Thursday, February 26, 2015

ARTISTS CORNER: Soprano Alexandra Batsios

Soprano Alexandra Batsios
American soprano Alexandra Batsios returns to Sarasota Opera this season as the Queen of Shemakha in Rimsky-Korsakov's exotic opera The Golden Cockerel. Her performance has been described as "penetrating and vocally stratospheric" by the Herald Tribune. Ms. Batsios made her Sarasota Opera mainstage debut as Berta in the 2014 production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville. She has also been seen as Annina in Verdi's La traviava, Clorinda in Rossini's La Cenerentola, and Flora in Britten's The Turn of the Screw with Palm Beach Opera. While at Palm Beach Opera, she also premiered the role of Yadwiga in the first staged performance of Ben Moore's Enemies, A Love Story.

Q. Where are you originally from and where do you make your home now?

A. I’m originally from a small town close to St. Louis called Granite City, IL. I currently reside in Princeton, NJ.

Q. What drew you to become a singer?  Was there a specific “Aha!” moment of clarity?

A. I was always an entertainer. I would sing along to every Disney movie, make costumes out of household items, and subject my family to my “performances.” I wanted to be on Broadway for the longest time! When I began taking voice lessons, I found an appreciation for operatic music and how beautiful and moving it could be. When it was time to choose a major for college, I knew I wanted to perform, and since singing was always something I enjoyed, I pursued voice performance.

Q. Did you have other career aspirations in the works before you decided on singing?  

A. While I was studying chemistry in high school, I had this idea I was going to become a chemist, but that was short-lived!
Ms. Batsios as Berta in Rossini's The Barber of Seville
Q. What can you tell us about this character?  What do you want the audience to leave knowing about her after the performance?

A. The Queen of Shemakha reminds me of Cleopatra in a lot of ways. She’s beautiful and charming, but can also subjugate everyone with her wit. The difference between the Queen and Cleopatra is that the Queen doesn’t need an army to help her dominate because she can do it alone. I think the audience should know that she’s not evil, but her intentions are not completely honest.

Q. How do you prepare a role for performance?

A. It’s important to do all the background study first, that way my attention can be focused on the text, music, and emotion. I try to find and read any source material about the opera to get a sense of the storyline. Then I read the libretto to see how my character reacts to other characters and events. Then comes the translating of the score, speaking the text and finding the poetic line, learning the notes, coaching the role musically and sometimes dramatically, all the while trying to memorize it! I also have to make sure I have the stamina to sing the role. The Queen of Shemakha is a very taxing and unforgiving role vocally, and by learning it in sections then putting those sections together, I am giving myself a chance to find the places in the music where I can take a metaphoric “break.”

Q. What is your favorite opera?

A. My favorite opera is Le nozze di Figaro. It never gets old for me. The minute the overture starts, I’m excited. Every character goes through the entire range of emotions, and to think the opera takes place in one day! It’s amazing.

Q. Favorite operatic role to play? What makes it so great?

Ms. Batsios as the Queen of Shemakha in
The Golden Cockerel.
Photo by Rod Millington
A. My favorite role to date is Clorinda from La Cenerentola. I know the stepsisters from Cinderella are often referred to as “ugly,” but I think the ugly is more on the inside than outside. The role is so fun because the sisters are absolutely ridiculous and in their own little world. The opera is a great comedy and has a wonderful moral. Plus, singing Rossini is a blast!

Q. How did you learn to sing in Russian?

A. I grew up in an Eastern Orthodox church, and we frequently sang in church Slavonic, so I had some background in the Russian language. However, I did go to a coach who knows Russian to help refresh my memory and set me on the right track.

Q. Beyond the musical work, what other kind of preparation/research work do you incorporate in the learning process?  Historical?  Character study?  

A. Understanding a character’s motivation for their actions and emotions is another step towards preparing a role. As an audience, we sometimes only see a glimpse in the life of a character, but what about the rest of their life? Does that character have parents? Are they still alive? What’s that character’s favorite color? What are their passions? Digging into the character’s background and emotional world directly affects how I interpret the music and make dramatic choices.

