Friday, March 20, 2015

ARTISTS CORNER: Mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi

Mezzo-soprano Kristen Choi

Hailed for her “beautiful, dusky, and expressive” voice with a “commanding presence”, mezzo-soprano, Kristen Choi is bursting onto the opera scene with full force. Ms. Choi made her debut as an apprentice artist with Sarasota Opera in 2013 and returns this season as a Studio Artist this season singing the role of Cherubino in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Previously, Ms. Choi has bowed as Suzuki in Puccini's Madama Butterlfy at Glimmerglass Opera, Jo in Mark Adamo's Little Women, and Dorabella in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.

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

A. I am originally from Valencia, California near Los Angeles. I still reside there but have been traveling since May of 2014. I'm sort of nomadic and have been very lucky to travel directly from job to job.

Ms. Choi as Dorabella in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte
Q. What drew you to become a singer?  Was there a specific “Aha!” moment of clarity?

A. I've always loved singing! My parents are musical even though they aren't professional musicians; My father plays the guitar and sings for church and my mother plays piano. I love listening to her play all the classics such as Mozart Sonatas and Chopin's Nocturnes.

I'm not sure if I had an “Aha” moment but when I entered a talent show in the 6th grade I sang a disney song in front of an audience and had such a rush of joy and happiness that I knew I wanted to keep singing. I sang in choirs and musicals from then on. I did sort of have a moment of clarity and decided to pursue opera during my undergraduate degree. I was performing the role of Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro and it was my first professional opera job. Opera used to intimidate me a lot but actually performing in a full scale production with orchestra, chorus, and professional singers sparked an even bigger fire in me to pursue classical music. I guess you could say that opera found me.

It's kind of amazing that I am performing Cherubino here. It makes me look back with fondness and pride that I adamantly decided I was going to be an opera singer. I'm here now and am very excited to do this role for the first time and I couldn't imagine a better place to do it.

Ms. Choi as Suzuki in Puccini's Madama Butterfly
at Glimmerglass Opera
Q. Did you have other career aspirations in the works before you decided on singing?  

A. I've always been a fan of studying languages. They are so fascinating and I actually was accepted into several universities as a linguistics major. I did minor in Spanish in my undergraduate degree.

Q. What singing did you do growing up?

A. I sang everything! I grew up with old musicals and jazz, and sang in many choirs. I also used to sing with a big band and sang all the jazz standards at swing dances.

Q. This is a role debut for you. What are you looking forward to most about singing this role?

A. This is one of my favorite operas, and certainly my most favorite of Mozart's operas. I love singing pants roles (a woman portraying a man). Cherubino is the perfect, quintessential example of one. His energy and passion draws me to his character and he gets into so much mischief. It's a challenge, acting-wise, to really get his mannerisms and boyish movements in my body. All these challenges and character study make me really excited to perform this role.

Q. This is one of the more famous “pants roles” in opera where a woman plays a male character. Does that add additional challenges to performing this role?

A. Yes! It is a huge challenge to physically capture the mannerisms of a young man. Men carry themselves differently so I have to really think about the physicality of the character before I sing or do anything onstage.

Ms. Choi as Cherubino in this season's production of
The Marriage of Figaro. Photo by Rod Millington.
Q. What can you tell us about this character?  What do you want the audience to know about him when the curtain comes down?

A. Cherubino is a ball of passion and energy. He's not all innocent and cute, and definitely develops and learns a lot throughout the opera. He's sort of a miniature Count in training and definitely does not hold back around the ladies. His boldness and willingness is a preview of what is to come soon in the next Beaumarchais play. He's in love with love and is not afraid to express it to any woman and every woman.

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

A. Well, yes, of course there are the famous performances by Frederica von Stade. She's great because she really captures the character in her facial expression. It's amazing that she can express everything Cherubino is feeling in her eyes. It's subtle yet so intense and strong. I've also met her and worked with her in a master class on Cherubino's first aria “Non so più cosa son”.

Ms. Choi as Lady Thiang in
Rodger and Hammerstein's
The King and I.
Q. You are a former Apprentice Artist with Sarasota Opera and this season you will be returning as a Studio Artist. Do you feel your time in Sarasota Opera’s young artist program has helped to prepare you for a professional singing career?

A. I learned so much as an apprentice and it definitely prepared me well for the opera world. It was nice to sing for other companies the year after but when I received the opportunity to return as a Studio Artist, I was eager to take it; especially for this role. Working for this company always renews my passion for opera and with such an amazing staff, I feel extremely fulfilled and satisfied with the art we create. Everything I have learned here, whether it's strengthening my repertoire, acting, or singing, I have taken with me to other jobs. It feels good to be back.

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

A. Well I'm not sure about bizarre experiences during a rehearsal, but definitely have had my share of clumsiness during performances. During my graduate degree I played another pants role, Hansel in Hansel and Gretel. After we had pushed the Witch in the oven, Gretel and I were supposed to run out and help the gingerbread children. While running, I slipped on a net that the witch had used to capture me, and flew in the air and landed on all fours. I quickly got up and recovered, but it was mortifying. I mean, Hansel is a kid and can probably have clumsy moments here and there. At least that's what I told myself.

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

A. I don't really have any rituals except warming up before performances by vocalizing a little. I usually do not like having rituals or relying on them in the case of something interrupting the ritual and making me think I would have a bad show. I'm very simple and just rest and warm up before singing. I make sure to get a good night's sleep the night before.

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

A. I enjoy going to the gym and exercising on days where I don't perform. I'm a very active person and love to dance or play tennis. When I was an apprentice, I used to go play basketball with the other artists. My hobbies would have to include dancing and watching movies. I always take movies with me on the road and watch them to relax. Going to the cinema is also a joy for me. There's nothing more relaxing for me than going to the theater alone and watching a movie.

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 am an avid Facebook user and also have a website ( I stay connected to close friends and family by video chatting on Skype. It's so interesting how social media can keep me connected to friends especially for my nomadic lifestyle.

Don't miss Ms. Choi as the charming and lively Cherubino in this season's production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Tickets are available at or by phone at (941) 328-1300.

No comments: