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 Eugenia Forteza, mezzo-soprano and founder of 360º of Opera, talked about the challenges and success that she has had through out. She gives a positive viewpoint on an overwhelming situation and remains confident that opera and the arts have a place in this new world.
Eugenia Forteza, mezzo-soprano and founder of 360º of Opera
Interviewed January 16, 2021
TB: What is the best thing that has happened to you in the last week?
EF: Today is Thursday... Trump being impeached; that was definitely a highlight.
TB: Yes, that happened just yesterday for the events on January 6. Would you mind talking to me about your background as you have a very diverse career in singing and journalism?
EF: I am French-Argentinian, and I moved to the States at 19 to start my undergraduate studies. And then I stayed for graduate school. Now, I've been out of school since 2016, when I moved to New York.
I've always been someone with many, many interests, though my performing career has been the priority since I decided to study music. Currently, I am a singer, actor, and (almost by accident) founder of a platform called 360º of Opera, which is and can be many things. That is where my pride resides. I have kept the platform a very flexible thing that can help both people and the industry. Recently, I also joined the team of writers at Classical Singer Magazine. During quarantine, there was a chance to develop other things while performing was a little... sleepy.
TB: So let's talk about the pandemic. Can you back up to March and tell me where you were and how you first realized that your life would be affected by the pandemic?
EF: Mid-March of last year was right before a lot of projects were about to happen. April and May are very busy for performers in New York. As I was preparing, I remember feeling uncertain about how I was going to get everything ready that I had to get ready. I was also very busy attending a lot of performances. I remember my husband and I were basically at the Met every other night.
I remember very vividly the confusion and the sense that this was only going to last two weeks. It is now going to be almost a year. The pandemic hit right after I had decided to transition into a completely freelance and independent phase of my career. And in a sense, all this extra time with the pandemic and transitioning allowed me to address many things that I wanted to work on technically. I was also able to prepare a lot of repertoire that I hadn't had the time to work on, as I recently transitioned to mezzo-soprano. As far as my side projects, I had much more time to develop ideas and collaborate with other people suddenly. My reaction was very much to make the most of this time. And to think, "Aren't we lucky to have the internet?" There is a lot out there that we can do.
TB: You went on to do some very interesting things. First off, do you want to share about the recording of Fedora and what your experience was like during that production?
EF: First, I want to applaud Teatro Grattacielo and Stefanos Koroneos for the amazing work they did all season to make this project happen. Not only that, but they ended up doing many more projects than they had originally planned.
At the beginning of April, I was a young artist with the program, and we were supposed to have the academy side of the young artist program. Everything was organized, and it was going to happen at OPERA America. So at the very beginning of everything, we did the training virtually. We weren't used to it yet, and initially, I thought we should wait. But it was great. It wasn't the same, but great work could still be done. And that was a definite highlight of the company; they were still able to have that portion of the young artist program. We also recorded a concert, and we got paid.
For Fedora, we recorded it in October, and it was released in November . A week prior, we had a couple of rehearsals and then moved to the venue in Brooklyn. It really proved to me that things could be done [during the pandemic]. It just requires a bit more organization. This has been a good time for smaller organizations that have more flexibility to use their creativity. They can not only showcase their creativity but broadcast it to the world. And a lot of these smaller companies in New York have been doing incredible work for years. But usually, the only people who are connecting to it are the New Yorkers. Now, because it is virtual, it can be for everyone, no matter where they are. That has been a very cool development.
TB: Can you tell me a bit about how Teatro Grattacielo made you feel safe when you were walking into those rehearsals? Because I know that is really important to Stefanos Koroneos as well.
EF: We rehearsed at a studio in Harlem. It was a big space, and since it was still warm, the windows were open. Everyone was wearing masks—even in rehearsal and even if we were singing. It is not ideal, but we get used to more and more things as time goes by. At the time, it was hard. However, it still worked, and you could hear what you needed to hear. The schedule was organized so that if you didn't have to be there, you weren't there. It was very well organized in groups to keep only the people who were needed in the room. Every time we came into the venue for the filming, we had to take temperatures, and then there was a form for contact tracing. It was filmed at the Target Margin Theater, which is a pretty big space. They would also open this kind of garage door to keep air flowing as much as possible. The only time people were allowed to take off their masks was when they were singing on the set.