Q. Do you listen to any non-operatic music or artists?

A. Besides opera, I like listening to musicals, choral music, and a cappella music, specifically Pentatonix!

Q. Thus far, what is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal?  During a performance?
Ms. Batsios as the Queen of Shemakha.
Photo by Rod Millington

A. Luckily, nothing really bizarre has happened to me yet!

Q. Do you have any pre-performance rituals?  Performance superstitions?  Good luck charms?  If yes, why?

A. The only pre-performance ritual I have is popping Altoids before I go onstage. Got to have fresh breath! The day of a performance I don’t set an alarm (unless it’s a matinee!), eat a hearty breakfast, go for a walk, and warm up my voice. Keep it simple.

Q. How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?

A. While on the road, I enjoy reading, catching up on my TV shows or finding a new show to watch, cooking, baking, and taking in any attractions that are in the area. I am a huge baseball fan (Go Cardinals!), I enjoy playing billiards, trying new restaurants, and the occasional craft beer.

Q. How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road”?  Do you keep a blog?  Website? Facebook?  Twitter?

A. I update my Facebook fan page with pictures and tidbits about my travels for my family and friends. I also use Skype, FaceTime, and email to keep in touch.

Don't miss Ms. Batsios as the Queen of Shemakha in Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel playing now through March 19th. Information and tickets are available at or by calling the Sarasota Opera Box Office at (941) 328-1300. You can follow Ms. Batsios' career via her website at

Saturday, February 14, 2015

ARTISTS CORNER: Soprano Maeve Höglund

Soprano Maeve Höglund
Maeve Höglund makes both her Sarasota Opera debut and her role debut as Susanna in this season's The Marriage of Figaro. She is described as a versatile artist who has been praised repeatedly in New York Times as “a striking soprano,” “outstanding,” and one who “stands out among singers.” 
She recently made her Carnegie Hall debut as soprano soloist in the New York première of Paul Moravec’s The Blizzard Voices with Oratorio Society of New York. Her recent engagements include starring roles in Gotham Chamber Opera’s production, “Baden-Baden 1927,” featuring works by Weill, Hindemith, Toch, and Milhaud, as well as the role of Atilia in Cavalli’s Eliogabalo.

Maeve Höglund is also a featured singer and vocal educator for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz Academy, a program offering online tutorial education to middle school students in the New York City area.  

Q. Where are you originally from and where do you make your home now?

A. I was born and raised in Olympia, WA.  Most notably known for its constant rainfall many don't know that Washington State is home to one of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S. - the Hoh Rainforest located on the Olympic Peninsula.

Though Washington State will always be home, I have made a home in Riverdale which is located in the Northwest part of the Bronx in New York City.

Soprano Maeve Höglund (center) at Carnegie Hall
Q. You have such a unique name. What is its origin?

A. Thank you!  My surname is of Swedish heritage and hails the meaning: hög 'high' + lund 'grove'.  This most certainly had to do with the surrounding landscape of where my family is from.  As for my first name, that is a story I love to speak about.  The short version is the following: Maeve is the Anglicized version of Medb (Old Irish spelling) or Meḋḃ, Meaḋḃ (Middle Irish spelling). Maeve was the warrior Queen of Connacht who hailed from what is modern day Ireland but back then was occupied by the Celts.

Most notably, Queen Maeve was the warrior queen of Connacht, the western province of Ireland. Historically, she would have lived sometime around the years 50BC - 50AD. Because of the time period much of her story has become folklore.  I grew up learning that she was the Queen of the Fairies and little people.  It is said that her father was king of Connacht before becoming High King of Ireland and she became ruler of Connacht after him.  She had five recognized husbands, and ruled for over 60 years. She was also said to be the reason her husbands became kings, that to be the ruler of Connacht they had to be 'married to Medb' as in married to the land.

