Melanie Ashkar, Mezzo-Soprano
Mezzo-soprano Melanie Ashkar debuts with the Opera Company of Brooklyn in the upcoming performance of Der Vampyr on October 29, 2016. Melanie appears this season with OperaRox Productions as Bradamante in Alcina and with International Brazilian Opera Company as Jons in a world premiere opera The Seventh Seal. While pursuing her Master’s degree at Mannes College, she was featured as Jo in Little Women, La Zia Principessa in Suor Angelica, Zita in Gianni Schicchi and Older Woman in Flight. Other credits include Lucretia (The Rape of Lucretia) with Utopia Opera, Amastre (Serse) with Bel Cantanti Opera,Witch (Hansel and Gretel) with Loudoun Lyric Opera and Cendrillon (Cendrillon) with Music Academy International. Please visit her website at www.melanieashkar.com.
How did you get into Opera?
I’ve been singing since before I could talk. As a child, I joined a well-regarded children’s chorus in Washington, DC where I learned about classical music. I was so enthusiastic about it that my choir director recommended voice lessons, which is where I was first exposed to opera. That’s when I fell in love with it and the rest, as they say, is history!
What, in your opinion, makes OCB unique?
OCB is unique in that the group only gathers a couple of times before the performance – the whole group must be well prepared, focused and excited about the piece for it to come together.
How do you relax when not on stage?
I like to read sci-fi/fantasy and Victorian novels, usually with a mug of tea.
Do you have any advice for other singers?
I would advise singers to record themselves and listen often. You can only hear so much from inside your own head, and often discover new things on a second listen. And by becoming your own best set of outside ears, you become more attuned to your voice and ultimately more self-sufficient as a singer.
What are your dream roles?
I would love to sing Carmen, Isabella in L’Italiana in Algeri, and Dalila in Samson and Dalila.
Which colleagues do you admire?
I really admire Jennifer Johnson Cano, who prepares so diligently for each role, and always gives a beautiful, well-rounded, emotional performance.
It’s so hard to pick, but I’d say my favorite opera is Così fan tutte. Act I is hit after hit, and I love the ensemble nature of the show, which is packed with duets, trios and sextets. Mozart’s comedic writing is spot-on, with even a trio of laughter composed to music. Brilliant!
Which character (not in your voice range) would you most like sing and why?
I would love to sing Scarpia in Tosca. Not only is the music fantastic, but the character is actually quite complex, even though he’s a classic villain. As a mezzo, I get to sing a lot of interesting and varied characters, but I’ve never gotten to tackle a classically male villain!
What other music do you listen to?
I listen to all kinds of things, mostly classic rock, but also rap, Cole Porter-era tunes and radio top 40 hits.
Do you read books/watch movies to prepare for a role?
I like to go back to the source material when available; I recently played Jo in Little Women, and really enjoyed re-reading the novel with a special eye for the descriptions of Jo’s character and her development throughout the story. I’m also working on an opera based on the movie The Seventh Seal, which would be impossible to prepare without getting a feel for Ingmar Bergman’s unique aesthetic.
How do you balance a career with a life offstage?
This is definitely hard to do. I have a couple of freelance jobs, but am mostly left to figure out a schedule for myself. I find it helps a lot to have non-musician friends and to plan non-music related activities. For instance, I went to a talk on the history of candy last week, which was not only fun (and delicious), but also a good break from worrying about that next audition.
How do you unwind after singing?
Usually, I come home and pop some popcorn, crack open a beer, and catch up on my Netflix.
The dreaded question: Have you ever appeared in Phantom of the Opera?
Sadly, I have not. But if I ever do, I’d want to play Carlotta!
Opera Company of Brooklyn Presents: Der Vampyr on Saturday, October 29 from 7 PM to 9:45 PM at 600 W 218th Street, 1 G, NY, NY 10034. Tickets are a suggested donation of $20 in advance, $40 day of and can be reserved online here. For more information about the production and cast, click here.