I felt very safe. Also, we were eager to do something, sing, be with other people, and create. I was so happy to be with that cast because even if this has been a great time to get work done at home—to study and prepare repertoire—the nature of the art form is an ensemble and it comes together with other people. Even when you are singing by yourself, it comes together when you have a pianist or an orchestra. My soul has been missing that so much.
TB: That is really amazing, and I am so thrilled that Fedora was such a good experience. I know that this has also had a negative impact. As you alluded to making a shift into being a freelance performer, what effect has the pandemic had on that decision?
EF: I was very sure of that decision, and though I loved the job that I left, I didn't have a moment of regret. My decision was very much about needing to move on to the next part of my career, to be able to focus and to have more time to dedicate to my main career goals.
Because we never thought this would last long; it was always a month at a time. Because I am an actor as well, auditions have been very different. There have actually been a lot of auditions. Even pre-pandemic, there were a lot of self-tape auditions already. So, I was busy dealing with that stuff. I did have some acting projects and voiceover work. I also had a project with a theatre company. We went upstate to The Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie, where we spent a week recording reading of plays in the empty theatre. It was great that I had these other performance projects going. But I have to say that since things kept changing, we always felt like this would be over by the summer. And then during the summer that it would be over by the fall. There was never a feeling that this pandemic would last for a year or that I should have done things differently. I always look forward—I don't really look back.
I got married last summer. But I am on an artist visa, which just expired. I am waiting on that to resolve, but I didn't have access to unemployment because of my status. I did get a stimulus check because I am a taxpayer, but it was limited. As a visa holder, it is more complicated to get financial assistance from the government.
TB: How does this affect your financial health moving forward?
EF: It was one of those moments where you take a leap of faith and just trust that it will work out somehow. And then the pandemic hit. Because I didn't have a set plan and wasn't attached to a job or organization, it pushed me to get creative and find ways to earn an income on the side. I definitely had to wake up my business mind, which might have been a little dormant before since I hadn’t had the need to be as creative on that end.
The goal, for me, is always to be a full-time performer, which is what I am working towards ultimately. But I have never believed in the stigma of, "It is bad to do other things." I do believe that I want everything I do to be under the umbrella of the arts. Because then I always feel that I am nurturing my end goal, which is to be a performing artist. In my opinion, you'll never be a great artist if all you care about is the notes you are singing. A great artist has a social responsibility and is an active member of society and their community. Everything I do is part of who I am and part of my career. This informs who I am once I am in the theater performing. So yes, I do have to figure out ways to earn a living. But my big goal is to figure that out while staying within the umbrella of my passion, which is the arts.
TB: I would also like to ask you about the scholarships that 360º of Opera has been offering to performers who would like to work with Vincerò Academy. Why was it important to establish these scholarships?
EF: As an artist, I believe in finding ways to give back. I am very grateful to this country and for the opportunities that it has given me. I have been living and exploring my American Dream, and a lot of people have helped me. I have been in the States for 11 years. And even if I have a long way to go in my career and development, one of my big goals has always been to find ways to help, be a resource, and collaborate with education organizations to make them accessible to as many people as possible.
As difficult as our current virtual world is, there are many brilliant people out there who have made it work and have opened up new doors and possibilities. A great example is Vincerò Academy. As someone who didn't grow up in this country, I did not have the same opportunities and professionals available as many of my colleagues. If you wanted to study with any of these celebrated international teachers, you had to travel, and it can become very expensive. That limits opportunity.
All of a sudden, we are all in the same boat and stuck at home. We have to work and communicate through Zoom. Especially now that it has been a year, it has affected everyone on some level. It is a magical thing that suddenly, no matter where you are in the world, as a student, you can have access to organization like Vincerò Academy, where you can have lessons some of the great singers who are performing everywhere.
It is a very practical experience, and even if there is a cost associated with this, it is much less than a university system. But still, academy tuitions are high, not only for American students but especially Latin American and Eastern European students for example, some of whom are scholarship recipients for the current Carmen session. My goal is to collaborate with these organizations to make singing and the arts even more accessible. When I started, there was no way for me to have a lesson with a teacher before I applied to a program, so we are in a new world regarding access to education. The next step is to find ways to also make it as financially accessible as possible.
TB: So then this advocacy lives outside of the pandemic and into your life in general, correct?
EF: Right, this is something I was already doing. Suddenly, I was able to bring it to the next level and establish even more impactful collaborations, like the one with Vincerò Academy. Pre-pandemic, I was able to do ticket giveaways for live performances, because I know these costs add up when you are a student. And when you are in school, you have to go to shows. It is part of your education. Because of my background and perspective, I never took a dress rehearsal ticket to the opera or a concert for granted. And because I know those things made a huge difference to me as a student, I want to do that for others as much as possible.