Q. What drew you to become a singer?  Was there a specific “Aha!” moment of clarity?

A. I would have to say that I was always drawn to singing, performing, music & theatre.  From a young age I would love to dress up, sing into the fan or tape recorder, and put on shows for my family.  However, the turning point of singing Opera and classical music was when I spent two summers at Boston University's Tanglewood Institute.  During those summers I heard and met Bryn Terfel, Dawn Upshaw, Angela Gheorghiu, Yo-Yo Ma, among others in addition to hearing my first live Brahms Symphony No. 3 (one of my favorites).  This ignited something in me that I'd never experienced before.  It was then that I was changed forever and that my destiny to be a singer found me and vice-versa.

Q. Did you have other career aspirations in the works before you decided on singing?

A. Even though I knew I wanted to go to school to study music after high school, I actually considered becoming a massage therapist.  I was accepted into New England Conservatory, where I ended up attending, and decided to desert my thoughts to be a massage therapist.  After I graduated the Conservatory I was looking at other arenas where I might bring in money and reconsidered massage school.  I even went as far as attending a pre-enrollment workshop for prospective students.  I actually was quite serious about going but then realized it cost just as much to get a massage degree as it did a Master's in Music.  It was another turning point toward my continued commitment to being a singer.

Maeve Höglund as Susanna with baritone
Philip Cutlip as her betrothed Figaro
Q. This is a role debut for you. What are you looking forward to most about singing this role?

A. It is my role debut for Susanna which I'm absolutely delighted about.  In all honesty, I am so in love with Mozart's music that part of me almost enjoys listening to it more than singing it!  Don't get me wrong, this role is absolutely food for a singer's soul, particularly mine.  Mozart was genius in that way, he knew the voice so well and brilliantly wrote notes to text that challenge and demand the highest caliber of singing & performing.

But for me, there are specific moments in the Opera that cause a transcendental & euphoric experience.  It's as if we get transported back into the time of Mozart and get to relive what the artists and audience of that time experienced. This is what I look most forward to as it makes all the efforts toward my work as a performer worth while.

Q. What can you tell us about this character?  What do you want the audience to know about her?

A. Susanna loves life; for a servant lady, she actually has a great one!  Susanna is not only clever but she is completely spontaneous with the ability to improvise on the spot in order to succeed in humiliating her boss (who of course is trying to take advantage of her through an abolished feudal right).  That takes a special kind of understanding about how to hold your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice.  Her ultimate goal is to marry the man she loves without interference.  All the effort she takes to make that happen says a lot about who she is.  A woman of strength, integrity, wits, passion, heart, and humor.  Who wouldn't fall in love with all that?!

Q. How do you prepare a role for performance?

A. The first thing I do is translate my text.  This is not always literal,  as commonly when translating, phrases can mean something completely different when in another language.  This also requires me to translate the other character's text so that I am certain of the context of our conversations.  For me, the text comes first and then the music.  I actually speak the words as if in a play before I sing it. Once I've got the text down, I then add the music, that way there is a flow to the conversation happening.  I then dive into what actions are taking place and doing a bit of character development.  What is Susanna's background and what did her life look like before the moment that the Opera begins.  What are her relationships with all the character's onstage and what are their histories together.  I also do a bit of reading; for instance, The Marriage of Figaro is an adaption of a play carrying the same name by Pierre Beaumarchais. I also do a bit of research to gain a context for the time period.  Once I feel comfortable with all those elements, I'm ready to get the direction and coaching of a Director and Maestro in addition to working moments out with my colleagues.

With all the elements put together and I'm ready to go!

Q. Are there any famous Susanna’s from the past whose interpretations you admire?

A. Yes...I would say Alison Hagley, Anna Moffo, and Mirella Freni.  All were amazing artists in their own right but dissected the Da Ponte text (Mozart's librettist was Lorenzo Da Ponte) like it was a Shakespeare play.  Most importantly, all had incredible interpretations of the text in addition to being Mozart specialists.

Q. In addition to performing, it sounds like you dedicate a significant amount of time to teaching and education. Can you tell us about the type of work you do and why you enjoy it so much?

