This artist tackles the task of reinventing opera giving it a new twist for modern ears. Her angelic Soprano voice has a timeless quality from years of rigorous training. She graced the stage at Lightning in a Bottle 2018 adorning a painted clown face with switchblade in hand. Dark Beauty will be following this artist’s career and we suggest you do to…
Interview Meikee Magnetic
Where were you born and where are you now?
I was born and raised in Dana Point CA, a small beach town just north of San Diego. Dana Point does not have much going on culturally other than the very famous surf community. That being said, some really amazing artists have come out of that area (Brooks Nielsen and Matt Taylor from the Growlers went to my High School). For whatever reason, Dana Point has a gritty subculture that you won’t find in the neighboring beach towns of Newport Beach or Laguna Beach. Perhaps Dana Point being one of the first famous beach towns in South Orange County gave it some edge that the other local spots don’t have. I remember everyone being heavily influenced by the punk and skate scene growing up. I currently live in downtown Los Angeles.
Tell us the story on the early stages of you becoming an amazing Opera singer:
I have been performing and studying classical music since I was 6 years old. I started with piano and later moved to study classical voice at around 12 years old. I am lucky that my parents were very encouraging in fostering my music studies. They put me in every after school activity they could find, and when it was clear that singing was my strength, they transferred me from public school to the Orange County School of the Arts Opera Conservatory. I would say at this time of my life I was a very well trained monkey. I could do vocal gymnastics like no one’s business, tackling some of the most difficult coloratura repertoire, but it wasn’t for the love of the art. At this time of my life I practiced day and night to win competitions and impress my parents and professors. I was training at a young age to be a professional opera singer just as a young ice skater or ballerina would train – lessons till 7 PM every night of the week and competitions on the weekends. I ended up getting into many prestigious music schools when applying for college and chose to study at the Thornton School of Music at USC. I received an excellent education there. I later continued my studies at the Verdi Conservatory of Music in Milan, Italy, apprenticed with Patrizia Zenardi from La Scala, and studied with world renowned teachers Janice Chapman from London School of Music and Joan Caplan from Manhattan School of Music. As a traditional opera singer I’ve sung on the stages of the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and New York Lyric Opera. As time went on I began to have major cognitive dissonance over being in a very restrictive art form without opportunity to self actualize as an artist. Classical music is about performing what is written on the page. I slowly became disenfranchised with the traditional operatic world and while I still loved the art form I found it to be suffocating. Sometime after this disenfranchisement, I ended up switching gears and getting into production where I produced TV shows and small stage productions. This work gave me the skill set to begin creating my neoclassical experimental opera work which has been the most rewarding project of my life.
Do you create your own music or is there a producer you work with?
I work with two amazing composers and music producers Lance Trevino and Harrison Lee. Lance Trevino is an internationally performed composer and Texas native. Having got his start in the contemporary concert music world, his works have been featured in both concert halls and films. I’ve worked with Lance for several years now, getting our start at the Bombay Beach Biennale art festival. Before this, Lance has worked on several tv and film projects ranging from Chef’s Table to Beyblade Burst Evolution. Lance is an Alumni of the Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television Program at USC. Harrison is a composer and producer from Edmonton who I met through Lance. We’ve been working together for a year now on this remix project. Before this project he’s released an EDM album, a handful of singles, and some film and tv soundtrack collaborations. Harrison is a member of the band SUMEAU based in LA. He plays the cello and occasional synth and trombone but also arranged the string parts. I feel so fortunate to work with these two amazing musicians and composers. Together we make an excellent team and are so excited to continue to produce new classical crossover material.