TB: That is so wonderful. What would you say is the hardest lesson that you've learned in the pandemic?
EF: I think we are a product of our mindset and the way we see the world. I am in a transition period, even if I did have a bunch of contracts lined up. So it is like what I said earlier about smaller organizations. I have more flexibility. I was lucky enough that some of my contracts weren't cancelled—for Teatro Grattacielo, we made it work. Some other contracts were postponed indefinitely, and others were cancelled. But because of where I am in life, I was able to adapt easier.
It would be very different if I had kids or my life was more established, so I relied on a different income level to make my life machine function. My expenses are way less than someone who has a family or someone who has been relying on performing income for a long time. I was in a place where I was flexible enough to keep figuring it out.
In the big picture, I have the New Yorker syndrome of 'go, go, go'! One reason people complain we don't have as many great singers is that the nature of our society is that there isn't time to be singing and doing vocalizes all day. And so, I have been forced to slow down and do the vocalizes that I should have done ten years ago. I was forced to really confront a lot of things about myself, my technique, and what I want from life.
My family is between Argentina and France. I haven't seen them in more than a year. So this really taught me to appreciate what is important. Many things are superfluous, and COVID hit really close. My grandpa passed away, and my parents had COVID in Argentina. Not being there... I'm not a person that experiences fear much. But I've never felt fear like that—knowing that my parents could die at any moment and they were so far away...
A big lesson is perspective and reevaluating your priorities and what matters at the end of the day. What do I want to fight for from now on? And what do I believe in? A lot of that can only happen when you're in a situation like this and having to confront sitting at home and thinking. Nothing is as important as health. And so many people have suffered incredible losses. That is a tough lesson, and it makes you slow down and reevaluate your priorities.
TB: It is January 14, 2021. Minus a pandemic, where would you be, and what would you be doing?
EF: I would have gone home to Argentina for the holidays. Now, I would be back with a nice tan and getting ready for some gigs and auditions. I didn't have contracts for this year yet, but that might be lucky—I didn't have the next three months completely planned, and now it all went to trash.
TB: You have so many things you have been doing with the 360º of Opera awards and getting married. What would you say you are most grateful for?
EF: I am very grateful for my husband, who is my absolute rock. We live in a tiny apartment, and he has been putting up with my practicing this whole year. Because before the pandemic, I was out a lot. I had rehearsals, so I wasn't here singing all day. And now I am. So, I am grateful for his patience. And, of course, we got married. His family is here on Long Island and were with us, but it was a Zoom wedding for my family. Eventually, I'm hoping we can celebrate with them as well.
I am also grateful for my team, both my opera and acting management. They have been such great support and guidance in a moment when they are not getting much income either. Because if there are no contracts, they don't get paid. So, I am grateful for this team spirit and seeing their artists as an investment. And my team includes my teachers. I wasn't convinced at the beginning that we could do much virtually. I do have a coach here in New York, and we can meet in person. But one of my coaches is in DC, and we have still been doing incredible work.
My voice teacher is in Philly. So we've been working online, and they have helped me keep working and keep making progress. I am not the same singer from the beginning of the pandemic. I've made so much progress. I also feel very confident about my skills right now because I had time to develop my transition to being a mezzo-soprano. This extra time has really allowed me to fully complete that transition and address many things I had to rehabilitate after my recent sinus and septum surgery. I am very grateful for the time and guidance from the right people.
TB: Let's talk about the future. How do you think that this situation is going to change the musical landscape moving forward?
EF: I am an optimist and a big new music advocate. Something that was already happening was the American opera voice was strongly developing. This year that really exploded with all of the social issues that have happened. That is definitely a highlight and blessing from this time. Because, for things to progress, you need a crisis. You see this in history. Also, the whole political climate in this country added to the pandemic, and this industry had to address it as well. Maybe if we hadn't had a pandemic, it would have kept going for longer.
As much as it hurts, there will be great things that happen. It is accelerating this need for new opera and new American voices, including composers, librettists, and administrators. And we are building a bigger and wider industry of opera in the States. Now, we have all these developments of virtual explorations. It is brilliant. But it doesn't mean that opera has to be virtual forever. It is just another tool that we now have available. This digital world was available before the pandemic, but it hadn't been developed to this extent yet because we hadn’t been pushed towards it.
