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 Jennifer Rowley, soprano, talked with me about the immense efforts at Fort Worth Opera and elsewhere to keep singers engaging in their art. Furthermore, she shared details about the impact of the closure and how she is looking forward at the next steps.
Jennifer Rowley, soprano
Interviewed October 8, 2020
TB: Let’s start off on a positive note, what is the best thing that has happened to you in the last week?
JR: In the last week, I would say getting to actually coach with a pianist. To be in an actual room, with an actual piano, and work on music—not on the computer screen—has been a wonderful thing this past week.
TB: I just saw the video you posted of that. Was that yesterday?
JR: It was Tuesday. I am very lucky to have talented friend and pianist up at Sarasota Opera, Jesse Martins, who is Victor DeRenzi’s assistant conductor. He has been helping me prepare Simon Boccanegra for Zurich, where I’m going shortly. And thankfully, the Sarasota Opera has been so kind and has given us their rehearsal space to use to coach in. So, Jesse was at the piano all masked up and I got to sing... It was great, so nice to be in a room with a musician again.
TB: Was that your first time being back in a room with a pianist?
JR: We did a coaching the week before as well, but I would say it is the third or fourth time since March, really. Though we did this wonderful, socially distanced gala for Opera Naples in May, I think. All of us were in the same room and there were three singers and Jesse played for us again. But it was a big, big space and everybody wore masks and everyone was very safe. Since then, I’ve just been doing everything on the iPad and iPhone with Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype [and then] seeing what is going to work best that day and just making it work.
TB: How did it feel being back in a room with a pianist last week?
JR: First of all, it is so invigorating to just have someone there with you and to feel each other breathe and make music. It’s so invigorating. But also, he was so helpful musically because, we all know when you’re coaching on Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype, there is always a lag. And so musically, having learned things with my coach and teacher on those mediums, I am half a beat behind on those things. So, it was really helpful to just have some one to say, “Nope, you learned that from the lag. You have to be right on the beat there.” So musically, it’s incredibly helpful to actually be in the space with someone.
TB: Well and to have that in your ear, but also that body connection to it.
JR: For sure. And if you’ve done any actual singing while someone’s playing on the other end on Zoom or Skype, you can do it. But you have to understand that they’re going to be a split second behind or ahead of you, depending on how the internet wants to work that day. So, the harmony doesn’t always line up. It’s great for learning because you really train your ear to sing against harmony that’s not really right. But sometimes you can’t hear the accompaniment underneath you because Zoom or Skype will cut it off.
It was just nice to actually hear all of the parts of the vocal score underneath me while singing and to hear the chords line up at the same time. It was really invigorating, because it just makes you feel like, “We have music again.”
TB: Absolutely. So what would be one of the proudest moments that you’ve had so far in your career?
JR: I think that the moment that was the absolute happiest on stage where I just felt so much joy in my life and made me very proud, was the closing of the Metropolitan Opera season three years ago. Roberto Alagna and I did Cyrano de Bergerac by Franco Alfano. The closing of the show was the closing of the Met season that year. The final scene of that opera is just a tear jerker. It is heart wrenchingly beautiful and the audience felt it. We came out for a small curtain bow before the rest of the cast, just the two of us, and they rained program confetti down on us from the balcony. It was the most amazing thing and I’ve never experience that in my entire life. The sound in that theater was deafening. But to see pieces of confetti and paper being flung off the balconies into the air, it was an unbelievable moment. I was pretty proud to be standing there in that moment.
TB: That’s a beautiful moment.
JR: It was one that when I think about it, I get a little teary eyed.
TB: Diving into our topic for today, can you talk to me about where you were and how you first realized that your life was going to be affected by the pandemic?
JR: I was at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona for Aida in late December, early January and we think we had COVID-19. There was a time during the production where we were dropping like flies. Everyday somebody else had it and somebody was at home sick. My husband came for Christmas, on Christmas Day, and three days later he was sick. The next day I was sick. Then everybody in the theater got it and it spread like wildfire.
All the symptoms: coughing, fever, body aches, not being able to taste anything, we had all of that. But at that time, it wasn’t a widespread thing where people were talking about this as a global pandemic, and [saying] these are the symptoms and this is what you do if you get it. My husband was literally sick the entire time he was in Barcelona to visit me and that was ten days. And then mine lingered. I had gone to the doctor—I can’t even tell you how many times I went to that doctor—he just kept saying, “There’s nothing I can do. It’s not reacting to an antibiotic. It’s not reacting to a steroid. You just have to let it leave you.” But we all got it. The whole cast got it. We haven’t had the antibodies test yet, but we think that we had it.
When I returned home on February 2nd, it was out there that COVID was a problem in Europe. Italy and Spain were starting to get it. And I remember being in the airport and seeing people with masks on. Now, I didn’t think anything of it because I always fly with a Vogmask, which you can’t wear right now because of the filter in it. (I swear by them, I did an audition tour in Europe several years ago, nine planes in three days and I did not get sick.) So seeing other people in masks, I thought they must be worried about becoming sick. So I am glad I have my mask on. And I flew home and didn’t think anything about it.
Then, I was getting ready to travel to New York for Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera and COVID-19 was already starting to come to the United States. It was definitely widespread in Europe and people were in lockdown. We were supposed to start rehearsal on Wednesday, March 11. So it would have been the week of the 9th and I was sick to my stomach about getting on that plane.
I got to New York and I felt like people were taking precautions already. I remember going into the drugstore to buy shampoo and looking at the shelves and seeing that there was not a can of Lysol, no Clorox wipes. There wasn’t even 409 bleach spray. I went back to the apartment that I was renting and I called my husband and asked him to send me Clorox wipes (which he did).
That Wednesday, we went to rehearsal and sang through the opera. It was a beautiful, beautiful cast. Amazing singing happening from everyone and we had a great first run through. Then that Thursday—the next day—we were starting to stage act one. I came in and the room was a little strange and nervous. Nobody really knew what was happening or what was going to go down. At the break the assistant to David [Sir David McVicar] came in and said, “We’re going to have a meeting and a visit from the office, so everyone stay put.” This was strange, and the supers—the amazing and wonderful Met supers—had received an email that said that the Met would close at noon. So the supers had said, “They’re going to come down and tell us the the Met is closed.”
We got a visit from Diane Zola, who came into the room and said, “I’m really sorry everyone. The Met has to close. The building has to close. You have to pack up your things, as we don’t know when it is going to open again. But we need you to leave the building and we need you to leave as soon as possible. Don’t linger. Don’t go to the cafe. Leave the building.” We’ve come to find out [that] a day before, there was an orchestra member who tested positive for COVID-19 after a performance. So they were trying to take a lot of precautions.
They had said that they planned on us coming back March 30th. That was the two weeks when everything just went to complete hell. Who could have imagined what happened between March 12 to March 30, when everything closed? The entirety of New York City was locked down by the 30th. However, I got on a plane that day [March 12]. (My husband didn’t want me to stay there.) And we are here [in Florida]. Thank goodness we have a pool because it’s been a long time since March.
TB: That’s a wild story. Just to be clear, you flew into New York City literally two days before the COVID-19 shutdown?
JR: Yes, I arrived on the 10th and we went to rehearsal on the 11th. So, I arrived on a Tuesday, went to rehearsal on Wednesday, Thursday, then “Boom, get out of the city.”
TB: So, you’ve sung at the Met several times. Have you ever experienced them closing before?
JR: Yes, once when I was covering Mathilde in Guillaume Tell they had the anthrax scare. An audience member had brought in a substance—it turned out to be the ashes of a friend that he was spreading in various opera houses around the world. During an intermission, he had taken the bag down to the orchestra pit and sprinkled something. I was backstage covering and wondering what was happening. They closed the Met for that day, for the remainder of that performance and of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri.
TB; Yes, I remember that one happening as well. So, it takes extreme circumstances for the Met to close. And now, we’re looking at no Met this year? JR: No, not till next fall in September.
TB: So you have talked to me about what led up to this situation, but tell me about what has happened in these six months of closure?
