FAIRFIELD — North Bay Opera will throw a double bicentennial birthday bash Saturday for two well-known composers, Richard Wagner and Guiseppe Verdi. While their bodies have long been offered back to the dust from whence they came, their revered compositions live on.
In the celebration, longtime North Bay Opera artistic director Phillip Kuttner will accompany several top-tier vocalists in excerpts from “Aida,” “La Traviata,” “Don Carlos” and others on piano.
New Jersey native Soprano Hope Briggs will be a featured vocalist. Briggs has performed all over the world and been the recipient of numerous awards. Before gracing the Downtown Theatre stage at the Fairfield Center for Creative Arts, she answered a few questions via telephone.
Did you always know you were going to be an opera singer?
I loved singing, came from a very musical household and I grew up singing in church. But it was not until I went to college that I discovered I had the potential for an operatic career. Right out of college I was hired to do a national tour of “Porgy and Bess” and after doing that, I decided I wanted to experience opera. I went as moral support with a friend who was trying out for North Bay Opera’s “Don Giovanni.” Somehow I ended up singing and they hired me for the role of Donna Elvira.
While I have seen YouTube videos of you singing arias, there are also ones of you singing songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hand.”
Opera is my passion, but I do appreciate other genres. I love Broadway. I love spirituals, of course, because of the cultural ties I have with the music. And I love singing contemporary Christian. That was my first love and, in a way, it still is because the message in the music is very important to me. Still, I do believe that I was put here on this Earth to sing classical music.
Do you feel a responsibility to pass on the legacy of African-American opera singers like Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price?
I believe I have a responsibility to “pay it forward” and try to educate children who might not consider classical arts. They should know there is a big world out there and not to close themselves off from it and just go with what is familiar. Sometimes, stepping outside of your comfort zone can be very rewarding. Had I not been open to the possibility of pursuing a career in the classical arts, I would not have had the opportunity to travel all over the world and meet people from various cultures. A lot of opera companies, large and small, are working on that. They have outreach programs that go into schools in inner cities, community centers, senior centers – so I think they are trying to bridge that gap.
Do you still get nervous when you step out on stage?
You always get a little nervous and that’s a good sign. I think the minute you stop getting the jitters shows that you don’t care that much. It’s not a fun feeling, but before you know it, you’re on stage, you’re in the moment and you are transported to a whole new world. It’s your chance to get lost in the music and communicate with the audience and take them on the journey with you. Even Pavarotti said that he would get very nervous but the important thing is that the jitters go away and you are able to breathe and be in the moment.
What is it like to be with North Bay Opera again?
North Bay Opera was the first company with which I had the chance to perform an opera in the original language and it was a wonderful experience. I am so happy that I am able to give back at this time. They are a wonderful organization and I hope they continue to thrive in the community.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected]