The purpose of this project is to provide a collection of transcriptions from the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. This project seeks to give a platform to all parts of the vocal performing arts to better understand the lived experiences and mentality of those professionals. In collecting stories from the COVID-19 pandemic Angel Blue, soprano, spoke about the opportunities she has created, while being at home. She demonstrates a distinct passion for the art form and its future in young artists.
TB: I always like to start these interviews on a positive note; so, what is the best thing that has happened to you in the last week?
AB: In my career, the best thing that has happened to me would be the Metropolitan Opera announcing that I’m doing one of their Met Live concerts. But, just in my life, the best thing from the last week is that I’m still at home and I get to be with my husband and son. We’re just having a good time at home.
TB: Definitely! One of the things I had noted down while doing research for this interview is that, when you spoke to Marc Scorca of OPERA America, you said you had been in 35 countries over six years. This has to be a drastic change for you in that regard.
AB: It’s a huge change, but it is one that I welcome with open arms. I feel kind of bad sometimes when I’m asked how am I dealing with being at home, because I know so many of my colleagues are struggling with it. And I’m not saying that I don’t struggle with it: I’ve lost a great deal of work, too. COVID-19 is terrible, and obviously nobody wishes that this were here. But the silver lining for me has been that I’m home, and I get to be a housewife and just be at home with my husband and his stepson—I call him my son because I’ve been with him for over half of his life. The last five years have been probably the most hectic of my entire life. So, I welcome this time with open arms.
TB: So what would you say is one of your proudest moments in your career to date?
AB: There are a few of them. Last year, La Traviata at Covent Garden and also at La Scala. Now, I’ve sung three different roles at the Met—only two operas, but three different roles. It is weird actually, because when I think of what I’m proud of and what makes me thankful, I don’t know that it is actually a show. I think what makes me thankful is that I didn’t give up and I haven’t stopped.
As most people know, opera is a very difficult and physical career to go into. But my proudest moment since 2017, though it started in 2015, when I was getting heavily criticized for things that—some I could change and some I can’t—I’m thankful that I stuck it out for myself. The highlight of my career is that I’ve proven to myself a few times, “Angel, you can do whatever you set your mind to.” And nobody will stop me. I never wanted to prove it to anybody else, just me. That’s [been] the highlight of my career.
TB: That is a wonderful point and thank you for sharing that. Diving into the pandemic, can you describe where you were and how you first realized that your life was going to be affected by this pandemic?
AB: So, I recently moved to the East Coast and I love it. One thing I really want to be in the article is that I’m an American’s American. I love this country and I’m very proud to be an American. I love being home and by [my] home: I really do mean, basically, any part of the United States. A large part of that comes from the traveling that I do.
When this happened, my schedule was going to be so hectic it was ridiculous. My husband, son, and I just moved to New Jersey at the end of August of last year. All of my work had been around the greater New York area. I had done Porgy and Bess at the Met and was in Philadelphia with that same show. But I was at a hotel with my friend, Lester Lynch, who was singing Porgy. We were sitting in the lobby and having a drink. He asked, “Have you heard about this thing called coronavirus?” I said, “Yeah, my husband just went to the store because we heard about it earlier.” But I didn’t think anything of it. So, he was talking about going to the store and buy some hand sanitizer [and] I’m thinking, “this guy is crazy, he is just as bad as my husband.” So, we go into the CVS that was across the street from where the hotel was to grab some hand sanitizer, and all of it was gone. Every single last one. I’ve never, ever seen that happen. That made me begin to realize the magnitude that was going to become the COVID pandemic and what it would be for people.
I was supposed to leave from Philadelphia on March 8  and drive back home, pack my suitcase, and go to the Middle East, to Oman. I had a concert in Muscat, Oman at the Royal Opera House of Oman with Thomas Hampson. After that I was going to come home, repack my suitcase, and then go to Seattle. After that, I was going to come back and go to DC, then I was supposed to go to St. Petersburg, Russia to sing for the annual celebration they have in front of the St. Petersburg capital. After our last performance of Porgy and Bess with the Philadelphia Orchestra on March 7, Lester said to me, “I think you need to cancel, because this is blowing up and people are getting sick. People are dying. This is a serious thing and it’s not an epidemic, it is a pandemic. So it is only a matter of time before it comes to the United States.”
After he said that, I came home on March 8. I called my husband as I was driving home once I had gotten off the phone with my manager, and I said, “Sweetheart, I think you and I are going to get our wish. I think we are going to get to be together and not have all of these interruptions with my job.”