JR: We’ve done so much, actually. I’m surprised. I have been busier in the last six months than I ever thought I could be, being at home. At one point, I was teaching for three different places at one time—nine hours a day on Zoom—and very happy to be doing it. At a certain point, it was just like, “This is what we get to do right now.” I was very lucky that people know my teaching and my masterclasses and wanted me to be a part of online festivals that were happening.
Specifically, Fort Worth Opera, where Joe Illick and Ryan Lathan approached me and said, “We love your in-person masterclasses. Have you ever thought about putting them online?” I had no idea how to do that. Now though, I’m the guru of Zoom. So when they approached me back in May, I said, “I’m sure it could work, let’s figure it out!” They wanted to create a virtual artist residency, where we did masterclasses every weekend. At that time several other wonderful singers were also doing these classes, mainly, Lisette Oropesa. Her series was incredible and very visible. She was doing them two days a week. And she had just done such a great job that I was like, “I don’t want to copy what Lisette is doing because I really respect that.” Plus the information she was putting out there was so specific and so good that I didn’t want to pull from that in anyway. I wanted to add to it if I could.
So, I came up with this idea that we would have guests. And I called upon my friends and colleagues in the business. I asked if they would like to be a part of this so then it wouldn’t always be a masterclass about vocal technique. It will be about acting, working with a conductor, or a stage director. The very first one we did was our guinea pig and it was a vocal technique class with just me. We got a lot of the kinks worked out in that class.
We heard some amazing singers and then we developed that into our guests. And we had amazing guests: David Lomelí, Martina Arroyo, Joshua Winograde, and Scott Guzielek. We themed it every week and made it about the specialty of the guest. So when Martina Arroyo was with us, we did building a character. (That’s what I did with her at Indiana University in her role prep classes and so that’s what we did in her class.) With Joshua Winograde, we did older young artist programs into mainstage level singers. And with Scott Guzielek, we focused on young artists and things geared towards what was going to happen in the fall.
At that point, everybody started to talk about what was going to happen in the fall. How are we going to have auditions? How are we going to hear these amazing singers? How is it going to happen? Every guest gave us more and more information. And from all of that information, when we finished the first masterclass series, we decided that we were not done. There was too much information in here. We had to continue. So from that, we decided to turn it into the virtual audition intensive—rather than the masterclasses—to let singers figure out how to audition in the new normal that we now have for the fall.
It was incredibly successful. I know that today there were several singers that sang for us and that sang for the virtual NYIOPS in New York today. They had a leg up on everybody, because they had figured it out already. The most amazing thing to come out of it was that we were able to help thousands of young singers. To give them hope and help them navigate the new adventure that is 2020. I could not be more thrilled with the number of people that were reached and the feedback that we got from every single guest. We had E. Loren Meeker with us from OPERA San Antonio, who gave an acting masterclass that I was sitting there thinking of all the things that I would be stealing. It was amazing.
TB: Tell me a bit about why it was important for you to do these masterclasses and offer them especially to young artists?
JR: Doing masterclasses and lectures at college and different artistic programs and festivals is really a highlight of my career. I started doing lectures way back in 2008 or 2009 when I was invited by the Detroit Met Opera Council Auditions district to come and do a lecture on what it’s like to be an opera singer. So a group of students from Detroit School of the Arts and I had a chat. I talked about me, told some stories, and then we did a Q and A. It was so successful that they invited me back again the next season.
So from that, I developed my first lecture, which was my ‘Ten Be’s for Young Singers.’ These are the 10 things that every young singer needs to be or have to enter our business as a professional. It’s all the things you need to learn through your college years and when you go into a young artist program. So that was my first one. And from there it jumped off into so many different topics and now they include power points and all that stuff. I do them all over the place. I did masterclasses as a part of a masterclass and lecture series for NATS (that was two falls ago at OPERA America) and at Hartt School and SUNY Potsdam.
It is a huge highlight of my career and I love doing it. The reason why I love doing it is because Martina Arroyo did it for us when I was their age. I was a part of her role preparation classes at Indiana University. And I said to myself back then, “When I am able to give this much information, I will step into her very amazing shoes and help guide young singers as she did for me.” Because I honestly would not be sitting here talking to you without her guidance and what she gave through her role preparation classes. I would have given up a long time ago. She was that influential on my career. And I want to be that for the next generation.
When this happened, I thought how hard it was to schedule these [classes]. You have to think about booking the travel, the hotel, and everything else. And colleges don’t always have the biggest budgets in order to do that. But I could do them now and reach everybody via the computer and the budget wouldn’t have to be crazy. So I thought, there’s nothing going on right now, let’s make something happen. Let’s give them something to do and train them. Let’s make this a part of the narrative of 2020.
TB: So correct me if I’m wrong but it sounds like you have taken this six months and turned it into a good resource for younger artists, who had all of these cancellations and weren’t able to continue their training. That’s a very positive spin on a very, very difficult situation.
JR: It’s something you have to do though. It is sometimes really hard to be the most positive person in the room. But I really try to be, even when I’m in a production and rehearsals. I like to be the one that’s really, really happy to be there because I am. There are so many people who would love to be there, so taking a positive spin and making something good happen just seemed like the thing to do.
I have a girlfriend who’s a writer—not a singer—her name is Sally Errico. And she wrote on Instagram the other day, “2020 gave La Rowley lemons, so she filled her pool with lemonade.” I get choked up saying it but there just wasn’t any option for me to sit on the couch all day because I’m upset and can’t deal with 2020 anymore. That just wasn’t an option for me. It’s not the way I think. So what can we do? What can we make happen? What can we give to people? What can we learn? How can we grow? How can we change during this time?
I think we helped a lot of people grow during this time through Fort Worth. And I was also on the Voice Faculty with the International Summer Opera Festival of Morelia, which is an incredible festival in Morelia, Mexico. It will be in-person next year, but they did it online this year. Still, in three weeks the students made improvements that I could never have imagined. When you sit down to do something online, you can’t imagine that they’ll grow that much. But they do. So that was the option that I saw and I had to do it.
TB: Absolutely and many of the people that you’ve named off are the ones that asked how they could change the situation. Every single one of them just decided, “Let’s move forward. The time for mourning is passed. We need to figure out how we move forward here.”
JR: At the beginning of this [the pandemic], I did a talk online with the students at SUNY Potsdam, The Crane School. And I said to them, “It’s okay to have a bad day right now. If you look at the five stages of grief, there is a time where you are sad, where you are angry. And it’s okay to feel that. It is okay to have a bad day and sit and eat chips and enjoy a good Netflix binge. But it’s not okay to let that go for a really long time. At a certain point, you have to get up off of the couch. And you have to self-motivate, which we all have to do in this business anyways. You can’t learn roles if you don’t self-motivate. So you have to get up off the couch and put clothes on. Do your hair and get online. Do something good for yourself. Have a coaching. Learn a role or a new aria. Now you have the time to do it. But that time of mourning, that time of grief and anger, that is all valid. You need to feel that.” But now we are seven months later. Now we need to go forward and figure out what we’re doing next. What comes next?
TB: Just to follow that up, how do we move forward? What are you thinking about for next steps? Obviously, you are going to perform Simon Boccanegra, but what is next?
JR: We have to be creative. We have to be creative. Europe is being creative right now. They are being very creative. So the reason I can go to Zurich and do a production of Simon Boccanegra is because Zurich is being creative. Vienna is being creative. Vienna gives everybody a temperature test and a COVID test. Temperature every day when you walk in [and the], COVID, I think is once or twice a week there.
Zurich is the same way. Zurich has put the orchestra in another place, the orchestra is in another place. [So,] They have all the protections in place that they need, Plexiglass and this, that, and the other thing. And the orchestral sound is being piped into the theater. So the orchestra is not in the same space as the singers [and] neither is the chorus. They are being creative. They’re figuring it out. They’re making it work. And they have, I believe it’s 500 people are allowed in the opera house masked— always masked.
