2015 Best Female Performer in an Opera Nominee: Heather Gallagher as Dinah in MetroWest Opera's "Trouble in Tahiti"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit: Joe Henson

Photo Credit: Joe Henson

Heather Gallagher has a warmth about her presence and voice. These qualities make her a perfect performer for more nuanced and complex characters, especially in opera. In MetroWest Opera's Trouble in Tahiti by Leonard Bernstein, Heather quickly won us over with her smooth sound and welcoming persona, but it was her aria layered with dream-like revelry that secured her nomination. In her Interview, Heather talks about her role in Trouble in Tahiti, her biggest challenges as a performer, and what inspires her.

Hi, Heather, and thank you for participating in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

I'm a native Floridian and I first came to Boston to study about 5 years ago. My path to Classical Music has been anything but linear. I grew up being primarily interested in theatre and musical theatre. I discovered classical music through a church job in Coral Gables, Florida, and then I decided to go back to school. Back then I was primarily interested in sacred music of the Anglican variety. As time went on, I realized that my talents and background were much more at home in opera so that's been my primary focus for about 4 years now.

Talk to us about your role in Trouble in Tahiti. Who did you play, how did you get the role, and what interested you in the project?

I played Dinah, an unhappy 1950s housewife whose marriage is falling apart. I was very fortunate to have won 1st Place in Metrowest Opera's Voice Competition previously, and along with a cash award, there was a role opportunity as well. Considering my past background in theatre and the nature of this particular opera, the opportunity to play Dinah was exciting to me. Also, I knew I would be in good hands with the conductor, Lidiya Yankovskaya, a specialist in modern music. 

What kinds of operas do you enjoy performing?  What kinds of operas do you not enjoy? 

I really enjoy all kinds of operas. Right now, I feel most at home in the French repertoire and in Mozart, with a little Rossini here and there. Also, I enjoy singing in English, so operas by Britten, Heggie, and Adams among others are of great interest to me.

Have you ever changed your mind about a production or kind of opera after performing in it?

I performed the role of Dido in Harvard Early Music Society's production of Dido and Aeneas a few years ago, and I was kind of worried about how I would do because I am far from being an early music specialist. Not only was it a great learning experience for me musically, but our director, Giselle Ty, took the piece to new and exciting places and it was a lot of fun. It was a wonderful experience and I felt lucky to have been a part of it. It definitely made me see Baroque opera in a new way. 

What have been some of your biggest challenges as a performer?  What do you continue to work to improve?

Oh . . . That is a very long list! I'm constantly working to refine my technique with my teacher, coaching but I also try to devote some time to languages and sight reading. Staying organized and keeping track of where I'm auditioning and what my resources are . . . that's something I work on as well. 

Dinah (Heather Gallagher) sings in  MetroWest Opera 's "Trouble in Tahiti" (Photo Credit:   Jonathan Cole  ). 

Dinah (Heather Gallagher) sings in MetroWest Opera's "Trouble in Tahiti" (Photo Credit: Jonathan Cole). 

When not performing, what do you like to do?  Who does it with you?  What do you wish that you had more time to do?

For fun, I like to travel and I definitely wish I had the time and the resources to do that more often. Other fun things I like to do: go to the theatre, eat poutine, drink coffee, go to brunch. Quite honestly though, sometimes I just like to lie in bed.

What changes do you wish for the Greater Boston theatre scene?  What do you not want to change?
I love the culture in Boston; it's one of the reasons I came here and one of the reasons I'm still here.

It's really a shame to me that Boston doesn't have a world class opera house anymore. We have so many exciting companies here, it's a little embarrassing for such a great city and center of culture to not have a venue that's worthy of the music that's being performed.

What advice would you give to yourself at 10 years old?  20 years old?  50 years old?

Oh dear, I don't know something inspiring . . . “Resistance is always lying and is always full of shit.” Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

What inspires you?

Seeing a person have the bravery to create something beautiful and truthful whether they're an amateur or a professional is inspiring to me.

What is the biggest misconception about opera?  How would you change this misconception?

The biggest misconception about opera is that it's only for a certain kind of person. Opera belongs to everyone and is for everyone. I think organizations like Opera On Tap and opera companies are making a lot of head way with youth programming, free tickets, exciting concepts, world class artists, etc., etc., but there's more that needs to be done. And I strongly feel we need to reach out to EVERYONE not just college students and people under 30 years old but EVERYONE. Opera is part of our cultural heritage and it should be in everyone's reach, no matter how much money they make.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Yes! I will be performing with Boston Lyric Opera in their productions of Werther (Katchen, Charlotte understudy) and The Merry Widow (Sylviane/Dodo). I have a recital in Portland, Maine in June 2016 with collaborative pianist Mark Rossnagel, and I will be a Young Artist with Opera North this summer. 

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

It has been an honor to have been nominated, thanks so much! My website is www.HeatherAGallagher.com, if you'd like any more info.

2015 Best Female Performer in an Opera Nominee: Michelle Trainor as Sister Angelica in MetroWest Opera's "Suor Angelica"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Devon Cass.

Photo Credit: Devon Cass.

Michelle Trainor gave a stirring performance as Sister Angelica in Suor Angelica in MetroWest's production at the beautiful All Saints Parish in Brookline. As part of the company's "Shattered Dreams" production, Michelle evoked a gorgeous tone and rich resonance as the heartbroken nun seeking answers and salvation. In her Interview, Michelle discusses her rehearsal process, some of her bucket list roles, and many exciting upcoming projects!

Welcome, Michelle, to the ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Hi Brian, thank you so much for this opportunity.  I was born and raised in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.  It’s a beautiful rural town and I definitely consider myself a country girl.  I have an amazing husband and cat that make up my little family.  We love camping and doing outdoor activities whenever possible.  I am also an avid knitter.  My husband says that when I’m not practicing I always have knitting needles in my hands.

Who was your character in Suor Angelica?  What did she want?  What was her story?

I played Sister Angelica.  She is a kind and caring young woman who happened to have made a poor choice when she was young and had a child out of wedlock.  In order to save the family name, her aunt, who was her caretaker, took the baby from her and placed Angelica in a convent.  Sister Angelica wants desperately to hear news of her son, what he looks like, if he’s happy.  When her aunt finally comes to visit after seven years, instead of it being a warm family reunion, her aunt is cold and only wants to see her for legal matters.  She literally begs for news of her son and is devastated to hear that he had died.  She makes the decision to kill herself in order to be with him again. 

Talk to us about the rehearsal process for an opera.  How do you prepare?  How long is the process?  How was this process similar or different than for other productions?

I look for historical background on the piece and composer first.  I highlight and translate the score, speak through the text, and then learn the notes.  The process can take anywhere from a few weeks to months depending on the role and the language.  For some reason German roles take me longer to memorize.  This opera in particular had some challenges.

The most challenging problem with this role for me was that I am so passionate about Angelica and this music that I had the tendency to become too emotional.  There is a moment when she realizes that she will be damned for what she has done and she cries out for forgiveness, and I am getting teary just thinking about it.  It is so easy to get carried away emotionally and not sing beautifully in those moments.  As challenging as it is though, that is one of the things that makes this piece so heartbreakingly beautiful.    

When did you know that you wanted to pursue opera?  Why?

Ha!  That’s a great question and people might not believe my answer.  I actually was not exposed to opera at all until I was an undergraduate.  I had sung in musicals in high school and I played guitar as a street musician but I had no plans to pursue opera.  By the time I graduated it was clear that my voice was most suited to opera and that was what led me on my path.  I grew to love it but I was in my early twenties when that happened.  I fell in love with the storytelling aspect of it, the pure emotional display and that is one of the reasons I love singing Suor Angelica so much. 

If you could not work as an opera singer, what would you do instead?

I love this question!  I would be a marine biologist or an archaeologist.  No question!  Right next to the Opera News on my table is National Geographic.

What have been some of your biggest life lessons?

A big lesson has been learning how to balance being a singer and having a personal life.  It can be a struggle fitting in time with your spouse, family and friends when you are performing.  It’s also difficult to not feel depressed when you aren’t working.  I’ve had to learn how to deal with the constant rejection.  It is so easy to take it personally and self-doubt creeps in.  It is an ongoing struggle for me. I am so lucky to have an amazing and supportive husband.

What are some roles or characters that you would love to play onstage?  Any particular songs that you would like the chance to perform?

I would love to sing Lady Billows, Magda Sorel and Brünnhilde.  I would love to sing either “Nessun dorma” or “E lucevan le stelle”.  The problem is that they are tenor arias and so I will have to just sing them in my shower.

Suor Angelica (Michelle Trainor) with ensemble in Metrowest Opera's  Suor Angelica  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Cole). 

Suor Angelica (Michelle Trainor) with ensemble in Metrowest Opera's Suor Angelica (Photo Credit: Jonathan Cole). 

What advice would you give to aspiring opera singers?  To other performers?

Always be prepared, be a good colleague and don’t compare yourself to other singers. Your job is to sing your best every time.  I would say to all performers that we all know how difficult our job is.  Let’s be kind to one another and support our colleagues.  Be joyful for their successes and it will make our own success so much sweeter.  We have enough negativity to deal with so let’s be positive the rest of the time.

If you had to live in another country for a year, where would you want to live?  Why?  What would you do there?

New Zealand.  It has to be the most beautiful country, still so pure and untouched.  I would explore every inch of it and definitely would fit in seeing the Hobbit village, yes, I am a Tolkien lover.  I would probably wear an elf costume too.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I will be singing a concert version of Puccini’s Tosca in Brooklyn next month and I will be performing in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of The Merry Widow in the spring. I will also be making my Boston Symphony Orchestra debut in the Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier in the Fall.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Thank you so much for nominating me and for supporting the arts in Boston!