That was the beginning of that for me; but I have to say, I’m happy to be home and I’m happy that I was in the United States when it happened. Because I had some colleagues and friends who had to fly home from overseas. Then when they got home, they had to quarantine. So, I’m really thankful that I was already here.
TB: That brings me to my next question. Obviously, we are sitting in our houses and it is July. When is the next performance that you have scheduled?
AB: Actual live performance with people?
AB: I’m supposed to go to San Diego Opera to do La Bohème. They have told us that they have a way to make the performance happen because they’re hoping to have it outside and socially distanced. After that, I’m supposed to go to Germany and I do know that they are doing performances. So, we’ll see what happens. To be completely honest, I’m not holding my breath on anything. I guess the best answer is, I don’t know what the next performance will be.
TB: Could you tell me a bit about how this has had an impact on your financial situation?
AB: About a year before this happened, my husband kept saying, “I think somethings going to happen and if something happens to the economy you don’t want to be living check to check.” So we started saving, and [now] I’m able to pay the things that need to be paid. Also, my husband has his job and has been working since this started.
So, to summarize: the silver lining to this entire situation is being at home, spending time with my family, and sleeping in my own bed every night! Last year, I was only home for 54 days in the entire year. However, having my jobs cancelled because of COVID-19 has been a big financial adjustment for me and my family.
TB: So talk to me about how this has impacted your creative process.
AB: I think it has made it easier for me as a performer to do the things that I’ve wanted to do for a while. For example, I bought a green screen, microphone, and everything else years ago. I purchased those in 2012, because I had this idea of making music videos with a green screen for opera. I hadn’t been able to do that because, basically as soon as I bought those things, I started working. I wasn’t really able to put any thought into it. So what this time has done for my creative side is that I’ve been able to allow my imagination go wild and I’ve been able to work with those materials. I don’t have to sit down and learn any music right now or be on any press conferences for shows that are getting ready to open. And I’m happy with the fact that I’ve been able to do some green screen videos. The quality isn’t what you would see in the movies; it’s just for fun and something that I enjoy doing.
I recently also opened a coaching studio because I like to coach young singers. Mainly what I talk about in my coaching is working on interpretation and style. That has been really fun as well. My studio has only been open for about two or three weeks. That is probably one of the most rewarding things that I get to do during this time.
Also, I started a little talk show called Faithful Fridays, where I talk to people who inspire me and who I find encouraging. I’ve finished season one and I’m going to start season two within the next month or so. Then I also did a Sunday Recital Series, which is getting ready to start up. It is for singers who had recitals or performances that were cancelled or postponed. That has been really exciting too, because it makes people want to perform again. It gives them a goal because they have to sing and put a video together. Then, it is broadcast on my page. It is just a way for them to be seen and to share their talents with other people. So, I’ve been trying to stay as busy as I can!
TB: First off, I have to say that the green screen is great. I was able to see a few of those. And I love the title, Angel Blue in Virtual Recital: Quarantined with Bad Green Screens. It is wonderful to see that side of your personality and your humor coming out through this as well. But it sounds like you are doing a lot of giving back to the community of singers. And from what I’ve gathered about your work with Sylvia’s Kids, this is something that you’re very passionate about, right?
AB: Yes, I am very, very passionate about it.
TB: So, when you’re doing these types of things, what is some advice that you’re giving to those younger singers as they’re going through this pandemic?
AB: Well, it depends a bit on the singer at that time. Usually, I can gather or begin to process how someone’s feeling just by what they say. I’m a sensitive singer and an emotional singer. I’m very in tune with how I felt as a young singer. So, for example, when I had a student the other day who was really torn about her repertoire and really upset because there was an aria that she wanted to sing but [she] had a professor who told her that she would never sing that, and that she would never be cast in that role, she doesn’t have that temperament... and a whole laundry list of things that she was not.
What I feel so strongly about in this art form is, how do we get people to be interested in opera and how do we make people want to come to the opera and make them feel invited? The first thing that you don’t do is you don’t tell them what they’re not. So many young singers hear what they don’t do right. We hear all the time what needs to be better, and that is not a bad thing, especially if it is constructive. But, I feel—like the young singer I was working with—that so many young singers don’t hear that voice in their heads that they are good singers. You have to get that in your head. What do you like about your voice? Why do you sing? Go back to the basics and back to what it was that made you start in this profession. I think hearing me, or someone like me, say that, helps them.
