Joyce featured in
Savonlinna Festival Magazine
The article is in Finnish, so here are the original English answers (and questions) that Joyce sent in for the interview. Joyce performs the role of Violetta in the Savonlinna Festival’s production of Verdi’s la traviata, which opens July 20 (July 25, August 1), details here.
What does it take to make a perfect Violetta? What does Violetta’s role demand vocally and technically?
Violetta is one of those characters that just when you think you have her “figured out”, she surprises you by showing even more qualities and possibilities. This is a role that I have sung over 50 times now, and I can say, without hesitation, that every time I sing it, I hear and feel something new. She goes through a tremendous personal journey in the opera, and this gives me so many opportunities to play multiple facets of her character. The “perfect” Violetta, as a concept, in my opinion doesn’t exist. What I think is a perfect Violetta is a performer who is willing to put their heart on their sleeve and share with the audience joy and pain. That being said, it is an epic role in terms of vocal demands and really challenges the soprano voice. There are many specifics written into Verdi’s score (staccati, pianissimi, coloratura…etc..), which really require a lot of study. The wonderfully inspiring thing about this is that it is all there to reflect the character’s emotional state. My main goal when I am singing any role is to strive for emotional connectivity. So, the role of Violetta is a gift for me because it is as much an acting role as it is a vocal one.
How would you characterize Violetta? What in her character is the part that you relate to most? What attracts you the most in the role? What kind of a role is it for the singer?
I think we can characterize Violetta differently in every act of the opera. However, she is more than a stereotypical courtesan, and this is why we love her. What touches me the most about Violetta is her sincere desire to change her life for the better and obtain forgiveness for her past. I think this need is a very basic human one, as I believe we all have something at one point or another that we wish we could change. Violetta really makes me reflect on this human condition. The role itself for a performer is one of the most fulfilling. For me, it demands that I take everything I have and leave it on the stage. When I feel I have given everything to my audience, it feels like I’ve been given the greatest gift.
What would you consider the most important turning points of your career?
I have been fortunate to have had many opportunities come my way. Finding my way to a career in opera was extremely challenging and I faced many road blocks. However, I always stayed very focused on the hard work and diligent with the mastering of my craft. I wanted to be prepared for the opportunities when and if they came.
How important are competitions for a young singer? Have they been important for you?
Competitions can be a very useful tool for young singers. When a singer is first starting out, the calendar is not completely full with singing engagements and one is still very much in the midst of auditions, role preparation, etc. Competition earnings provide some relief from the financial pressure of the beginning of a career. The other important aspect of doing competitions is that a young singer can be heard by a multitude of people in the music industry, make connections and begin to build their network, which is essential. I always say to a young singer, however, that winning isn’t everything. I know some singers who never won competitions and are out in the world having brilliant careers. So, while competitions can be helpful, they are not the only way!
Who would you consider the most important people for you professionally in your career so far?
Maestro Lorin Maazel was a great champion of mine. He believed in my talent and offered me more opportunities than I can count. He really helped me launch my career by having me sing several roles in his beloved Castleton Festival, taking me to the Munich Philharmonic, China, Oman and many more. He was very encouraging at a point when I really needed it. I would also like to say that Maestro James Levine was instrumental is helping me find the ideal repertoire for my voice. My work with him while I was in the Lindemann Program at the MET was a gift for me. I also had the opportunity of making my first studio recording two year ago of Donizetti’s Belisario with Opera Rara in London and Sir Mark Elder. This was a very interesting project, which then lead to another recording of Les Martyrs by the same composer. It was during the recording sessions for Belisario that I was approached by Sir Mark about Les Martyrs. He showed me the score and just by looking at it, I knew it was a great part for me. We’ve recently finished the recording and gave a performance of the work at Royal Festival Hall. It was a very special night that I will never forget.
In an interview you have mentioned that James Levine wished that you would concentrate in Verdi repertoire. What makes a great Verdi soprano?
