For the past few years soprano Suzanne Vinnik has taken the opera world by stormwith Shoperatic, a peer-to-peer platform that allows singers around the industry to buy and sell vestments for performances.
Coupled with her work as a photographer, she has become more selective with her performance schedule. She performed concerts throughout the last few months, though, per her website and will join Dallas Opera next season to cover the title role in Manon Lescaut.
That will all change when she appears in “Continental” this week, a work by Justin Fleming based on the famed Continental Bath House of the 1970s. The work centers on “Steve Ostrow, a wannabe opera singer who started the Continental bathhouse,” Vinnik told OperaWire in a recent interview. “The show starts in the green room of the opera house in Sydney where his fellow cast mates ask him how he ended up in Australia as the understudy for Otello rather than just staying in NYC and singing at the MET. All of the people in the green room take on different characters from Steve’s past as we go on this journey that reveals his mysterious past.”
Making a Return
Vinnik’s appearance in the show came about after she resolved to issue a bit of change in her life.
“I totally believe in the law of attraction and wrote … ‘Get Cast in a play or TV show’ as one of my goals in My Infinite Agenda all the way in November,” she revealed noting that she wanted to try something different in her life that was not necessarily the traditional path of an opera singer.
“I think as opera singers, it’s easy to underestimate our abilities to do anything besides sing. I’m not claiming to be Meryl Streep or anything but, it’s really not that hard with all the experiences I’ve had not only onstage but working with coaches who pushed me to communicate the truth in every phrase of my music.”
Her involvement resulted from a referral from her high school best friend and frequent music collaborator Nicholas Connell, who recommended her for the project after reading the casting breakdown. The producers were looking to cast an opera singer for one of the roles, making Vinnik the perfect fit.
“Nick texted me and asked if I was interested and passed along my information. They got ahold of me right away and I hopped in the car and drove from Las Vegas and was doing my first LA audition.”
Connell had put in such a ringing endorsement that Vinnik felt a certain pressure “to not suck, especially when they told me I’d be doing a cold reading.”
Vinnik had never done an audition without previous preparation in her entire life.
Fortunately, that worked in her favor.
“They told me about each character with a little description and I just went to it and made bold decisions on the spot regardless of the outcome. It was pretty liberating to be so green and inexperienced,” she exclaimed.
She wound up getting cast in a number of roles.
The first is that of Sarah, a junkie dying of aids.
“She antagonizes Joanne, the prison chaplain who reveals that she wasn’t always a religious figure and was in love with a man named Steve Ostrow who ran away to Australia to pursue his operatic career,” Vinnik revealed. “There’s some pressure to opening the show as one of the early characters and setting up the action that will unfold.”
But it doesn’t end there for her. Then she gets to play Steve’s mother during one of his earliest performances.
“It reminds me of my parents when I was first beginning singing and performing as a child,” she noted.
Then she takes on the role of the “shady lady Veronica,” which she cites as her personal favorite to play.
“Her lines absolutely crack me up! I’ve always loved the comedic characters in opera more than the tragic heroines,” Vinnik revealed. “I’ve never gotten to say ‘I’ll bite your balls off,’ onstage which is going to be really fun! She’s part madame, con-woman, sex pot, and all around comical!
And then there is Eleanor Steber. Yes, that Eleanor Steber.
“I find it hilarious that Eleanor Steber made her 1974 RCA recording live from a gay sauna, of all the venues, the Continental bath house located in the Ansonia where Bette Midler and Barry Manilow launched their careers doesn’t really seem like an ideal place for one of America’s finest singers and biggest stars of the Met to make a recording,” Vinnik noted regarding Steber’s connection to the play. “When I think of Steber, I think “Knoxville Summer of 1915,” “Vanessa” and Mozart, not really an audience clad in towels listening to opera arias and operetta.
“We all think we are so inventive these days with site-specific performances and unusual venues but, Eleanor knew what was up decades before.”
The experience leading up to the opening performance on Monday, June 18, 2018, has been refreshing for Vinnik, who noted that she enjoys the freedom of being in a play.
“I haven’t had to do much research in the way that I would when taking on an operatic role,” she explained. “It’s more just becoming familiar with the script so I am able to be reactive to what everyone else is saying, clearly define the various characters voices and mannerisms and be able to take what I’ve learned from opera and translate it to acting. It’s hard to not have music to tell me what to do with the composer’s intentions. This time it’s up to me to set up the rhythm and flow!”
And while the work itself is not an opera, it’s thematic interplay with opera makes it a perfect introduction to those who have never attended a performance.
“There’s a lot of opera underscoring which is a perfect touch as it allows the audience to feel like they are there in the moment. I think anyone who doesn’t know opera will want to after seeing the show!
“I’m not someone who is really connected with the new music scene in opera so taking on something like this at this stage and seeing it through when the first iteration is already such a great work excites me! I’m someone who likes putting my mark on things so getting to be the first person to do that in a new work is pretty awesome!”