Name: Erica Schuller, soprano
Hometown: Milwaukee, WI
1. What was your favorite experience last season?
My favorite experience was singing in L’Italiana in Algeri. It was my first time singing a Rossini opera.
I was so nervous about preparing something so outside my normal repertoire, but the cast and director were so unbelievably supportive. Opening night, I really relished singing my high Cs on a moving podium!
2. What are you excited to experience during the 2011-2012 season?
I’m really looking forward to our production of Susannah. It was an opera I first experienced at Eastman School of Music while I was a student there. I wasn’t in the production, but I remember being so blown away by the music and the biblical adaptation of the story. It will be such a thrill to have a role in this show.
3. What did you do on your summer ‘vacation’ ?
Mostly worked a lot and prepared a ton of music. I chose all new audition repertoire for the fall audition season. I also performed nine engagements for the Florentine Opera, including Florentine at the Lake and several for children who have had little to no exposure to opera, which was very rewarding.
4. What do you like about living in Milwaukee?
So many things. Milwaukee is a truly beautiful city, and so much more sophisticated than most outsiders initially think. Since I grew up here, and my family still lives here, it’s a very special place. I love how diverse this city is, what an active arts community there is here, and how friendly and helpful the people are. My favorite view in the world is the sun setting behind our downtown. It’s stunning.
5. Is there anything you didn’t have a chance to do in Milwaukee last season that is on your must-do list now?
There are a lot of restaurants on my list to try!
6. What are you listening to lately?
A lot of Handel, actually. I’m studying roles in Ariodante and Orlando. My workplace plays a lot of popular music from the 80s and 90s, so I’m singing “My Sharona” a whole lot these days.
7. What’s your best backstage story or the craziest thing that has happened to you while performing?
I have a new favorite story after our last season. In L’Italiana in Algeri, I played the wife of Mustafa, played by the hilarious Kevin Glavin. In the final scene of the show Kevin had to shovel spaghetti in his mouth, which got caught in his beard in clumps. Every night when I went to hug him before the finale, Kevin made a point of aiming his spaghetti-filled beard in my face as we were singing. It was always a riotous challenge not to laugh in the middle of a performance!
8. How do you approach preparing to perform in a world premiere like Río de Sangre, vs. preparing to appear in an established role?
I think all roles, both established and new, need to be prepared with as much individuality as possible. This means learning the music thoroughly, doing your research on the ins and outs of language, historical significance, etc, and then bringing your own interpretation to the story. No one wants to see the same performance over and over. New operas are difficult because you have no reference point musically to refer to. But established, oft-performed operas are just as difficult because it’s easy to compare yourself with past performances. I think it’s best to ignore everything around you, start from scratch every time you look at the score, and focus on what you as a performer have to say through the role you’re given to play.
9. How do you convince friends and family who have never seen an opera to give it a try?
My sisters both married computer whizzes, and neither had seen an opera before this year. Both of my brothers-in-law are really intelligent, supportive men, and I wanted to encourage them to come to one of the operas I had roles in this past season. I tried to choose operas that would appeal to their own interests. One of my brother-in-laws has a massive funny-bone, so I invited him and my sister to L’Italiana in Algieri. My other sister has a large interest in Baroque music, so she and I convinced her husband to come see our Baroque double-bill. I think a lot of bringing newcomers to the opera has to do with presenting it as approachable. For me, that means choosing performances that will appeal to ones interests and personality traits.
10. Do you sing in the shower?
Absolutely! It’s a great place to test how well you’ve memorized something!