Look at what they did with the Phantom of the Opera tour in South Korea. They went on through COVID. It was in Wuhan, where it started not a month after the pandemic broke. It continued because they were creative. Everybody got a body scan. They had them at the door. Everybody had their temperature checked. There were so many protocols backstage that the cast was never with anybody else. Nobody was ever unmasked. When one person got it, they quarantined the whole cast for two weeks. No shows for two weeks. And it worked and guess what? They’re still performing. They’re going city to city and it’s working. There are ways to do it.
Lots of people are doing stuff here outside. I feel like it was Memphis, where I saw a trailer on the back of a truck with a piano. And there were singers singing, literally on a trailer on a street corner of a park. People were sitting in the park watching. That’s creative. Do it! I just saw that Teatro Grattacielo filmed Fedora and they’re going to release it online. This is how we move forward right now. This is what we have to do.
TB: Then also Opera Omaha and Tri-Cities Opera with their virtual reality opera.
JR: And what was that amazing clip I saw of Kyle Albertson as Scarpia?
JR: Yes, Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice. That was awesome. He said that all he did was stand and sing. They put all that stuff around him to make it look like that. It looked amazing and was so entertaining. So, we can. We can and we have to. If they’re going to let 15,000 people into a football stadium to watch football, let’s find the percentage that that is to let people into theaters to watch opera. Take the precautions. Wear a mask. Wear your shield. And let’s make it happen.
TB: The world is moving.
JR: Everyone’s being creative. The companies have to be creative and the singers have to be creative. That was such a huge theme of the classes with Fort Worth. Our guests would tell us they are trying to be creative to figure out a way to get opera out there for everybody. But now we need the singers to be creative too. And we [at Fort Worth] we are glad that we were able to help the singers find that creativity and make some videos to make this happen.
TB: So I do want to turn back and ask you about the effect of the pandemic on you and your life. As we said, you have had the time to do these masterclasses because of the cancellations. So could you talk me through a bit about the logistical and financial effects from this pandemic?
JR: Absolutely. So when the Met closed its doors, I lost money. I lost the fee for two production, so two contracts. So I probably lost a regular person’s yearly salary in a day. Then I lost Roberto Devereux in Sydney. Then I lost Aida at Toledo Opera, then a concert with Philadelphia Orchestra, then a Carnegie Hall concert, and the list goes on... At one point it was like every other day you were hearing about something else closing.
With the force majeure clause in contracts, they don’t pay you and they don’t have to pay you. And I’m very proud of the companies that did pay their artists. I have to give a shout out: Palm Beach paid their artists a percentage. Sarasota Opera paid everybody. They paid all the young artists and mainstage artists. They paid everybody in full. So there were companies who paid and there are a lot more than that. There is a list of companies who paid. And I applaud all of them, even the companies who said, “We can give our artists 20%.” That helps.
I am thrilled for those companies. But I was not paid, not a cent. I have a corporation, because it’s very good for taxes in our business to have an LLC, and to put everything through the LLC. But the problem becomes that you, the singer, are the employee of the corporation. And if you are a single-person LLC, you cannot lay yourself off. Certain states do not allow single-person corporations to file for unemployment and that was the case here in Florida. So because I am a single-person LLC, I could not file for unemployment in the state of Florida. I could not get pandemic assistance. I got nothing.
I applied for the PPP—the Paycheck Protection Program—which I was given. And thank goodness, because it helped for a little while. Because my LLC only has one employee, I was given a smaller amount, but that helped. My husband is a speech pathologist working in schools. So that was not happening. He was on unemployment and he got everything from the pandemic assistance. But we put our mortgage into forbearance. We traded in our car for a new car, that way we wouldn’t have to pay for the car for five months. A lot of auto dealerships were giving six months no payments.
We took our bills down to about a quarter of what we normally pay by putting things in forbearance, mortgage, student loans, etc. That helped a lot and then the money for me was coming in from teaching. I have good number of private students and I charged them much, much less because I wanted them to be able to keep singing. And I’ve had these festivals that I was working for. So thankfully, I was able to make it work. But it was a fraction of what those contracts would have paid. With all of the cancellations that started in March and have continued since, I lost multiple people’s yearly salaries in this. It is tragic. But at the same time, there’s nothing to be done about it.