Every company should be able to produce quality digital content [after this pandemic], even if we do have live performances. So you will be able to sell tickets in-person and online. It already means that a lot of these smaller organizations are now being recognized internationally.
This recovery is going to be super challenging, and it might take a couple of years. But we need to think big picture, especially with the financial side of the arts in the United States. And while there were some questionable decisions made in Europe over the summer—because now we see the consequences—the opera companies were able to go back and forth much easier because a lot of the funding comes from the government. As soon as they were able to open, they did something—as in Spain. But here, while we started to embrace the digital possibilities, what is happening with live performances? There was definitely a missed opportunity during the late summer. A lot of things could have been done outside in New York while being both organized and safe. But it was not a priority.
The artist citizen comes into that because we need to fight for our contracts and the arts in general. People need to stop thinking about their own situation and think as artist citizens. We need to take the responsibility that comes from that and our love for the arts beyond the love for ourselves and our careers. That is the biggest fight, to show people in charge that the arts matter. And the arts are a huge industry that makes money, so it is a good investment. There is a misconception there, and it is our responsibility as artists; to innovate and become better at our craft. But also to change these patterns. The arts have to be more of a priority, and that is on us.
TB: Could you give some advice to young artists about how to get through this pandemic?
EF: The absolute priority is to nurture your artistry and do whatever you have to do to stay focused and motivated. Because nothing else matters if you lose your inner fire, that is your priority as an artist. And it is very different for every person. We are all different and have different personalities. So it is not about bringing yourself down if you are not the most flexible and adaptable person. We all have good and bad things. But the sooner you figure yourself out and how to trust yourself and be independent, the better. The best investment you can ever make is in yourself.
I don't think that conservatories and young artist programs are a bad thing. They can be a great part of the industry. But people get lost in the system. They don't realize that ultimately, it doesn't matter how many programs or auditions they do if five years into their career, they have a meltdown and want to stop because they never figured themselves out. Ask yourself, what do you want from life? Because one thing that isn't discussed in schools or young artist programs is that you are still a kid. And you might be in love with the idea of being a singer and an artist, but when you grow, you realize priorities change. I feel there is such a stigma that you are a failure if you don't do this or that. No. Someone can still love to sing but realize it is also very important to them to have a family or to live a certain way in a certain place. You should adapt your career to that.
The industry should do a service to its artists by eliminating those stigmas and talk about them. There are many ways to be in the arts, and they are all valid. The more variety of people and careers out there, the more people will be free and creative, which will be better for everyone. Because when people are stuck in a system, things can go badly, and they can explode. The priority should not be the young artist program. The priority should be figuring yourself out—that is why those years in your 20s are crucial for you.
TB: Thank you. That is really important for artists to hear, especially now. Lastly, because we are all stuck at home, what is your video binge recommendation?
EF: I am not a big binge-watcher. I never watch more than two episodes at a time. But so many great things, Handmaid's Tale and Mr. Robot. I am also into a lot of Spanish shows on Netflix. Recently, I watched The Mess You Leave Behind.
TB: It has been a pleasure speaking with you today.
“Alvaro!” from Florencia en el Amazonas by Daniel Catán
Eugenia Forteza, mezzo-soprano
Aza Sydykov, pianist
"Pampamapa"by Carlos Gustavino
Eugenia Forteza, mezzo-soprano
Kelly Lin, pianist
“Beautiful Neighbor, Opposite” (2020) A Short Film by David Salazar & Eugenia Forteza
Starring Eugenia Forteza
Written by Bea Goodwin
Music by Felix Jarrar
Director of Photography David Salazar
Edited by David Salazar
Co-Produced by David Salazar & Eugenia Forteza
Executive Producer Francisco Salazar
“An Exclusive Interview with Abdiel Vázquez” from 360º of Opera
Guest: Abdiel Vázquez, pianist, conductor and coach
Host: Eugenia Forteza
Live Interview recorded on December 4, 2020 on Instagram
About Eugenia Forteza
French-Argentinean Mezzo-Soprano Eugenia Forteza has been praised for her “earthy vocal presence” (Opera Wire), "powerful voice" (Atuvu.ca) and “wonderful legato lines and impressive breath control” (Voce di Meche).
Born in Paris, France, Eugenia grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and moved to the United States to continue her musical education at age 19. Eugenia is fluent in French, Spanish, English and Italian and speaks intermediate German.
