American mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey recently won the Grand Finals at the 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and won First Prize winner of the Dallas Opera Guild Competition. Now after winning such prestigious competitions, she is slowly becoming one of the most acclaimed rising stars of the opera world.
A recent graduate of the Juilliard School, Hankey has already performed with the Merola Opera Program, Carnegie Hall and appeared in numerous Juilliard School productions. She also made her European debut as Rosina in “Il barbiere di Siviglia” at Den Norske Opera. Now she takes on her first Siébel in “Faust” for her debut at the Grand Théâtre de Genève in a new production.
Hankey recently spoke with OperaWire about winning the National Council Auditions, how it changed her life and making her European debut.
OperaWire: How has winning the Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions changed your life?
Samantha Hankey: It was a dream of mine for many years. I tend to set goals for myself and I want to do certain things by a certain age. And I dreamed of doing the Met competition by 24. I think that feeling of being on the Met stage and working with all the different people at the Met leading up to the finals was a good way to finish my time in NYC as a student at Juilliard and also propel me into my career.
OW: What was the audition process like?
SH: It wasn’t nerve-wracking until I knew I was going into the semifinals after the January Eastern Region Finals. The time between January and March was when the anxiety kicked in and I was getting closer to my dream. And it was also all happening as I was doing a bunch of productions and recitals at Juilliard. So there was lot going all at the same time.
OW: When you prepared your repertoire was there a plan or an idea that you wanted to do from the beginning?
SH: Yes, I had kept the same program from what I submitted at the beginning of my MONC competition application. When I did the first round I had five arias and then going into the semis they let you narrow it down to four. Eventually, I took out “Non piu mesta” because I felt that in that situation it wasn’t going to be the best selection for me to offer. Because of all the crazy ornaments in Cenerentola’s final aria, I decided that I just wanted to do things that kept me grounded and really show who I am as an artist. In the finals, I was able to pick the arias that I wanted to do, so I ended up choosing Joan of Arc’s aria by Tchaikovsky and “Parto Parto” from “La Clemenza di Tito.”
OW: How did winning change your perspective on your career?
SH: It definitely put my singing on the radar and more people got to know who I am and that I take singing with a lot of seriousness. It has also helped me not necessarily need to do a YAP-style training. It’s not something I necessarily wanted to do. I think having been at Juilliard for six years I wanted to go out and explore what I can do with my training and in that regard doing that competition really helped me.
OW: After this competition what other competitions are you planning on doing?
SH: I am doing the Glyndebourne Opera Cup which focuses on one of my favorite composers, Mozart. That will be in January and hopefully, I’ll move on to semifinals in March. But, we’ll take it one step at a time!
OW: So you’re making your European debut this year?
SH: Yes, I had fourteen performances of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” in Oslo as Rosina and in February, I’ll be singing Siebel in “Faust,” my debut with the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
OW: How was the experience of singing in Europe and making these debuts?
SH: It was wonderful. Having just graduated, I’m really loving the freedom and exploration of being out in the opera world. I was at Juilliard for six years and even before I went to performing arts high school where I was having diction, ear training and studying opera. So I felt that I was really well-prepared. Now I am getting to take all these tools that I learned over the years and try them out as a professional and see what I can do! Den Norske Opera is a great house and it’s been a very warm and welcoming debut. It’s the fifth revival of this particular production so I didn’t feel like there was the same kind of pressure as there would be with a new production. I really appreciated that because I got to work with some cast members that had already done the production and they helped me out with understanding the director’s vision and to know what had been done previously. It’s also been very exciting to see how a role changes for me over such a long period of performances, Rosina in October felt quite
different than Rosina in January.
OW: How has the switch from a school setting to these big houses been?
SH: There are, of course, different expectations. You have a lot more freedom and responsibility as a professional than as a student which is something I am appreciating. I like the freedom I have of making my own choices. It is a bit scary because at least in the educational settings someone is almost always going to tell you that you’re pronouncing something wrong or you should work on such a line with your teacher and
they want to take the time to help you discover your character, and they may not do this in a house. One hopes that they do, but it is your job. Whatever you do on stage is a complete reflection of you, whereas in school I think everyone knows it’s still a process. But I still study when I am away. I have skype lessons and when I got back to NYC I have as many lessons and coachings I can get in!
OW: You’ve been singing a lot of Rossini from “Cenerentola” and “Barber of Seville.” What are the differences and do you feel comfortable with this repertoire right now?
SH: “Cenerentola” is musically more engaging and a bit rangier. “Barber,” of course, has a great story but Rosina’s music, compared to “Cenerentola,” sits more in one place. I love singing Rossini’s music and I think its beautiful. I love the way he portrays female characters, similarly to Mozart. I think its very healthy music for the voice but I don’t think my voice will sit forever with it. I picture myself doing more Mozart and Strauss as well as Berlioz.
OW: How are you balancing the coloratura with the Mozart that you have been singing?
SH: I think it comes down to technique and I have to figure out where I can slim the voice for Rossini and where I can take the opportunities to show more color and fullness of the voice than bring it back into the style. It’s a bit of a balancing act going back and forth.
OW: Now you are making your debut as Siebel, which is very different from Rossini and Mozart. How do you view this character?
SH: Siebel is adorable and it will be my first pants role. I see Siebel kind of as a more innocent version of Cherubino. I get to do the second aria, which I am thrilled about and I really look forward to doing it. And it’s a new production!
OW: What excites you about this role and being able to do it in a new production?
SH: It’s great because I get a chance to work with the director and will hopefully have some flexibility with him to discuss character and the way he sees the story. I really like to find my roles physically and it will allow me to explore how Siebel works for me as opposed to the “Barbiere,” where I was recreating what worked for the original Rosina.
OW: After Geneva, what’s next?
SH: I have recitals in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Maryland this March. It’s a mixed program which will have Strauss, because I feel very passionate about his music, and I’m also looking at some De Falla and Prokofiev, too. I am working on a program that inspires my audience to think more of what’s going on in our society. I love studying the text and the message of the program is very important to me. I want my recital to have a message. And then I will have a few months of mostly prepping for the following season!
OW: What would you like to sing in the future?
SH: I don’t necessarily believe there is a set fach so I like to explore and not only sing lyric mezzo roles. My voice is changing all the time and I don’t know where I am going to be when I am 35 so I don’t want to limit myself. I’d like to be in an experimental period forever. For specific roles though, I really want to sing Dorabella again. I adore her and I think she is one of the most relatable Mozart characters that I can sing and Octavian and Komponist down the road. I also want to sing Carmen but that will take a lot of personal development for me to understand her character.