A. Yes!  Once I finished my Master's degree I wanted to diversify my activities and was encouraged to become a Teaching Artist.  It was a perfect fit for me because I was able to continue my studies and performing while passing along the tradition of music to those schools and programs in need.  As a teaching artist, we would work in underserved communities and/or New York City schools that had eliminated their music programs or only had weekly after school programs.  There is nothing better than to bring music and a creative outlet to kids and adults who yearn for self expression.  This flowered into doing other outreach work with Jazz at Lincoln center alongside my work privately with vocal students.  I really do love how teaching brings full circle all the knowledge and craftsmanship that has been so generously given to me.  As my performing schedule gets more and more busy, I can't commit as much as I used to but I have made amazing relationships with those programs and students I have been so lucky to serve.

Maeve Höglund as Hélène in Hin und züruck
at Gotham Chamber Opera
Q. Thus far, what is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal?  During a performance?

A. That's a great question.  I'd have to say that the most recent bizarre experience was while singing Hélène in Hindemith's Hin und züruck with Gotham Chamber Opera.  The whole premise of the Act I piece is a line of actions and conversations leading up to the discovery of my unfaithfulness and ultimate murder by the hands of my husband.  Then, it all goes in the reverse.  The whole scene is played out backwards, like an old VCR on rewind.  Talk about not only a bizarre experience but a tremendous mind trick!

Q, Do you have any pre-performance rituals?  Performance superstitions?  Good luck charms?  If yes, why?

A. Hmmm....I would say the biggest ritual on performance day is to have a relaxing day at home with limited talking and personal interaction.  Prior to curtain call, however, I do a quiet gathering of my mind and allow for all the pieces of the puzzle to take me over.  I end it with a prayer and invitation for all those great singers who have come before me to guide and support me.

Maeve Höglund in The Last Duchess by
Robert Sirota at Symphony Space
Q. How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?

A. Physical activity!  Nothing is more relaxing and recuperative for me than getting out and being physically active.  I'm athletic and grew up playing sports & doing many outdoor activities.  I love to workout with weights but also love to run, swim, water/snow ski, wakeboard, hike & play tennis.  Many of those fit into the Florida lifestyle but I will unfortunately be missing out on my cold weather activities such as snow skiing. That has always gotten me through winters in New York and I even began instructing last year at a nearby mountain in New Jersey.

Outside of sports I love reading and have brought several books I've been meaning to catch up on.  There is, of course, nothing better than sitting on the beach and getting some good old vitamin D!  I'll certainly be taking advantage of that as often as I can while in Sarasota.  I'm also a big social bug and love being with friends and family.  I happen to have many family friends & friends in Florida and am looking forward to getting to spend time and catch up with them.

Q. How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road”?  Do you keep a blog? Website? Facebook?  Twitter?

A. I have my performance website ( which is great for family, friends and fans to keep abreast of my performance schedule.  Facebook and Twitter are certainly the most current interfaces that I use to post updates and stay connected.  I am currently working on putting together a blog section onto my website and will hope to have that up in the near future.  Otherwise, FaceTime, Skype, text, and the phone are such amazing resources we traveling artists have to stay connected.

Monday, February 9, 2015

ARTISTS CORNER: Bass Ricardo Lugo

Ricardo Lugo
With a “resonant” bass sound Puerto Rican bass Ricardo Lugo is a versatile international artist in demand on the operatic and concert scene.  Mr. Lugo makes his Sarasota Opera debut this season in two roles; the Sacristan in Puccini's Tosca and as Bartolo in Mozart's The Marriage of FigaroHaving made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Un Barnabotto in La Gioconda, Ricardo has since sang the role of Hans Schwarz in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and has been involved in productions of Ariadne auf Naxos, Khovanshchina, Billy Budd, La fanciulla del West, Adriana Lecouvreur, Macbeth, The Gambler and Salome

Continue reading to learn more about how Mr. Lugo got his start in singing as well as why he enjoys the opportunity to sing two different roles at the same time. 

Q. Where are you originally from and where do you make your home now?

A. I’m originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, the second largest city in Puerto Rico. It is located on the south bordering the Caribbean Sea. In 1998 I moved to New York City to complete a masters degree at The Juilliard School. I live now in Ann Arbor, Michigan with my Wife and my four-year-old son.

Mr. Lugo in Don Pasquale
Q. What drew you to become a singer?  Was there a specific “Aha!” moment of clarity?

