“Green Valley’s Got Talent!” kicks off its fourth season on Nov. 11 with world-renowned opera soprano Elizabeth Wells as the featured performer. Wells lives in Amado and is a Tucson native and fifth-generation Southern Arizonan. She has a rich background in opera, musical theater and jazz, and loves attracting new fans with creative ideas. We caught up with her recently.
Q: Opera’s intimidating — there, we said it. It’s often in a foreign language, the singers are loud, even the sets can be over the top.
A: Intimidating? Hmmm… Let’s reframe that. Intense, larger-than-life? Absolutely! Opera is not a relaxing experience the way having a cup of coffee and reading the Sunday paper is. Unless you’re an operafile, that is. Opera, done right, should be an experience that wraps itself around you and sweeps you along for an incredible journey through joy, angst, pleasure, grief, love, redemption, any emotion you can imagine. It should move you in a way that reminds you of your core life values and how important they truly are.
As far as foreign language goes, many opera companies use supertitles (above the stage) to help with translating. And for the loud (unamplified) singing, think of it along the lines of watching an Olympian compete. They have trained for years, worked countless hours and overcome many unperceived obstacles in order to bring you the one performance you watch.
Q: That makes sense, but isn’t it still considered old-people music?
A: While it’s true that the majority of opera lovers are older, I just had seven college-age students, all of whom sing pop or musical theater, attend a performance of a rare opera put on by my company, Passion Project: Opera!, and they were all engaged and really into it, asking when the next one would be. I think it’s as much about exposure as age.
Q: How has the presentation of opera changed to draw in that next generation of paying customers?
A: There isn’t an opera company on the planet that isn’t constantly discussing and debating the ways to better engage their audience, how to make this antique art form relevant to life today. Many do new operatic works based on true stories or edgy subjects, some explore technology use with projections or holograms. Others find interesting locations in which to perform. And then there are the opera flash mobs! I’ve never been part of one, but I love the idea. Opera is working hard to break down the walls of perception that stigmatize it. Art is inspired by the life and nature it is surrounded by. Opera is no different.
Q: Are you comfortable with the changes?
A: Mostly, yes. I do see more and more focus on the looks of the singer. Personally, I think the singing should come first. You can always dress someone up, but you can’t give them a new voice.
Q: Everybody can sing, not everybody can sing opera. What’s it take to make it?
A: With every fiber of your being, you have to want to want to eat, sleep and breathe it. After that, tenacity. Like many careers, it’s a mix of talent, work ethic and being able to hang in there in the face of rejection.
Q: How long does it take your voice to recover after singing an entire opera, because it sure doesn’t look easy.
A: It very much depends on the opera. My voice is rarely taxed out at the end of a show. My body (the rest of my instrument) is a different story entirely. Is the role a physically active one? How many scenes am I in? How many pages of music? How difficult is the singing? Even if the role is a taxing one, I’m still good to go by the next day.
Q: What are we going to hear from you Nov. 11?
A: I’m going to keep the specific songs a secret for the show, but I’m singing a mix of classical super faves, musical theater and a little jazz.