Eugenia was a Finalist in the 2017 Concorso Internazionale di Canto Lirico Katia Ricciarelli in Cerisano, Italy, where she was awarded an Opera Role Prize, a finalist in the 2018 Vienna Summer Music Festival Vocal Competition, a Semi- Finalist in the 2018 Mary Trueman Vocal Art Song Competition and a Semi-Finalist in the 2018 Premiere Opera Foundation International Vocal Competition.
Recent career highlights include: Eufemia in Leoncavallo's La Bohème with ICAV in Montréal, where she attended on full scholarship, covering the title roles in María de Buenos Aires and L'incoronazione di Poppea with Bare Opera, originating the role of Ugly Duckling in Felix Jarrar's new opera Mother Goose at Dixon Place in NYC, the role La Pastorcita in the US Premiere of El Rey Nació with Puntaclassic Productions, a company and role debut as Frasquita in Carmen with Hudson Opera Theater and covering the role of Babylonienne in Hérodiade with New Amsterdam Opera.
Other recent engagements include Noémie in Cendrillon with L'Institut Canadien d' Art Vocal, where she attended on full scholarship. She also originated the roles of Therese/Dada Queen in Tabula Rasa for the NY Opera Fest and the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol with Gramercy Opera. Both runs were World Premiere operas by duo Jarrar - Goodwin.
In concert, Eugenia has recently made her debut with A Modern Reveal "Leading Ladies Liberated" concert series at The Flea Theater as part of the 2019 NY Opera Fest. Other recent concert highlights include a debut with Magna Lírica, in its 2019 Season Opening Concert in Buenos Aires, Argentina and her Colombian debut at Museo Nacional de Colombia in Bogota with mezzo-soprano, Monica Danilov. She has also been a soloist for Ramirez' Misa Criolla with the University Singers at Boyer College of Music and Dance.
Eugenia has participated in several prestigious summer festivals. In 2015, Eugenia was selected to participate in the International Vocal Arts Institute (IVAI) in NYC, where she worked with some of the top teachers and coaches in the industry. She has been invited to return on scholarship, from 2016 to 2019. In 2018, she also joined IVAI's program in Canada, L'Institut Canadien d'Art Vocal, also on full scholarship. In 2014, Eugenia was selected to participate in the 10th Barcelona Festival of Song where she was praised for her interpretation of Iberian and Latin American repertoire. In Salzburg, she attended the Franco American Vocal Academy. In San Francisco, she was part of the Opera Academy of California. Eugenia also participated in the Florence Voice Seminar in Italy, studying voice with the late Julian Rodescu.
In 2017, Eugenia was awarded a full scholarship to study Italian in Florence, through the Italian Cultural Institute in NYC. Eugenia is the 2015 recipient of the Opera Graduate Assistantship at Mason Gross School of the Arts. In 2013/2014 Eugenia was awarded NEC’s Community Performances and Partnerships Program Opera Fellowship. Eugenia is also the 2013 recipient of The Florence Berggren Voice Scholarship and The Richard M. Scholarship for Music Studies from the Boyer College of Music and Dance.
Eugenia holds a Master of Music from the Opera Institute at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, where she studied with bass-baritone Eduardo Chama. Eugenia also holds a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance, Summa Cum Laude, from the Boyer College of Music at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. She studied with Randi Marrazzo while at Temple and prior to that, Eugenia studied at the National Conservatory of Buenos Aires with Ana María Osorio. Eugenia currently studies with soprano Elizabeth De Trejo.
Upcoming engagements for the 2020-2021 Season include Eugenia's mainstage debut with Teatro Grattacielo as Dimitri in the company's filmed version of Fedora, available for streaming worldwide. Eugenia is a Young Artist with Teatro Grattacielo in NYC and with OperUs, an international organization dedicated to the promotion of young opera talents, based in Italy. Eugenia also returns to the St. John's Concert Series in Philadelphia, for her third year as a guest soloist and sings with organizations such as Una Voz Un Mundo, Eurasia Festival, Barcelona Festival of Song, Sing for Hope and Opera on Tap.
Eugenia currently resides in NYC and is represented by Spotlight Artists Management for classical music. She is the Founder and Lead Editor of 360° of Opera, a writer for Classical Singer Magazine and serves as an Ambassador for the Barcelona Festival of Song, as a Board Member for Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra and as Vice-President of the Board for Frisson Films.