A. What drew me to become a singer was pure luck and taking all the opportunities that were presented to me at the beginning. My original plan was to become a choir conductor and work with kids. I was inspired when I was a kid so I wanted to do the same thing for other students. When I applied to the conservatory in Puerto Rico, I did it as a voice major instead of as an education major due to the fact that at the moment I applied, I was not completely musically ready. In other words, it was easier to enter as a voice major than an education major. However, one thing led to another and here I am. I can’t complain. It has been a fun journey so far.

Q. What sort of singing did you do while you were growing up in Puerto Rico?

A. I started singing with a young chorus at my local church. I wanted to sing more so I joined the chorus at my middle school. I continued while I was in high school where my chorus teacher encouraged me to continue with music.

Q. Did you have other career aspirations in the works before you settled on singing?  

A. To be honest I did not have any other career aspirations before deciding to take music more seriously. Once I started I knew I wanted to continue a career or work in something related to music.

Mr. Lugo as the Sacristan in
the current production of
Q. You have two assignments at Sarasota Opera this season; The Sacristan in Tosca and Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro. What are the challenges in alternating between two different roles at one company? How do you avoid suffering from character identity crisis?

A. To tell you the truth I love playing different roles at the same time. In a way it gives me the chance to be very alert, fresh, and stay very focused as a singer-actor. In regards to singing, the two roles are very different, even though they are both character roles, that they don't give me any problems when it comes to singing. The key, in both the acting and the singing, is to keep it fresh and always give more. It is very important to always listen to the instructions but also give more of your talent. That is the key.

Q. You have sung the role of Bartolo before. What do you enjoy about performing this role?

A. I love it because it is a role of in opera that could be played in so many ways. From traditional productions to the more contemporary. Because of that it gives me the chance to expand and elaborate my interpretation in any direction. And it has also a short but very well written aria that showcases many vocal and histrionic qualities.

Q. Unlike many of the other roles in The Marriage of Figaro, Figaro and Bartolo are two characters who carry directly over from The Barber of Seville without much change. In your opinion, how does he evolve as a character from one opera to the other?

A. I think Bartolo has a lot of resentment towards Figaro. He resents that Figaro was the reason Bartolo couldn’t end up with Rosina, who becomes the Countess in Le nozze. That is why at the beginning of the opera he is trying to make Figaro’s life impossible. This is until Bartolo discovers that Figaro is both Marcellina's and his son.

Q. Are there any famous Bartolo’s from the past whose interpretations you admire?

A. They are so many great basses that have sung Bartolo from, Kurt Moll, Paul Plishka, Enzo Capunao to the most contemporary like Ildebrando D’arcangelo. I like to listen and admire all of them because they are or were incredible singers and also great actors.

Mr. Lugo in Fidelio at Michigan Opera Theater
Q. Beyond the musical work, what other kind of preparation/research work do you incorporate in the learning process?  Historical?  Character study?  

A. I start with the libretto. I then like to read the score to know what the composer has done with the words and what instructions he has suggested. Particularly what are the rhythm choices, especially with recitatives. Obviously with the advantage of the Internet and YouTube, I love watching and seeing what other conductors and singers have done with the roles and the music. Not to copy but to have another idea.

Q. In your career thus far, are there any performances or productions you sang in that particularly stand out to you or hold a special place in your heart??

A. I would say any chance or opportunity that you have as a singer should be treasured and should keep a special place in your heart. It is such a blessing and privilege to be able to offer your art to other people that in my opinion all of them are special. However, I just finished a run of Die Meistersinger at the Metropolitan Opera conducted by James Levine. The cast also included James Morris as Hans Sachs and other incredible collegueas. That was a magical experience, not only because who they are but how incredible their minds work and the admirable qualities as colleagues. That I would say was part of my tiny bucket list that by a miracle or talent I can cross off.

Q. What is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal?  During a performance?

A. I personally have not had that many dramatic experiences on stage. However, I have to say that I have experienced some others while in rehearsals or on stage. They range from fighting between directors, conductors, and singers. In most cases that was “the clash of the egos”. We are so passionate for our art that we sometimes can't find compromises.