Yes, he said to me (after I presented him with a Puccini aria) that many people can sing Puccini… but not many can sing Verdi. He said that I have a voice made for Verdi and that I should never forget this when I sing any repertoire and that it is important for me to keep my Verdi “line”. Any singer who attempts to sing Verdi is faced with a multitude of challenges. There is no hiding in Verdi. Vocally speaking, he made tremendous demands on the voice and a singer must really be secure in his/her technique. He was very specific in his writing using markings anywhere from pppp to fff! Breath control is essential in order to negotiate the huge dynamic range, long phrases and various colors required. This, along with a pingy and generous italianate sound and an emotional connectivity are crucial to becoming a great Verdi singer.
How would you describe your voice?
Everyday I discover something new in my voice. It is like a living, breathing, creature which always needs care and attention. I do believe that I have good control of my voice, but since it is always growing and changing, I am always catching up with it in some ways. My voice likes higher tessituras. Two of my latest roles and now new favorites (as well as Violetta) are Rusalka and Pauline in Les Martyrs. They both soar high and use my entire dynamic range. Pauline has high D’s and floated High Bs and Rusalka is constantly moving and flying over the orchestra in a way which demands such breath control as well as steel from the voice. My voice likes music which can make use of its dark color, I believe.
In what repertoire do you feel most at home?
Definitely French and Italian Bel Canto. This is where not only my voice, but also my psyche feels the most at home. Something about the bel canto style and approach to singing really resonates with me, and I feel that I can give an audience something from the heart because the “technicalities” of the music making are somewhat instinctive for me in this repertoire.
Critics have compared you to Callas and Scotto. How does that feel?
Well, of course, I take that as a great compliment since both these artists have taught me so much, both directly and indirectly.
You are currently adding new roles to your repertoire, both Bel Canto and lyric-spinto soprano roles. In what direction do you see your voice developing?
I will be adding Maria Stuarda to my repertoire very soon and I would like to do the other Queens. Anna Bolena is definitely a role that I wish to do. Of course Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Luisa Miller as well… both of which I worked on with Maestro Levine. I think it will be interesting to see how my voice matures in the next few years. I am very conscious of keeping it healthy and youthful, while challenging it to grow as well.
You have worked on two rare Donizetti operas with Mark Elder. Did you enjoy the recording process? How do you find it to work on less performed repertoire that doesn’t have a performance tradition?
The recording process is a completely different animal from live performance. The amount of focus required during a recording session is incredible! The biggest challenge is really using the voice and only the voice to portray the mood and what the character is feeling. Of course the fact that it will be there on record forever is intimidating as well! I really enjoy working on less performed repertoire. Going from something like Traviata, which everyone knows to something like a rare Donizetti is very liberating because there aren’t many reference points. It’s like you have a clean slate and you can feel free to create. There aren’t any traditional expectations and so you can go directly to the score and only the score to find all the information you need. This for me was the most interesting part of recording the two Donizetti operas.
Where do you live currently? Where you feel most at home when ”on tour”?
After I finished with the MET Lindemann program, I moved back to Philadelphia, a city which I love. I did, however 5 months ago, take all of my things from my apartment in Philadelphia and put them in storage. I gave up my apartment because I will be on the road for the next 18 months straight. So, right now, I am living in my suitcase!
What do you do in your leisure time? Do you have time for hobbies?
I don’t have many hobbies, as my spare time is usually used to learn music and prepare performances, but I am however very involved and interested in Anti-Bullying campaigns. I was bullied as a child in school, and this is something which affected me deeply and still does to this day. I am looking for ways to integrate this into my singing career in order to raise awareness about bullying so that we can help children avoid it and have a better quality of life.
Have you sung in Finland or in North Europe before?
No, and I can’t wait!
What are your expectations for Savonlinna in July?
I am very much looking forward to this! I really don’t know what to expect to be honest, but I am certain that we will have a wonderful Traviata in this beautiful setting. I am so honored to be your Violetta and I am counting the minutes to be there!