Every opera career has a different path.
Not everyone wins competitions, not everyone starts at the top opera houses or young artist programs, and not everyone begins at the same age. And that is very clear for Angel Blue, who has taken unconventional paths to becoming one of the most promising young artists in opera.
“I am definitely open and up for whatever it is. I’m always open to doing different repertoire. I’m a California girl and I feel that’s where it comes from,” she told OperaWire in a recent interview.
That can definitely be seen through her varied repertoire choices and involvement in the opera world, as this week as she takes the stage to host the Cardiff Singer of the World competition.
Cardiff is quite possibly one of the most recognized competitions in the whole world and one that many young singers aspire to conquer.
That included Blue, but fate had a different path for her.
“I always wanted to compete in the Cardiff competition, and in college, I would watch the clips and things that I could find. I always thought it was such a great competition and it was a great and honorable title, ‘Singer of the World.'”
So Blue started preparing for the competition in hopes of making her mark. But things would take a different turn for her.
“I was going to compete in 2011 but I wasn’t ready. Then in 2013 when that time came, I was super busy and I didn’t have time to compete. And then in 2015 I wanted to but I had met the people from the BBC in 2014 and I thought I was done with competitions because I had four at that time. And then the BBC offered this position to me and I thought if I can’t compete I’ll be happy to be a part of it and sort of be the cheerleader for these young singers who did compete.”
This Sunday she returns for the second time and is sure to bring the same charisma to television screens again.
A Career in Hosting
But it wasn’t the first job that Blue obtained from the BBC. Interestingly enough, Blue has been a frequent host of the Proms festival and has been a guest of Classic FM Live. Her work as a host and presenter actually came from her early college years.
“I studied communications in school and I also studied journalism and took speech classes. It has always been a dream of mine to be a talk show host.”
Her biggest inspiration was Oprah Winfrey, but Blue never wanted to be exactly the same. But then came yet another twist in the road.
“When I was living in London, I met people from Sky Arts TV and I did an interview with them. And before you know it, I had people from the BBC and Sky Arts calling and asking me to do different hosting events and presenting different shows with the BBC. That was my foot in the door. Ever since then I’ve made a lot of friends and connections within the BBC and they have always invited me back which I’m grateful for.”
Outside her jobs as a host, Blue has made several debuts in some of the world’s greatest theaters, creating unforgettable portrayals. Her repertoire ranges from Verdi and Gershwin to Schumann and Puccini, and she has even made forays into Zarzuela.
Blue has never been against repeating things. She revealed, “Singing things over again keeps me grounded, and being able to revisit certain things is so good to open my voice.”
However, at times singing in unconventional ways is also helpful. A few months ago Blue made her awaited debut as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Unlike most sopranos who have taken on the challenge in a traditional production with lavish sets and two intermissions, Blue performed in a modern and raw production by Peter Konwitscny with no intermission. The results were excellent and, Blue noted, helpful to the opera as a whole.
“I had the privilege of watching Corrinne Winters and Marliss Petersen and watching them sing straight through this role with all of the other characters. For continuity’s sake, it makes the flow of the opera and the drama really stick. And I feel like that is what Verdi wanted. He wanted to showcase Violetta’s journey.
“For me it was great and I wasn’t interrupted and the scenes weren’t interrupted. And to have the flow from the beginning to the end, I didn’t get the chance to check my phone or do anything that would disturb the continuity of the piece,” she noted.
But it wasn’t her first time doing an opera without intermission.
“In 2013 I did an ‘American Lulu,’ which is a new version of Lulu based on Berg’s ‘Lulu,’ and I think to this day that is the most difficult piece of music I have ever had to learn, let alone memorize. It was actually longer than ‘Traviata’ and of course, the content of ‘Lulu’ is already difficult to deal with. But it was really good for me and I learned more about Berg.”
Having that experience informed her Violetta and made her grow as an artist. Having performed the role this way also made her appreciate one moment she never liked.
“I used to dislike ‘Parigi, o cara’ because I sang it when I was 16, but then I sang it again later and I realized that I could sing piano. I never knew that I could produce a good quality of sound and it became one of my favorite moments. Because it is such an artistic moment, I was able to experience it.”
Now as she moves to the rest of her repertoire, Blue feels like “Traviata” has given her something she will take to every one of her roles.
A Met Debut
After singing all over the world in Italy, Germany, Spain, and on some of the US’s greatest stages, Blue will make her long-awaited Metropolitan Opera debut this fall in Puccini’s “La Bohème.”
“I think probably it’s an opera that is such a well-known piece of music and I’m very appreciative of the Met for giving me this. I have so many performances [in this run] and that is rewarding. I’ve performed it a lot overseas and have actually never done the role here in the United States. To be my debut of Mimì here in my country means a lot to me, especially in one of the world’s greatest opera houses.”
“La Bohème” is a work that has actually been part of Blue’s career for a long time, as she has not only performed Mimì but Musetta, and the switch in roles has allowed her to reflect on her development as an artist.
“I think temperament has a lot to do with what I can sing well. A couple of years ago when my voice was lighter, I had more agility. I still have coloratura but I think Musetta has a bit more of a feisty temperament in music. She’s sort of all over the place the way she is. I think one has to have great high notes and good low notes, and everything in between you have to be focused.
“But I think that is the same with Mimì. It’s more lyrical and both are well-balanced. But I feel like both are easy for me to sing because I do have both those temperaments. I can relate to them in my personality. So I think it’s easy for me to switch back between Mimì and Musetta. Of course, Mimì is much lower in tessitura than Musetta. That is the biggest difference.”
When it comes to personality, Blue says that the two roles relate to different periods in her life.
“I think when I first did ‘La Bohème’ in 2007, my personality was more like Musetta. But I think today I’m much more like a Mimì. I’m much slower with things and I have to take the time to think things through. I wouldn’t do what Musetta does in a restaurant but I think 10 years ago I would have.”