Q. Do you have any pre-performance rituals?  Performance superstitions?  Good luck charms?  If yes, why?

A. Yes, I do have some rituals before singing. Just before my entrance either in concert, recital or a full opera, I like to take few minutes to think and thank all or most of the people who have made it possible for me to be here. Both people that are with us and the ones that have already departed. After that I kiss any part of the theater three times just for luck. At the end of the performance, I like to kneel down and with my hand rub the floor of the theater to smell the dust. It is like an homage to the sweat and tears that we and many other singers have left there. It is kind of bizarre but those are my rituals. Also I have a tiny elephant that a very important lady in this business gave me a long time ago and I carry it everywhere I sing.

Q. How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?

A. I love this job because it gives me the opportunity of discovering new places and knowing new people. Every time I go back to a place that I have visited previously or a new place, the first thing I look for are a library, a zoo, cultural attractions happening, farmers markets, and of course places where to eat and enjoy what the city have to offer. At home I love working with wood and creating things. Also I must say I love being a “home handy man.” It so gratifying being able to fix things in your house. From pipes, floors and anything I try to fix or destroy. Like my father use to say, “better to do it yourself and keep that money for fun”.

Monday, February 2, 2015

ARTISTS CORNER: Soprano Kara Shay Thomson

Kara Shay Thomson
Soprano Kara Shay Thomson returns to the Opera House stage this season as Floria Tosca, a role for which she won popular and critical acclaim in 2009. Since that time, Ms. Thomson has performed the role of the jealous diva at opera companies such as Portland Opera, Atlanta Opera, and Dayton Opera. You will remember Ms. Thomson's glorious performances in previous productions at Sarasota Opera both in the title role of Samuel Barber's Vanessa and as Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana

Continue reading below to learn more about this artist who is so quickly establishing herself as one of the leading ladies of the next generation of great opera singers.

Q. Where are you originally from and where do you make your home now?

A. As a PK (Preacher's Kid), I moved around the Midwest quite a bit during my adolescence.  I was born in Cininnati, OH but made my home in Rock Port, MO, Fairbury, NE, Terre Haute, IN, and Warrensburg, MO.  I returned to Cincinnati 11 years ago and love living there with my husband and 10 year old daughter. We love our neighborhood and having my Dad close by to support us when I am travelling.

Ms. Thomson as Santuzza in the
2010 production of
Cavalleria rusticana
Q. What was your first moment performing in front of an audience on stage?

A. Well, as a PK, I was on stage from a very young age.  Our family offered an evening of song and scripture and it is where I learned how to communicate my message to a congregation. My parents continued to foster my musical talent and I was lucky to perform in various venues throughout my childhood and early adult years. Opera was not a part of my upbringing so my first moment on stage in an opera was as Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi at The New England Conservatory in Boston, MA. It was my first opera – EVER!  

Q. What drew you to become a professional singer?  Was there a specific “Aha!” moment of clarity?

A. I was working in Lynchburg, VA as a Minister of Music and Youth  for Fairview Christian Church and I decided I wanted to find a community chorus so that I could continue singing.  That was a great decision as I met my husband in that chorus and the conductor introduced me to a wonderful soprano, Carol Gutknecht, a soprano with the former New York City Opera soprano with whom I started studying. She gave me "Marietta’s Lied" from Die Tote Stadt and I fell in love with the German Language and the sweeping lines of the piece.  She encouraged me to enter the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions for my region.  I prepared my pieces and went to the audition.  I had a terrible audition and was so out of my element but I stayed to hear my comments from the judges.  One judge in particular told me that if I was happy with my life in ministry that I should embrace it and go back home but if I felt like this music was a part of my soul, then I needed to go get the tools necessary for this art form.  So, Carol  helped me choose The New England Conservatory and I entered the intense Opera Program under the direction of John Moriarty.  In two years I quickly acquired language skills, stage craft, and hours of endless vocal coachings and lessons, working with Patricia Craig, to prepare me for my apprenticeships. I thank Carol, my husband, and the nameless judge who made me realize this what I was created to do.

