Month: September 2016

Ten Questions with James Held

Ten Questions With…

James Held, baritone
Madison Opera Studio Artist






1.  Where were you born / raised? 
Born and raised in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

2.  If you weren’t a singer, what profession would you be in?
I would love to be a pilot.  But unfortunately I don’t have perfect vision!

3.  The first opera I was ever in was…
Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten.  However, I didn’t singit was an acting role only.  The first opera I ever had a singing role in was a new chamber opera by Jerry Hui called Wired for Love, about an email scammer, his target, and the online avatars they created to fool one another.  The first standard opera I had a singing role in was Puccini’s La Bohème.

4.  My favorite opera is…
Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel.

5.  My favorite pre/post-show meal is…
A burger at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry in downtown Madison (if only I could get one anywhere in the world). 

6.  People would be surprised to know that…
I recently married and my wife plays the oboe.  We met in an opera.

7.  A few of my favorite books are…
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King.  All of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.  The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss (I’m still eagerly waiting for the third book to come out).

8.  If we were to turn on your music-listening device right now, what five artists/songs would we see on your recently-played list?   
Guster, Nat King Cole, Bryn Terfel, Switchfoot, Chris Thile.

9.  What is the best costume you’ve ever worn?
The best costume Ive ever worn was in high school when I was the Teen Angel in Grease.  My mom handmade a white suit for me and I bought white high-top Converse Chuck Taylors to go with it.  I felt so cool singing “Beauty School Dropout” and I still have the suit and the shoes!

10.  Everyone should go to the opera because….
There are myriad reasons.  As Wagner proclaimed, opera is a comprehensive artwork.  It really is where all art forms collide.  You have artists working on costumes and scenery, technicians working lighting and building sets, dancers, choreography, acting, a director, musicians in the orchestra and singing on the stage, and a conductor.  The mastery it takes in each of these professions to put a complete production on stage is simply incredible.  All of these elements come together to form these beautiful works of art that tell timeless stories of love, tragedy, comedy, politics, intrigue, fairy tales, adventure, etc.  You name it, there’s an opera about it (or someone will write an opera about it).  The variety between composers is infinite, and their music is endlessly complex.  One could study it for decades and still not know why it tugs at our heartstrings the way it does.  That’s why people should go to the opera.

Bonus:  One question you wish someone would ask you (and the answer):
Q:  How does one become an opera singer?
A:  Years of study and hard work.  I’ve been training since I was 14 years old.  We spend years honing our craft by taking lessons and learning hundreds of songs and arias before we even sing on a professional stage.  We practice every day.  We take classes in Italian, German, French, English, and other languages.  We take classes in music history and music theory so we can understand the context and the construction of the music.  We don’t get “discovered” on America’s Got Talent.  The voice of an opera singer isn’t fully mature until our late 20s or early 30s, sometimes later.  Yes, it takes a certain amount of natural talent, but we spend countless hours learning music and improving our voices and ourselves so we can give our audience the best show possible and do justice to our art form.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but we put in the work because we love the art and can’t imagine doing anything else.

Don’t miss the chance to see James all year long, on our mainstage and in our community.  Visit madisonopera.org for more information.

Ten Questions with Anna Parks

Ten Questions With…

Anna Parks, mezzo-soprano
Madison Opera Studio Artist






1.  Where were you born / raised? 
I was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but grew up in River Falls, Wisconsin.  My family currently resides in De Pere, which is part of the Green Bay Area, so I guess you could say I’ve been a huge cheese head since birth.

2.  If you weren’t a singer, what profession would you be in?
A ghost hunter, most definitely.  I‘ve always been extremely interested in the paranormal and would love to check out the most haunted places in the world!  A more realistic profession would probably be a lawyer.  I absolutely love the law!

3.  The first opera I was ever in was…
My first full opera was probably Iolanthe by Gilbert & Sullivan with Minnesota Opera’s youth program.  My first non G & S opera was The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart.

4.  My favorite opera is…
At the moment, I’m obsessed with all things John Adams.  I think the music in Doctor Atomic and Nixon in China is stunning.  My favorite opera of all time would have to be Così fan tutte by Mozart – it’s too much fun!

