Girls of Summer
MARJORIE OWENS, set for Donna Anna in Des Moines, shares her thoughts with LOUISE T. GUINTHER about life as a fest artist in Germany.
"I had allergic laryngitis, and my cords were very swollen, so basically all I did was shout the role," soprano Marjorie Owens says of her first Donna Anna at Wolf Trap. That inauspicious start notwithstanding, Owens now deems Anna "one of my favorite Mozart girls."
"She's got chops," says Owens. "Donna Anna is pretty much all rage all the time. She goes throughout the opera trying to condemn Don Giovanni, trying to trap him. And I've found with most victims of sexual abuse, they just want to pretend it didn't happen. They don't actively go out and seek out the person that hurt them. So it feels like maybe she did enjoy it, but now that the outcome is that her father is dead, it's caused some pretty serious scars. The opera isn't really over for her at the end. I think she's going to be spiraling downward."
A self-styled "Navy brat," Owens grew up in Chesapeake, Virginia, and attended the Governor's School for the Arts, where she was "bit by the opera bug." Following studies at Baylor University, she made the competition rounds, garnering victories at the Met's National Council Auditions and the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition. "You have to have the constitution for it," she notes. "You can't take everything personally. Someone might just not like the way you sound, someone might hate your shoes, someone might hate the aria you're singing — it might not even be you. But I had a great time doing it, because you make friends on the competition circuit, and they stick with you."
After apprenticeships in Houston and Chicago, she is currently in residence at Dresden's Semperoper as a fest artist, racking up valuable stage experience. "It can be a little overwhelming at times," she says. "As soon as I got here, I was supposed to be covering the Countess in Figaro and then stepping in, but Anne Schwanewilms ended up canceling, so I had about three rehearsals, and then we just started. I did the same thing with Tannhäuser. It turned out well, but it's thrilling and terrifying at the same time."
OPERA NEWS reviewers have extolled Owens's Leonora (Il Trovatore) for her "rich, dark Verdian timbre" and hailed her as "a major Straussian in the making." The panoply of roles she has been given in Dresden has given her a good sense of her own range. "I just did Lohengrin here, and oh wow! That's definitely a role you can sink your teeth into. I'd love to get a hold of Sieglinde. But also Chrysothemis, a lot of Strauss — I would love to do a Kaiserin. And in Dresden, they're doing a new Fliegende Holländer, so I'm happy to give that one a shot!"
Owens spends a good deal of her downtime communing via Skype with her husband, rising baritone Quinn Kelsey. The two recently appeared together in a Dresden Trovatore, and their manager is always on the lookout for such opportunities. "Quinn is kind of a rock star," Owens laughs, "so his time is very precious. He has a pretty full schedule. But if it's at all possible, we try to make it work."
LOUISE T. GUINTHER