Q. Did you have other career aspirations in the works before you decided on singing?

A. I had many aspirations other than singing opera for a career.  I started with the idea of Music Therapy and then migrated to teaching music.  I received a Bachelor of Science in Music Education K-12  and thought that I would lead the next  Mid-West High School Show Choir to the State Championship.  But, after I realized that teaching was not right for me, I returned to my roots in the church.  In all honesty, if I had not found Opera, I would have sought out a career as an Activities Coordinator in a Retirement Village.

Q. You have become very well known for singing the role of Tosca, especially in Sarasota. Is it challenging singing the same role over and over again? 

Ms. Thomson as Floria Tosca in
Sarasota Opera's 2009 production.
A. Everytime I arrive for a production of Tosca I know that it will be full of new experiences.  The music is always constant but my colleagues, directors, production teams, and conductors bring something to share. Each one of us arrives with our own interpretations and it is our job as artists to meld those ideas together to fit our own production.  I have carried the same score with me to each production and I like to put in Maestro's comments,  artist choices, and directors notes so that I can call on those ideas in other productions.

But, I will say that for this season, I put away my treasured score and have made a "VDR Only Score!" I have been working from a clean score and putting in only Maestro DeRenzi  notes. This does not mean that I don’t bring my own interpretation and experience to the role, but I really feel that coming back to Sarasota gives me a chance to completely break down the role, get rid of bad habits, focus on the text and Puccini’s stage direction so that we give this audience the most authentic performance of Tosca ever!

Q. Through the many productions you have done, I imagine you have gotten to know the character of Tosca very well. Have you learned everything there is to know about her at this point? 

A. If I thought I had learned everything about this role I would not continue to pursue this character. We are constantly evolving in our daily lives and all of the events that happen to us as people affect us as artists.  I am a different person than I was when I sang here this role in 2009. I have experienced so much personal loss and also amazing moments filled with unbridled joy in my life since then and all of those events color my performance.

Floria Tosca is so much a part of me that I am able to take risks both vocally and dramatically to challenge myself so that I can find the most honest performance each and every show.

Ms. Thomson in Act II of Tosca at Sarasota Opera
Q. What do you want the audience to know about the character of Tosca after the curtain comes down?

A. That I can’t wait to sing it again!!!! I love this role!!! Every performance is unique and alive and the energy from the audience feeds the performance on the stage! So, if they happen to be seeing it for the first time or the 50th time, it will never be the same! I sing each performance as if it may be my last, so I don’t hold anything back. My hope is that they do the same by coming back again and again to Sarasota Opera.

Q. I imagine you are looking forward to performing this role again in Sarasota.  What do you enjoy about singing at Sarasota Opera?

A. What do I not like?! Singing in Sarasota is a gift to every performer. The audience is so supportive, excited, and filled with passion for Opera.  Sarasota Opera offers a place where artists can grow and explore new or familiar roles and multiple performances to fully embrace your characters. But for me, it all comes down to the fact that Maestro DeRenzi and the entire Sarasota Opera Association believe that Opera is not a dying art form.

Baseline:  I love working with everyone here in Sarasota and spending 3 months away from my family is only made better by the gorgeous sunshine and the mutual respect we all have for each other in this company!
Ms. Thomson in Schoenberg's Ewartung at New York City Opera.
Q. So, to sum it up, how many performances of Tosca have you done so far?

A. When I last added them all together, I have done 89 performances in at least 19 different productions.

Q. Thus far, what is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal?  During a performance?

A. I had a rehearsal for Korngold's Die tote Stadt where I was dancing around like crazy and crawling on the floor and my rehearsal skirt, shall we say, flew off my body.  Luckily, it was not a performance!

In performance, the majority of my mishaps have happened in Tosca.  I have been thrown to my knees and ended up sliding on the gown having to stop myself from saying "hello" to the pit.

In Sarasota, I tripped on a ground cloth and flew into the air where my fabulous colleague, Grant Youngblood,  turned over a chair and rushed to grab me in mid-air.  Everyone thought that it was so exciting but my Dad was in the audience and after the performance said he knew something had happened because for a brief moment he saw scared Kara Shay and not Tosca.

