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

Sound Bites: Marina Costa-Jackson

An authentic Italianate sound and temperament to burn are helping to propel the soprano forward.
by Brian Kellow. 

Sound Bites Costa Jackson hdl 316
Photograph by Dario Acosta
Hair and makeup by Affan Graber Malik
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Photographed at Bottino in New York City
Photograph by Dario Acosta

MARINA COSTA-JACKSON blames her late start as a singer on the fact that she’s a middle child, which in her view means difficult and hard to predict—a little like Edith Crawley on Downton Abbey. She is bookended by two sisters, Ginger and Miriam, also opera singers, but it’s a path that Marina initially resisted. “I thought, no, that’s not happening,” she said recently by phone. “I didn’t decide to sing until I was twenty-one.” 

Once she made the decision, she ran with it. Initially, her teachers thought she was a mezzo. “I felt that way too,” she says, “because usually the top comes in a little bit later, and you’re used to speaking in a certain octave, and singing higher than that is a different story.” Now, at twenty-eight, she is a soprano, winning many of the top voice competitions, including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2015, with her compelling rendition of “Morrò, ma prima in grazia,” from Un Ballo in Maschera. This month, she sings the Verdi Requiem at the Teatro Municipal in Santiago, Chile.

Costa-Jackson’s background reads like a geographical board game. She was born in Las Vegas but spent many of her formative years living in Palermo with her aunt. Italian is her first language, and she was largely home-schooled. There was a brief stint at Utah State University, followed by private studies with Ariel Bybee. She entered Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts at twenty-three, studying with William Schuman. “Singing the top notes is something I continue to work on,” she says. “I love using my chest and middle for the dramatic moments. At AVA, they were able to hear that my voice likes being released, let go. Pavarotti said you need to let it out and then begin fine-tuning it.” 

When she first sang in the Met competition, in 2010, one judge said that her “Come scoglio” sounded like Mozart Meets Carlos Santana. “I was heartbroken, wanting to die then and there. They told me my voice was so wild that if I didn’t get it together in the next year, I should consider different options. I remember crying in the car—‘What is the point of my life?’” 

Today she’s in hot pursuit of her dream of divadom, buoyed up by her sisters. “We speak several times a day,” she says. “We were in Russia singing together, in a tour of palaces. I got sick, and my sisters said, ‘Okay, I’ll take this aria. You take this one. Don’t worry about it.’ It was wonderful.” spacer 

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