5.  My favorite pre/post-show meal is…
Pizza!  I wish it was something more luxurious like prime rib, but I always feel like cast mates and I end up celebrating a performance with pizza.

6.  People would be surprised to know that…
If my love of ghost hunting isn’t shocking enough, I would have to say… that most of my life I was a soprano.  I only switched to being a mezzo a few years ago, and I love it.  Not only is my voice happier, but I get to sing pants roles – how fun is that?

7.  A few of my favorite books are…
My favorite book is definitely Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross, but I also love Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and all of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling.

8.  If we were to turn on your music-listening device right now, what five artists/songs would we see on your recently-played list?   
This is embarrassing!  I’m a huge Coldplay fan, so definitely “A Sky Full of Stars,” “Magic,” and “Clocks.”  Maybe some Justin Bieber (his most recent album is so good!)…  I’m also on a huge Prince kick right now, specifically when he was with The Revolution.

9.  What is the worst costume you’ve ever worn?  Or if no such costume, what was the best costume?
Trust me, there have been bad ones, but I love every costumer I’ve ever worked with, so I don’t want to break their hearts if they read this.  I’ve had many amazing ones, too.  I think my favorite was my most recent costume when I played Emperor Nero in L’Incoronazione di Poppea.  I had these awesome purple pants and an amazingly long train that Poppea and I would wrap up in for the duet at the end of the opera.  It was so cool!

10.  Everyone should go to the opera because….
It’s so much more than its stereotype.  Opera is a full experience.  People love going to Broadway shows because they love being a part of a live performance.  They get to be entertained and listen to amazing music.  Opera embodies all of that, but you also get a history lesson and exposure to many different languages.  Every story, no matter when it was written, is relatable.  And thank God for supertitles, so you know what’s being sung!  Opera is truly an incredible experience – you won’t regret it.

Bonus:  One question you wish someone would ask you (and the answer):
Q:  What are your influences as an artist?
A:  I pull from every media.  I feel like we can learn so much from every art form!  I’m absolutely in love with the elegance in Degas’ ballerina paintings.  I think performance artists such as Marina Abramovic have such a huge impact without even saying a word.  Prince, who was a soft-spoken introvert, was so unapologetic on stage and made everyone fall in love with him – while wearing eyeliner and six-inch heels.  There is so much that we can pull from as artists, not just the incredible singers before us, to help us grow and enhance our art.

Don’t miss the chance to see Anna all year long, on our mainstage and in our community.  Visit madisonopera.org for more information.

Ten Questions with Anna Polum

Ten Questions With…

Anna Polum, soprano
Madison Opera Studio Artist






1.  Where were you born / raised? 
I was born in Everett, Washington, but grew up (since I was 1) on Kodiak Island, Alaska.

2.  If you weren’t a singer, what profession would you be in?
I would be a speech therapist.

3.  The first opera I was ever in was…
Carmen.

4.  My favorite opera is…
La Bohème.

5.  My favorite pre/post-show meal is…
A big juicy burger after a show.

6.  People would be surprised to know that…
I love to fish!  I grew up fishing and being outside, and now I love to go whenever I can.

7.  A few of my favorite books are…
The Hobbit and anything that is a biography.

8.  If we were to turn on your music-listening device right now, what five artists/songs would we see on your recently-played list?   
Adele, Anna Netrebko, The Beatles, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Buena Vista Social Club.

9.  What is the best costume you’ve ever worn?
The best costume I’ve ever worn was when I sang Countess Almaviva in UW-Madison‘s production of Le Nozze di Figaro.  The costume was a brilliant blue dress that was absolutely stunning and had a gorgeous train (although heavy).

10.  Everyone should go to the opera because….
…it’s not all dark and dreary.  Opera gets a bad reputation for being depressing and boring, but there are a lot of times in opera or whole operas themselves that suggest differently.  If you familiarize yourself with opera like one does film, it’s just as entertaining.

Don’t miss the chance to see Anna all year long, on our mainstage and in our community.  Visit madisonopera.org for more information.