Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.

Sound Bites: Janai Brugger

by F. PAUL DRISCOLL

Sound Bites Brugger hdl 314
Photographed by Vern Evans at Zuma Beach, California
Makeup and hair by Mirj Sofro-Gschwind
© Vern Evans 2014
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Soprano Janai Brugger, enchanted to be at the Met
© Vern Evans 2014

Janai Brugger is at the Metropolitan Opera this month, singing Helena, one of the quartet of shipwrecked lovers in The Enchanted Island, the company's Baroque pastiche. Brugger is thrilled to be returning to the Met, where she made her company debut as Liù in Turandot in 2012. "The Enchanted Island is a lot of fun to play. Helena is a change for me, because I always play dramatic, serious characters — I'm excited to have a more bouncy, comedic person to play. And the production is unbelievable! I'm really excited to be part of it."

Born in Chicago, the soprano received her bachelor's degree from DePaul University and her master's degree from the University of Michigan, where she studied with Shirley Verrett, whom Brugger calls "an unbelievably important figure in my life. She was such a force — such a strong symbol of what it is to be a woman of color in the arts. Ms. Verrett taught her students to be confident — and to work harder than we thought was possible. She demanded that we be prepared and on time and treated us like professionals. She was everything I would love to be." 

Gifted with a supple, beautifully shaded lyric soprano, Brugger is a singer who knows the value of economy and clarity. Her talent has always been apparent, but her star has risen especially fast during the past few seasons. Brugger's onstage assignments in 2010–11 at Los Angeles Opera, where she was a Domingo–Thornton Young Artist, included Barbarina in Figaro and the Page in Rigoletto. The following season, she had victories in the Met National Council Auditions — singing heart-melting performances of "Ach, ich fühl's" and "Depuis le jour" — and in the Operalia competition, in which she was given the zarzuela prize and the "Prize of the Public," as well as first place. Her Operalia performance of "De España vengo," Concha's aria from the zarzuela El Niño Judio, was typical of Brugger's best work — neatly turned, imaginatively phrased and surpassingly lovely. This season, when Brugger returned to Los Angeles Opera for the company's wildly successful presentation of Barrie Kosky's Zauberflöte production, Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed hailed her as "a rapturous Pamina ready for prime time."  

After she is finished with The Enchanted Island at the Met, Brugger heads to Denver for Micaela in Opera Colorado's Carmen. "I've been quite overwhelmed — in a good way — by what has happened since the Met Auditions and Operalia.  But the best advice I've had as a singer was to follow my own path — that's the only path I can follow. It's a competitive world. We singers are all impatient, we always compare ourselves to our colleagues. We all want to be ten steps ahead of where we are. But the way to make this all work is to stay focused and keep working towards your goal." spacer

F. PAUL DRISCOLL

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Current Issue: December 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 6