If I had heard [that] from people in the business, both singing at the Met and at other great opera houses—it would have helped if they has said to me when I was young, “Angel, you’re really good at what you do. Angel, keep going.” So now I want to use my platform to encourage younger people to see themselves and to work to get to where I am. Just like I am working to get to where someone else is that is ahead of me. I have found that when we really stop and listen to people—not just in singing, but in everything—and to what they are saying, they will tell you everything you need to know in order to help them and aid them in whatever it is that they need.
So for me, these are the things that I get to do: the Sunday Recital Series, Opera Training Studio, and my coaching sessions, all of which are designed to uplift singers at this time. Especially those singers who are trying to come into the field. It is easier for me because I’m already here; but for those who are trying to get into the field, I can only imagine how despondent one can become trying to get somewhere at this time when everything is shut down.
TB: It sounds like this has had a really positive impact on your creative process, as you are doing some things that you have wanted to do for a long time. But what would you say is the hardest lesson that you’ve learned in this situation?
AB: If I’m totally honest, I spend a lot of time making sure other people are okay; but, I [also] have to also take care of myself. That is hard sometimes for me because I like to take care of other people, and I know that I need to also do that for me. Sometimes I forget to do that.
TB: So, it is July 22, 2020. Without the pandemic, where would you be and what would you be doing?
AB: I would have just gotten home from the Carmel Bach Festival in California. And my husband and I would be celebrating our wedding anniversary. We celebrate our anniversary tomorrow, but we actually got married three times. So, that is what I suppose I would be doing right now.
TB: So, hypothetically speaking, how do you think that this pandemic is going to change our musical landscape in the future?
AB: I was just talking to my sister about that because she is a psychologist. I asked her, “Do you think that people are actually going to be okay with coming to the theater? Even if they said, it is fine to go inside and be in the theater?’” And she asked me, “Well, how do you feel? Because you’re scared to go to the store.” And I thought about how true that is, because my husband is the one that goes to the store. I’m still just a little bit nervous even with the mask on. So, I want to be positive and say that it is okay to think, when things do go back to ‘normal,’ that people will be excited, and buying tickets and things to come to the opera and hear us sing and perform. But, there is a part of me that thinks that more people are going to be nervous.
What I do hope is that the opera community finds excitement in making virtual opera available to people. I really do hope for that because I think, right now, that is the way forward, and a lot of companies are seeing that. But, I suppose my biggest hope is that, when we are allowed to go back and be together in the theater, people aren’t afraid to be together.
TB: What would your advice be to the musical community as they are looking at this situation?
AB: A piece of advice for the musical community is to just keep creating. Don’t stop just because we have this big pandemic. That’s not a reason for us to stop. Another thing that has been a really huge help to me is that I’m learning things that I wouldn’t normally take the time to learn because I would be too busy. For example, one of the things I started learning about is the baritone voice because I have two students who are both baritones. I never thought about how men sing because, unless I’m sitting with one and he is shouting in my ear, I never think about it.
So I suppose it is about keeping ourselves interested in the art form and helping other people during this time. For some people it is very, very difficult for them right now, and because it is difficult for them, it might be difficult to reach out and help someone else. However, what does help me when I’m down is to help other people, and that is something that is uplifting to me.
It is important for us, as artists, to maintain that creative part of our world, because it is who we are, it is a part of us. And that is the most important thing that we should be focusing on. I was talking to a good friend of mine in Europe and I asked her, “Are you going to do any home concerts?” And she replied that she wasn’t likely to do it. But I said to her, “I’ve done it several times and I’m probably going to do it again. It’s not that you need a stage to perform, you can perform anywhere.” I do get it, though, because we love the audience. That is one of the reasons why we do what we do.
But the audience can be as simple as your family. The audience can be as simple as what my good friend, Lucas Meachem, did. He did a home recital outside on his balcony and his wife was on the lower level playing the piano. And you can see all of the people outside watching him perform. That was his Metropolitan; that was his Chicago Lyric. And who knows, those people may never go to the opera, but they had that experience. He allowed them to have that [experience] by giving.
So, I think we need to keep doing that as artists. I don’t think people are at home thinking that they don’t want to listen to music or that they don’t want to hear anything. People are trying to find content and are trying to hear from artists at this moment.
TB: First, I would like to thank you for talking with me today and for your insight. Before I ask my last question, is there anything that you would like to add to our conversation that I have not asked you about?
AB: Well, I appreciate you interviewing me. I would like to add that my coaching studio is open if there are singers who are interested in diving deeper into any of their characters. And I’m starting up my Sunday Recital Series for young singers to send in a video. My husband and I put those together and broadcast it on my social media page. So, if anybody is looking for a way to perform, they can perform through that avenue if they so choose.