Tell us about your Reversing Roles: Part 1 Pagliaccia music video series:
My work in reinventing opera began when the creators of the Bombay Beach Biennale art festival Tao Ruspoli and Stefan Ashkenazy approached me to curate something outside of the box in opera for their festival. The Bombay Beach Biennale is a renegade art festival – a celebration of art, music, and philosophy that takes place each year on the literal edge Western Civilization, at the shores of the Salton Sea. They built an amazing opera house out in the desert to bring classical arts such as ballet, opera, and orchestra to the festival scene which has never really been done before. For them I began my work in thinking about opera in a new way. They have been so supportive and instrumental in the creation of this neoclassical piece which began with them giving me the support, freedom, and a platform to create and perform something new. With this series I really wanted to change the narrative in opera and make the music more accessible for a modern ear. My partners and I have changed keys, played with music formats, and added modern instruments and sounds to these pieces. Opera is actually very dark and powerful, however, the female characters in opera are quite predictable. They are often murdered, saved, or depicted as the shrew or ingenue. Rarely in opera do you find empowered complex protagonists. I thought it’d be interesting to turn that around a bit. As I started to sift through pieces that I could pull from to tell a new story, the only arias I found compelling came from male roles. It was then that I decided to cover, splice, and re-orchestrate male arias and weave them into telling a new story. The “Reversing Roles Part 1” video is the first piece of a five series cycle. This aria is called “Vesti La Giubba,” a famous tenor aria from Ruggero Leoncavallo’s 1892 opera Pagliacci. “Vesti la giubba” is sung at the conclusion of the first act, when Canio (Pagliacci) discovers his wife’s infidelity, but must nevertheless prepare for his performance as Pagliacci the clown because “the show must go on.” The aria title “Vesti La Giubba” translates to “put on the costume.” In changing this piece to a female role, the idea of putting on your costume and makeup everyday to play a part that you are not, is very relevant in feminist literature, beckoning the question “why must we pretend to be someone who we are not in order to satisfy the crowd?” At the end of this opera, Pagliacci kills his wife and her lover. In this interpretation, Pagliaccia (the female version) tries to kill herself, but is instead reborn. Pagliaccia decides that she will kill her husband and his lover, not by action but by death of their influence in her life. The last line she sings translates to “the pain of betrayal that has poisoned and hardened my heart.” Pagliaccia decides that this poison was not strong enough to kill her (which would normally happen to the female in an opera), but she comes to find out that in her strength, his power dies and she is reborn. Coming out later this month is the Commendatore Scene from Don Giovanni where I play the devil who drags the notorious philanderer Don Juan into hell.
Who are you as an artist?
As a trained classical musician I was always taught to color inside the lines – which felt safe. As GOLDiii, I finally gave myself permission to be unequivocally myself. Raw, pained, sensual, but fearless – someone who is not afraid to fight and be a bit confrontational. As this artist I allow myself to play in the dark with my music, performance, and interpretation. Throughout most of my life this side of me was repressed and as more of GOLDiii emerged the two began to integrate which has been such an amazing journey.
When you decorate your face what was the inspiration?
The initial clown face came from covering “Vesti La Giubba” from Pagliacci. That character traditionally performs the role in clown makeup, as he is a clown in an actors troupe. The role of the clown or jester in opera is actually very common, such as Rigoletto by Verdi and all of the Commedia Dell’Arte characters which reoccur in opera time after time. Coincidentally, by painting my face I was allowed to become someone entirely new and meanwhile explore why often we are most authentic in anonymity. Due to the fact that the series is performed as one act live, I cannot go off stage to change my makeup so the makeup became the backbone of the entire set. It was a lucky happenstance, as it really gives a second layer to each aria and character portrayed.
You performed at Lightning In A Bottle 2018, how was the reaction from the crowd and enlighten us on some highlights:
Lightning in A Bottle was an amazing experience. I am pretty sure I was the only opera clown there. I have performed at many festivals and art shows, but to be honest I wasn’t sure how the series would play in a setting which caters more to strictly EDM sets. I think at first the crowd and even the stage hands weren’t sure what to make of me. I think they thought I was going to do something circusy or funny, but by the end of the first song they realized the piece was truly dark. By the end of the act I had quite a large crowd and the response was really rewarding. Throughout the rest of the festival people would come up to me with positive feedback and it has lead to more opportunities and hopefully I will be going back next year! CLICK HERE TO SEE VIDEO
What drives you everyday and what are your passions?
I believe it is my responsibility as an artist to create in order to give back to the Great Creator. Every day I try to evolve as a human in elevating my consciousness. I believe music helps me do that. I am absolutely passionate and love other singers and I try to support them as much as I can. I actually have a voice studio called Vocal Arts LA where I teach young opera singers and help them get into colleges and music schools. I love supporting other artists and I try to pay attention to the details in life – art lies in the details. That said, not every day am I driven. An artist can lead a solitary life at times because so much of creating and practice needs to be done on your own. That said, my ultimate goal is the evolution of mind and spirit, so if I can take a small step in that direction every day I think I am doing alright.
Future plans are to continue to expand on this neoclassical art form. I am almost done with a full EP and I’d like to release that soon. October is filling up with gigs and I am currently in the works on producing a live interactive art experience including my work and other local artists. Harrison, Lance, and I are also raising money and looking for patron donors to further our work, record with orchestras, and perhaps flesh out a fully staged opera at some point.
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
When beginning to create my opera characters I would sift through all of the amazing creations and photos in Dark Beauty Magazine. Dark Beauty Magazine has been a HUGE influence and has inspired me to think about beauty as an expression of art, so it was truly exciting for me to hear from you as the magazine has been so influential in my work. I think all life is comprised of duality. Dark Beauty to me means expressing a side of that duality, perhaps sinking into something that can be perceived as dark energy or provocative and in that sinking finding the dual aspects of light which would not exist without the dark.