Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.
Sound Bites: Tamara Wilson
Photographed by James Salzano in New York
Makeup and hair by Affan Malik / gown: Jovani
© James Salzano 2013
Tamara Wilson, who is being positioned as a Verdi soprano to watch, has a solid technique, a big, warm, womanly sound and a clear, uncomplicated sense of herself as an artist. She entered the Houston Opera Studio in 2005, planning a career centered on Mozart, but the path to Verdi was more or less chosen for her. "It was right before Christmas break during my second year at the studio," she remembers, "and I got called in to the office. [Studio director] Diane Zola, [then general director] Anthony Freud and [music director] Patrick Summers were there. They slid a score across the desk, and it's Ballo in Maschera. I had never even heard it. It was supposed to be sung by Pat Racette, and something happened. They said, 'Would you look at this over Christmas break and tell us if you think you'd like to do this?' I talked it over with my teachers, who said, 'You'll be in Houston the whole time and have your coachings. It will probably be the most prepared role you'll ever have.' So I said yes." Her performance as Amelia, in the fall of 2007, was a success, and now Aida, I Due Foscari, Il Trovatore and many other Verdi works dominate her schedule.
Wilson got her start studying at Cincinnati College–Conservatory of Music, where she sang extensively in choirs and practically not at all in opera. "I thought, 'Okay, I'm not going to be an opera singer. I'll be a teacher. Fine.' But at the end of my first year of my master's, my friends said, 'You should audition for the Met National Council.' I made it all the way to the finals, at twenty-two. While I was there, Diane Zola gave me her card and said, 'I want you to audition for us in the fall.' From then on, things just kind of happened."
Wilson now has a full singing schedule that includes dates at Teatro Real de Madrid, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Washington Concert Opera, Frankfurt Opera, the Chicago Symphony and many other leading theaters and orchestras. She isn't only singing big, dramatic roles. She had a success as Lady Billows in Théâtre du Capitole's new production of Albert Herring. "When I was studying her, I was trying to do it as a mix of Hyacinth Bucket, from Keeping Up Appearances, and Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey. We had a French director who couldn't have cared less about the inside English jokes. They even took some of the dialogue out of the titles, and I'm like, well … that's not funny anymore!"
Wilson, who gives major credit to her two principal teachers, Stephen King and Barbara Honn, is pleased when she's told that she doesn't quite sound like anyone else. "There's no point in singing with somebody else's voice," she says. "It's already been done!"
Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.