In 2010, Opera in the Park, consistently one of the most popular events in the Washington Park Summer Festival, drew close to 6,000 people to two performances of Il Trovatore, starring Metropolitan Opera singer Angela Meade as Leonora. Since making her professional debut on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera as Elvira in Verdi’s Ernani in March 2008, the bel canto singer has wooed fans in the states and overseas, inciting the New Yorker to exclaim: “Meade is astounding...She has exceptional dynamic control, able to move from floating pianissimos to sudden dramatic swells. The coloratura effects—rapid runs, trills, delicate turns, and so on—are handled with uncommon ease. She is a very musical singer, naturally and intelligently riding the phrase.”
This summer, Ms. Meade returns to Opera in the Park to take on a new role: Desdemona in Guiseppe Verdi’s opera Otello on August 2 and 4. We spoke with Ms. Meade about her growing up in Centralia, not making it in New York, and her workout playlist (Verdi's not on it).
Culturephile: What's your first memory of wanting to be a singer?
I grew up singing. I sang in church. I sang in my room to the radio and my karaoke machine. I sang in school in choir. I loved to sing, but didn’t know that I could make it my career until I was in Community College in my hometown of Centralia, Washington, and my choir teacher encouraged me to study voice with a friend of hers. Once he told me I sounded like an opera singer and explained to me what that was, I was hooked. I immediately changed my major to music.
Who inspired you along your path? And were there any unusual turns in your road to the stage?
I looked up to singers like Maria Callas, Montserrat Caballe, Margaret Price, Dame Joan Sutherland, Renee Fleming, Kiri Te Kanawa. and I aspired to be like them. I think primarily what kept me going was the desire to express myself through music.
As far as unusual turns, I don’t know that they were unusual, but they frustrated me some. When I finished my bachelor degree at PLU in Washington State, I was determined to move to NY, so I applied and was accepted to the Manhattan School of Music. I moved into the dorms and registered for classes, but I just felt like it wasn’t the right place for me, so after 9/11 happened the week after I started, I packed up my bags and returned to Washington State for a year. Then after I completed my Masters degree at USC, I applied for several young artist training programs but wasn’t accepted to any of them. I was discouraged but knew I could make it so I started my doctorate at USC. The next year I auditioned for the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and was accepted. AVA is a very prestigious school that only accepts 8 voice students every year, and their primary focus is on vocal training. Three years later, while still at AVA, I made my debut at the Metropolitan Opera in a leading role. So, I did have a couple of set backs along the way, but I persevered through them and eventually reached my goal.
Opera is almost always performed indoors, but at Opera in the Park, you'll be performing in Washington Park. What is the difference between singing inside and singing in an outdoor space?
I’ve performed outdoors quite a bit in my career. I enjoy it, but sometimes things like heat and humidity can be quite challenging. Also, dealing with the sun during performances—and sometimes bugs. In different venues the acoustics outside can also be hard to negotiate.
Speaking of, what is the most unusual place you've performed?
It has to be the Peralada Festival in Spain, which is held at a medieval castle. The stage is outside and surrounded by huge trees where storks have made their nests, and they fly in and out during the concerts making noise. It is a gorgeous venue, though, and the added storks make for a sort of magical experience.
Opera in the Park: Otello
Aug 2 & 4 at 6 p.m. Washington Park Rose Garden Ampitheatre (Aug 2) & Concordia University Campus Green (Aug 4)
For more info on the Washington Park Summer Festival, go here.
Are there any unique challenges or particulars to playing Desdemona in Otello?
This role is not like the normal roles I sing, in that it doesn’t have extensive coloratura or a high tessitura, and it’s also not a stamina role like Norma or Hélène in Vêpres. But what it does have is long beautiful phrases, gorgeous melodies, and a sense of vulnerability that I’m looking forward to exploring.
Do you have a favorite work or character to perform?
I can’t say I have a true favorite role. I have lots of favorite moments in different roles. I’m very fortunate that I get to sing such great roles! Some roles that stick out in my mind are Leonora in Il Trovatore, Hélène in Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, and the title role of Norma.
Is this your first time back in Portland since you performed "Il Trovatore" in 2010?
No, I rehearsed Norma here last summer for the Astoria Music Festival.
What are you looking forward to doing in Portland?
My best friend lives in Portland, so I’m looking forward to spending time with her. I’m sure we’ll venture over to VooDoo Donuts and also to the Pearl District for some great food.
When you're not singing or listening to opera, what is your favorite music?
I listen to pop music some, especially when I need to lighten the mood or if I’m at the gym.
See the videos below for a sense of what to expect when Meade takes the stage.