like Auntie Mame, Casablanca, and Vertigo.
Place in San Francisco? Golden Gate Park is my favorite place in the city. I could spend an entire day in the park easily. It’s so incredibly beautiful and inspirational, and my favorite way to start the day is with a jog around Stow Lake.