I have had the candles blow-out before I place them at Scarpia’s head and had to go back and relight them. ( it was also a photo night so I was not going to mess up that great final moment in Act II)

During a Student Matinee, I had a young woman who was so involved in the show that when I stabbed Scarpia, she yelled out “Oh No She Didn’t!!"  I loved that she had gotten so caught up in her first opera! It was fantastic!

Probably one of my favorite moments that the audience never saw was when I went to jump in one production, I ran up the stairs, did my quick check of the jump pad and saw that the crew had drawn a dead body outline on the black jump pad.

Ms. Thomson in the title role of
Samuel Barber's
Vanessa in 2012
Q. Do you have any pre-performance rituals?  Performance superstitions?  Good luck charms?  If yes, why?

A. I like to be the first one in the Make-up chair.  The calm energy of the being first helps me focus and then it allows me time to say hello to all of my colleagues before down-beat.  I usually don’t eat very much before the show but I always eat a banana before Act II of Tosca!  I don’t know if it helps but it gives me the extra “uumph” to wield my deadly knife!

Also, I always wear my Jade Elephant Necklace that my mother gave to me.  I wear it in rehearsal and always have it with me at each performance in my dressing room.

Q. How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?

A. I am a huge fan of the television show "NCIS" so if there is a marathon on the USA channel then I am ready to get out my needlepoint, a bottle of wine, and sit back and say hello to my friends on the television: Gibbs, Ziva, Tony, and McGee!

When I am home I spend most of my time being involved with my family.  I have been known to throw a few good parties for our neighborhood as well as top-notch sleepovers  for my 10 year old daughter and her friends.

I miss being able to cook in my fabulous kitchen.  Right before I arrived in Sarasota I purchased a brand new professional series range and a Vitamix. I couldn’t bring my oven but I packed up my Vitamix and a couple of my favorite knives and brought them with me.  I find cooking so relaxing and it makes me so happy when I can bring people together for a wonderful meal.

Q. I’m sure work/life balance takes on a whole different meaning being a professional singer who travels.  How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road?  

A "Welcome Home" sign from
Ms. Thomson's neighbors in Ohio
A. Facetime has been a life-saver for our family. Sometimes we just connect through Facetime while we are doing everyday chores.  I will come home from rehearsal at 3pm and call my daughter Emma Shay. We will do her homework together or just talk about her day. My husband uses Facetime to have me help him re-create a favorite recipe I have left behind for him to cook or just to look into each other’s eyes and say how much we miss each other. Sometimes the days don’t go by very fast and Facetime makes it seem like we aren’t that far apart.

As someone who has been on the road for a few years, I would tell all of the Studio and Apprentice Artists to make sure that you connect with your loved ones at least once a day.  Even if you think that you don’t have anything exciting to tell your family, sometimes it’s just enough to hear that person say “hello”.  We can become so involved in our “Opera World” that we forget to share it with those outside the inner-circle. Connect, share, and make your family a priority because they are the most important support system you have in this career.

Q. As we have people that travel from around the United States to attend performances at Sarasota Opera, are there any towns or cities that you have a strong connection with whether from growing up or attending school?

A. I have had the opportunity to live in many different parts of the United States and would love to connect with them again here in Sarasota.  So, if we lived in these cities together:  Lynchburg, VA, Boston, Ma, Terre Haute, IN, Cincinnati, OH, Rock Port, MO, Warrensburg, MO, Maryville, MO,Enid, OK, or any of the many cities I have had the opportunity to perform in,  please don’t hesitate to reach out and say hello!

After writing down all of the cities I have lived in, I realized that it must have been a grand plan for me to move around so much in my formative years. I never knew that I would be in a career where I spent more time on the road than I did in my own home. Perhaps all of those moves gave me the ability to make a home wherever I go.

Don't miss a note of Ms. Thomson's performances in Puccini's Tosca opening February 7th and running through March 28th. As an added bonus, here is Ms. Thomson singing Tosca's famous aria "Vissi d'Arte" from the Sarasota Opera production of Tosca in 2009.