You can’t fight force majeure. It’s there, written in the contract. There’s nothing you can do. But there were a lot of places giving grants, which was wonderful. AGMA was giving grants at one point. So I got that to help with bills and food one month. The Met Chorus was amazing and raised over $500,000 for everybody who worked at the Met. So I got a grant from them. And it was so helpful for someone not receiving unemployment.
Thankfully, I had savings, but this whole experience has taught me that you need to have a rainy day fund (four to five months worth of bills in your bank account at all times). That’s the only way. Thankfully, we didn’t lose our house and were able to eat. That is not the case for everyone, especially in the state of Florida. We had a terrible time here with unemployment. There are people that waited months and months. And it’s a tragedy when you see how much this has affected our country. We have to do better. This is not over. There are so many people without jobs right now. There are so many people without resources. It is so awful.
TB: So minus a pandemic, where would you be right now? Would you be in Florida?
JR: No, I would be in New York right now. I would have done Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra last week. And this week, we would be in New York doing rehearsals for our Carnegie Hall performance. I think that would have been this weekend. I was going to stay in New York and go straight from New York to Zurich and do some coaching and see my team. I would be just hanging out before leaving for Europe.
TB: So what would you say is one thing that you’re most grateful for in this experience?
JR: I’m very grateful for the help that all of these institutions have attempted to give and for anyone who has tried to help an artist; be it a solo artist, a chorister, an orchestra member. I’m so grateful for the funds that were established and the help that people gave. I’m also really grateful that there are people in the business who want to continue to build the next generation of singers. How many times have we seen David Lomelí doing something with another singer, a masterclass, a chat, or an interview this summer? He knows how important it is and he wants to grow the next generation. I’m very grateful for people like him.
I’m grateful for the people that wanted to hire me to be a part of that and to assist in helping that next generation continue. That way this is not the end. This is a speed bump. This is a big speed bump, but a speed bump. We have to have these people who want to keep this art form going. The want it to grow, to develop, and to modernize. They want a new generation, not only on the stage, but in the seats. I’m very grateful for all of those people in our business.
TB: You’ve spent a lot of this time nurturing and talking to young singers. So, if you had to give them one piece of advice to get through the pandemic what would it be?
JR: I think self-motivation would be the biggest thing that I could impress upon the young singers. How important self-motivation is and it’s not just now, it’s always. When you’re in between contracts, you have to wake up in the morning and go to the office. You have to wake up and you have to prepare for what you have to do that day. You have to learn your music, you have to do your coachings, you have to learn your languages, you have to study those characters, and you have to do that all on your own, always and forever, to the end of your career.
I would say that during the pandemic is a great time to learn that skill. It’s a great time to make yourself get out of bed, put your clothes on, and go to the office at 9:00 am. Make it happen for yourself and get yourself organized. I learned a new role during the pandemic, one that I’m not even scheduled to do. I always wanted to learn it so that was my self-motivating challenge that month. You have to do that. You have to grab the bull by the horns and take charge.
TB: Can I ask what role it was?
JR: I learned Norma. I always wanted to do Norma. It is on my bucket list. It is one of those roles that everyone has always said was perfect for me and what my voice can do with the big singing and the coloratura. I was always saying, “No, I can’t.” And it turns out I can and it is perfect. I made myself a timeline for one scene every week. No matter what I was doing, no matter how much I was teaching. I had a coaching and a voice lesson on that scene every week on FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom. And then I started adding an Italian coaching every week. I prepared it as if I were going to do it. So, now if somebody asked me to do it, all I’d need to do is memorize it and it’d be ready to go.
TB: So in closing up, what is your Netflix or video binge recommendation?
JR: So right now, my husband and I are in a fantasy football league and we love fantasy football. It’s so fun. There is a show on Hulu called The League. It is all about five guys and their fantasy football league. We watched it before, but even the second time around it is so funny, quirky, and hilarious. Short 20 minute episodes, so you can get through a whole season in a day. It’s fantastic. That is our current binge.
TB: Thank you so much for talking with me today and for all of your insight.
