Santa della Lirica: Interview, Rachele Gilmore
Interview: Rachele Gilmore
by Kassandra Dimopoulou
June 10, 2012
Rachele Gilmore is a young star of the opera world. She is a coloratura soprano (for those who don't know what this is, check the video below and you'll get it: amazing vocal skills and almost ultrasonic sounds!) who recently did her MET debut (The Metropolitan Opera of NYC) and shined among world opera stars, such as Anna Netrebko with her interpretation of Olympia:
Rachele, you are the young generation of opera: a young and beautiful opera singer, with great talent! How would you describe your job to someone who has no idea about the opera world?
This is a tough question to answer, because so much of what makes our profession relevant relies on an audience who is passionate and knowledgeable about Opera. I would say that being an Opera singer is about performing pieces of music that combine the highest level of singing, drama and language all into one art form. I would compare singing opera as maybe training for the Olympics, in that you spend many years perfecting your sport/art in order to perform in very high level competitions/performances and you must deliver every time.
Why did you start singing and what was the moment you decided that this is your way?
I started singing in general at a very young age, maybe 4 or 5 years old and always knew that I wanted to be involved in music. I think I realized for the first time that I wanted to make music my profession when I was about 12. I went to a choral event that combined all the best singers from our age group from my home state, Georgia. The first time I heard all of our beautiful voices singing together it was a very powerful and eye opening experience about what music could bring to people's lives.
You recently had a great success in the MET. Tell us something
about this amazing debut!
To be honest, I don't really remember much about that day because it was such a crazy high pressure situation. I myself was fighting off a cold when I got the call the soprano I was covering wasn't feeling well. As a general rule, they usually give the artist until around 4 o'clock to decide whether or not they will sing the performance that evening. I got the call I think around 4:30 or 5pm at my apartment in Queens that I would definitely be going on. From that moment it was madness. I had to race to the theater in rush hour traffic just to make my makeup call. There were dozens of people coming in and out of my dressing room trying to make sure I was prepared, I didn't have a moment to myself. They held the curtain after 8pm to give me a chance to walk the stage for the first time. I think the best thing I took away from that experience was just the outpouring of support from my colleagues in the cast. From my very close friend Kate Lindsey to Joseph Calleja and Anna Netrebko who I barely knew, they were all rooting for me to do well, and that made a huge difference.
One of the roles that you sing amazingly and brought you to sing at the MET, was Olympia, a doll (in the opera "The tales of Hoffmann"). How difficult is this role and why?
Olympia is a very difficult role, but not in the normal ways that make an opera role difficult. It is very short, only about a total of 15 pages or so, but everything about those 15 pages has to be absolutely perfect. Because she is such a beloved character, directors usually like to do something special or sometimes outrageous with the staging. This can present quite a challenge because you are singing an aria that requires extreme vocal control and most of the time you are doing very challenging physical choreography at the same time, not to mention the costume! Everyone always associates me with my Met debut of Olympia because there is that video out there on Youtube, but that is probably the performance of Olympia that I am least satisfied with as a performer. Of course that video also helped me to see things that I could do better, and every time I sing the role now I am always striving towards a higher level of perfection with her.
How is the opera world in America, comparing to other countries?
Over the last year or so, the majority of my work has been in Europe, so it has been interesting to compare it to working in America. I would say that every country I work in is different and has their own way of doing things. I always feel the most comfortable working in America because I understand the system there, but I also love the challenges that working in other countries brings. There are a lot of exciting things happening in America with Opera right now. Yes, we have gone through some rough times, with the economic situation, and lost some great companies, but I also think in some ways it has challenged us to do better. There are companies out there that are functioning at an extremely high level in all areas: music, production, orchestra, etc, which is hard to find in any company around the world. One very positive thing about working in America is that most of the casts I am a part of have a great chemistry together on stage, and I think that is because the rehearsal room in American companies is a very friendly and accommodating place for the singer. This can allow for a different level or artistic experimentation and lead to exciting things on stage.
What do you really think about agents and how important are they for a young opera singer?
I think that a singer's view of what their agent means to them, evolves as the singer's career evolves. When I was first starting out, I felt that the only reason agents were there were to help you get work. Now, that I have the work on a pretty consistent level, other things become more important. I have been in a couple working situations that have been quite difficult, and without the help and support of my agents I may have not been able to see those contracts through. I'm sure if you ask me in a few more years, I could add another layer to that answer. As someone who has had quite a few agents, I can say that for me, the most important quality to have in an agent is honesty and a good level of communication. You absolutely have to have full confidence and trust in that person.
How is Rachele off stage? Do you change a lot in private as a person? Does the "role" of being an opera singer make you behave in a certain way in public?
I have to say that I am a pretty different person when I am off stage. I am not really a glamorous person at all, and I when I'm not working I like to hang out in sneakers and jeans and just be normal. In fact, I think most people who know me first as Rachele, are quite shocked when they see me on stage as the opera singer. When I am on stage, I have some sort of switch that flips inside of me that turns that "performer persona" on. There is always some part of me that thinks that I should try to be more glamorous in real life and live up to that Opera singer Diva stereotype, but because the profession can be so difficult at times, it is really important to me to hold on to the most genuine version of myself when I am not working.If your life would be an aria, which one would it be and why?
Well, I have always thought that I was a tenor in another lifetime, so it is fitting that I would choose a tenor aria! I think I would probably choose Des Grieux's aria from Massenet's Manon, Le Rêve. As much as I love singing Opera and having this glorious career, I long for that moment where I can live peacefully in a beautiful house in the country with the most important thing being love.
Art is anything that stirs emotion inside of us and makes us think of our life in a new or different way.
Your future plans...
Future plans for me include some exciting role debuts: Amina in La sonnambula, Queen of the Night, and Ophelie in Hamlet. Aside from that, trying to live in the moment and enjoy everyday to the fullest!