But other than that, I pray and hope that people don’t lose their creative juices and creative ideas. I pray and hope that we keep ourselves safe and that we come through this on the other side better.
TB: So, final question: what is your video-binge recommendation for the pandemic?
AB: Homeland. It is so amazing! I’m a huge fan of Claire Danes. We just started watching The Good Place with Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. Then the second season of The Body comes out on Amazon Prime on September 4. Also, The Man in the High Castle and Soap Dish are both on Amazon Prime. So there is a lot of stuff on TV right now, but those are the ones that I’d recommend.
TB: Well, I will be anxiously waiting for your Met recital on December 9, 2020, and thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Sunday Recital Series: Angel Blue in Virtual Recital
Angel Blue, soprano
Pianists: Catherine Miller and David Johnson
Orchestral arrangement for Quando m’en vo’
Vissi d'arte done by: Sylvester James Blue and
Youkali: arrangement by Corentin Boissier
Colors of the Wind: Epsilon Kanis Major (Karafun)
Angel Blue has emerged in recent seasons as one of the most important sopranos before the public today. On September 23, 2019 she opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2019/2020 season as Bess in a new production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. These performances follow her internationally praised French Opera debut and role debut as Floria Tosca at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in July of 2019. Earlier last season, Ms. Blue made her debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden as Violetta Valery in La Traviata, after which she returned to the Teatro alla Scala in Milan in the same role. She has also been praised for performances in many other theaters, such as the Vienna State Opera, Semperoper Dresden, San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera, Theater an der Wien, Oper Frankfurt, San Diego Opera and many others.
Puccini’s La Boheme has played an especially prominent role in the development of Angel Blue’s career. She made her United States operatic debut as Musetta at the Los Angeles Opera in 2007 while a member of the company’s Young Artist Program and subsequently made her debut at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan in the same role. As Mimi, she has won special international acclaim. Ms. Blue first sang the role at the English National Opera in London in 2014 and has since sung Mimi for her debuts at the Palau de Les Arts in Valencia in 2015, at the Vienna State Opera in 2016, and with the Canadian Opera Company in 2019. Mimi was also the role of her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2017, and it is as Mimi that she will debut this season at the Hamburg State Opera. In Germany, she has already been heard as Mimi at the Semperoper Dresden. Other recent operatic engagements have included her debuts as Liu in Turandot at the San Diego Opera in 2018, as Marguerite in Faust at the Portland Opera in 2018 and as Bess in Porgy and Bess in Seattle in the same year. She debuted in Baden Baden as Elena in Mefistofele in 2016 and sang her first Violetta in La Traviata at the Seattle Opera in 2017.
Also active on the concert platform, Ms. Blue has appeared in recital and in concert in over thirty-five countries. Important orchestral engagements have included Porgy and Bess at the Berliner Philharmoniker with Sir Simon Rattle, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the Münchener Philharmoniker under the baton of Zubin Mehta, and Verdi’s Requiem in Sydney, Australia with Oleg Caetani. She has also sung Strauss’s Vier Letzte Lieder and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Peri in Schumann’s Das Paradis und die Peri with the Accademia Santa Cecilla in Rome, conducted by Daniele Gatti, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Cincinnati Symphony under Music Director Louis Langree. Ms. Blue debuted in recital at the Ravinia Festival in August of 2019.
Angel Blue was raised in California and completed her musical studies at UCLA. She was a member of the Young Artists Program at the Los Angeles Opera, after which she moved to Europe to begin her international career at the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, Spain in 2009 and at the Verbier Festival in 2010. She subsequently appeared at the Theater an der Wien in The Rape of Lucretia (female chorus) and as Giulietta in Les Contes d’Hoffmann in a production created by Oscar-award-winning director William Friedkin. Blue also debuted in Frankfurt as the 3rd Norn in Götterdämmerung and returned to the United States as Clara in Porgy and Bess at the Seattle Opera in 2011. She also appeared as Micaela in Carmen with the Israeli Philharmonic and in Verdi’s Requiem with the Cincinnati Symphony under the late Raphael Frubeck de Burgos.
Alongside her musical activities, Angel Blue is dedicated to the support of inner city youth. She is the founder of the non-profit organization Sylvia’s Kids Foundation, an organization that is dedicated to helping America’s teenagers continue their studies in either a trade school, community college, or four-year university once they have completed high school. The SKF scholarship award is given every year in the month of May. To learn more about Sylvia’s Kids Foundation visit www.sylviaskids.org