“A tal colpo è nulla il pianto” and “Morrò, ma prima ingrazia” from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera
Jennifer Rowley, soprano
Raymond Diaz, baritone
Joe Illick, piano
“Ecco l’orrido campo” from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera
Jennifer Rowley, soprano
Joel Revzen, conductor
Virtual Artist Residency - Masterclasses
Fort Worth Opera
About Jennifer Rowley
Soprano Jennifer Rowley is acclaimed worldwide for her unforgettable voice and remarkable stage presence, singing a richly varied repertoire that includes many of opera’s greatest heroines. In the 2020/21 season, Ms. Rowley adds another Verdi role to her growing list of repertoire, marking her role and house debut as Amelia Grimaldi in a new production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra by Andreas Homoki at Opernhaus Zürich. The opening night performance will be streamed live from Zürich, and this production will be captured for a future DVD release.
Ms. Rowley sings her signature role of Tosca for two greatly anticipated house debuts, first at Opéra de Marseille and then at The Dallas Opera. Additionally, she’ll return to Opéra national de Paris as the title role of Verdi’s Aida, in a new production by Dutch director Lotte de Beer.
In the 2019/20 season, Ms. Rowley made her house and role debuts at the National Theatre Prague as Amelia in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, and at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona as the title role of Aida. Of her Aida, Platea Magazine praised her “phrasing, breath management, expressive force in the high notes and subtlety at important moments,” calling them “her best weapons.” In Prague, her portrayal of Amelia garnered critical acclaim from KlassikaPlus.Cz, saying she gave the role “a romantic expression with a great personal touch in both voice and acting, with vocal certainty,” and that Rowley is “undeniably a dramatic artist.”
On the concert stage, Jennifer returned to Fort Worth Opera for a concert with pianist Joe Illick, joined by New York City Opera baritone Raymond Diaz. She sang a recital with Opera Naples, part of their “Opera Stars Concert” series; she returned to the Salisbury Symphony as the featured artist in their “Opera Fireworks” Gala Concert, and she also performed in concert for Toledo Opera.
An avid mentor to young artists, Jennifer led her first Virtual Artist Residency with Fort Worth Opera, where she held weekly themed Zoom masterclasses, engaging lectures, and casual Instagram Live chats with other singers, directors, coaches, and opera industry professionals. The success of that series led her to create an exclusive, six-week Virtual Audition Intensive with FWO to help singers navigate the new normal in the world of online auditioning. Additionally, Ms. Rowley returns to Baldwin Wallace University for her third Artist in Residency, where she will teach BW students in masterclasses and lessons and present a solo recital. Last season, she led masterclasses at SUNY Potsdam, Bowling Green State University, and the University of Miami, and she taught on the voice faculty at the International Summer Opera Festival of Morelia.
The following performances were unfortunately canceled due to the global pandemic: the title role of Tosca and Musetta in La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera; her house and role debut at Opera Australia as Elizabeth I in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux; Aida at Toledo Opera; and Beethoven’s Missa solemnis with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Philadelphia and at Carnegie Hall.
In the 2018/19 season, Ms. Rowley returned to The Metropolitan Opera for the title role in Puccini’s Tosca and her debut as Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Operawire celebrated her spectacular performance as Adriana Lecouvreur, which featured, “… a seemingly endless vocal line supporting by virtuosic breath support.” The season also marked her first appearance with the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, singing Leonora in a new production of Verdi’s Il trovatore, and she later returned as the soprano soloist in Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, both under the direction of Fabio Luisi. Jennifer served as the 2018/19 Artist-in-Residence at Baldwin Wallace University, where she taught masterclasses and lessons and presented a recital. She concluded her season with her return to the Semperoper Dresden for her first performances as Valentine in a premiere staging of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots.
