Rachel Stewart, Soprano
Soprano Rachel Stewart will debut with Opera Company of Brooklyn in Der Vampyr on October 29, 2016. Rachel is a second-year Master’s degree candidate at Manhattan School of Music studying with Mignon Dunn. She was last seen as La Chatte in L’enfant et les sortilèges with the Manhattan School of Music this April. Previous credits with the University of British Columbia include Angelina (La Cenerentola) with the Accademia Europea dell’Opera, as well as Marcellina (Le nozze di Figaro), Forrester’s Wife/Innkeeper’s Wife (Příhody lišky Bystroušky), Mercédès (Carmen), Seour Mathilde (Dialogues des Carmelites) and Sylviane (Die lustige Witwe). In 2015, Rachel created the role of Amy in Stephen Chatman’s Choir Practice, streamed live to Opera America. Rachel hails from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Read below as she shares her experiences and advice with us.
How did you get into Opera?
I was twelve years old the first time I ever heard an Opera Singer live. When she began to sing, I felt a lightbulb go off in my brain, telling me that this was what I was meant to do with my life. After I left the concert, I tried to listen to as much Opera as I could get my hands on, and started taking lessons a year later.
What, in your opinion, makes OCB unique?
OCB is unique because it is a company focused on promoting local talent, with a great deal of repertoire, from premiering new works, to classics. This to me is the best way to get people involved in Opera, and choosing operas, like Der Vampyr, to attract people to see opera around a specific holiday, like Halloween, is very fun and shows appreciation for the audience.
How do you relax when not on stage?
If I am not on stage, or practicing, frequently I am found walking around the city listening to Podcasts. I find them fascinating because it is a medium where the narrator is speaking to an audience, but it feels like they are communicating only to you. To me it feels like story time was as a kid, but with more grown up topics!
Do you have any advice for other singers?
The best piece of advice that I’ve heard, and that I myself repeat is to never forget why you started singing in the first place. For me it is the ability to tell a story and touch other people the way that music has touched me. There are many times in the practice room, or cursing myself for missing out on a role where I remind myself why I love what I do.
What are your dream roles?
My dream roles include Judith from Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, La Contessa Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro and Melisande from Pelléas et Mélisande. All of these women are so very different and provide different acting challenges to conquer.
Which colleagues do you admire?
Colleagues I particularly admire are Joyce DiDonato and Jamie Barton. To me, they both serve them music before themselves, and that shines through in their singing. DiDonato’s dedication to making music a way of bringing peace into the world really resonates with me.
My favorite opera is Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartok. The psychology of the story is so interesting and the way the two characters interact with each other throughout forces the listener to focus. Also, selfishly, the opening of the Fifth Door, with that glorious C major chord gets me every time!
Which character (not in your voice range) would you most like sing and why?
I have always nursed a desire to play Escamillo in Carmen! His bravado and the way he commands all the attention in the room just with his words would be so much fun to portray on stage.
What other music do you listen to?
If I’m not listening to Opera, I enjoy listening to Medieval music, particularly Troubadour love songs. The melodies are beautiful and transport me to a different place.
Do you read books/watch movies to prepare for a role?
If the opera is based on a piece of literature, then I consider it part of my role preparation to read the source material. Certainly the composer would have read it, and it gives me greater insight into what is on the musical page have read it myself.
How do you balance a career with a life offstage?
Having a wonderful support system means the world to me! Being able to unplug from the music world and have something as simple as dinner with a friend who isn’t a musician keeps me grounded and focused on reality. None of my family members are musicians, so they keep me in check!
How do you unwind after singing?
If the weather permits, my favorite thing to do is to go for a quick walk outside. It’s the best in the wintertime, because the cold jolts you in a way that nothing else can. After that, I like to relax with a book and a nice cup of tea or cocoa and enjoy the unique silence that comes after making beautiful music!
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.