In the 2017/18 season, Ms. Rowley returned to The Metropolitan Opera in their new production of Tosca where she presented a “magnificent” (ZealNYC) portrayal of the tragic diva. She later starred as Leonora in Il trovatore on the Met stage, celebrated as “glorious, showing the listener the range her instrument truly possesses” (Operawire). She then made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra in a concert version of Tosca with Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Earlier in the season she performed the role with Nashville Opera. She began the summer with her Opéra National de Paris debut as Leonora in Il trovatore: “… an acclaimed debut on the Opéra Bastille stage … the singer’s youthful tone, her brilliant sound and her ability to emit beautiful spun lines which are marvelous … she seems perfectly at ease” (Forum Opéra). Hailed as a “force of nature from beginning to end” (Operawire) and “spectacular” (Wall Street Journal) in her portrayal, Jennifer ended the season with her debut in the title role of Simon Mayr’s rarely performed bel canto opera Medea in Corinto at Will Crutchfield’s newly-formed summer festival, Teatro Nuovo.
Jennifer Rowley’s triumphant Metropolitan Opera role debut as Roxane in Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac (2017) inspired universal critical praise, with The New York Times raving that this was a “break-through moment,” further adding that for the heartbreaking final scene, “Ms. Rowley sang with an intensity of expression and a subtly embittered sound that suggested a singer for enormous gift and promise.” The New York Classical Review echoed these statements, also calling this “a break out night for Ms. Rowley.” Operawire called her Roxane “the heart of the production,” The Observer said she is “a superb artist,” while ConcertoNet called her Roxane “a revelation.” Ms. Rowley previously made her Met stage debut in a sparkling portrayal of Musetta in La Bohème.
In recent seasons, Ms. Rowley sang a trio of European performances as Leonora in Il trovatore at Opéra de Lille, Théâtre de Caen in France, and the Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg, as well as Tove in Schönberg’s Gurre-Lieder with the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo (OSESP). Additional engagements included debuts as Musetta in La Bohème at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Leonora in Il trovatore at the West Australian Opera in Perth; and the title role of Tosca at the Semperoper Dresden. Other notable successes include the title role of Tosca with New Orleans Opera and her title role debut in Barber’s Vanessa with Toledo Opera.
Her swift ascent to stardom began when she burst onto the international scene as a last-minute replacement in the title role of Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan at the Caramoor Music Festival. Of the performance, given with just one day’s notice and a single rehearsal, The New York Times stated: “Throughout, she sang with a fluid, darkly rich voice and expressively conveyed Maria’s anguish” and Opera News noted that she “emerge[d] not just unscathed, but a real star…” She followed that performance with critically acclaimed successes at the Norwegian National Opera as Musetta (released on DVD) and at Finland’s Savonlinna Festival as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni.
Jennifer made her Carnegie Hall debut singing Verdi’s Messa da Requiem with the St. Cecilia Chorus and Orchestra, followed by acclaimed performances at New York City Opera as Orasia in Telemann’s Orpheus and the Savonlinna Opera Festival as Violetta in La traviata. She was a featured guest soloist on the 10th Anniversary Gala with Opera Hong Kong and made her muchlauded debut at the Spoleto Festival USA, setting the festival ablaze with an impressive double bill performing Anna in Puccini’s Le Villi and Carmela in Giordano’s Mese mariano.
A highly-decorated soprano who has been recognized by many international competitions, Jennifer Rowley was awarded the 2012 Richard Tucker Career Grant, was one of the top prize winners in the 2013 Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation Competition and the 2011 Opera Index Vocal Competition, a winner of the 2011 William Mattheus Sullivan Musical Foundation awards, a first prize-winner of the 2011 Gerda Lissner Foundation International Vocal Competition, a grant winner of the 2011 Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation Competition, and the winner of the 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions for the Michigan District.
Ms. Rowley made her professional debut in Cleveland Opera’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, conducted by Anton Coppola. As a young artist, she worked with the Scuola dell’Opera Italiana at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna where she made her first main stage appearance as Magda in Puccini’s La rondine, as well as performances with The Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the Caramoor Music Festival, Brevard Music Center, the Instituto Superior del Arte of the Teatro Colón, and regionally at Michigan Opera Theatre.
Jennifer holds a Master of Music degree from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and a Bachelor of Music degree from Baldwin Wallace College Conservatory of Music. She holds a Certificate of Performance Achievement from the Instituto Superior del Arte of the Teatro Colón and was a Max Kade Scholar at Middlebury College’s German for Singers Program. Ms. Rowley serves as an advisory board member for Classical Singer Magazine.