Elizabeth Futral on Building an International Career

I’m not sure I fit the bill as one who has ‘made it BIG’ in Europe,” says soprano Elizabeth Futral.

“I think I more accurately qualify as one who is gradually and steadily building an international career.”

But Futral, who has worked steadily and in increasingly important roles and houses since leaving Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Young Artists Program will make her Metropolitan Opera debut next season in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor. Last fall she opened Covent Garden’s season as Musetta in La Bohème, and she recently appeared at LOC as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro?in the same production in which she sang Barbarina as an apprentice. Her career is now well-established, and much of the foundation was constructed in Europe. (Like many soloists, Futral has agents in both Europe and the United States.)

“My first European engagement was singing Lakme in Dublin,” she recalls. “That came about because of a cancellation a few months before the job was to occur. I happened to be an available artist on the same roster as a soprano who was unavailable for the job, so I guess that came about through a bit of good luck?and through my manager’s convincing manner. Thereafter, jobs came through auditions and have perpetuated themselves as I’ve gone along.”

Futral confirms that a position in a high-profile apprentice program can be a real springboard for a career. Much of her work has come through auditions for important conductors, and many of them first heard her under the auspices of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists. “I was lucky enough to be associated with Lyric Opera of Chicago, a great American company. Most of the auditions were there, with conductors Mehta, Conlon, Pappano, Bartoletti. I did audition for John Elliot Gardner at Covent Garden before they hired me to do a show there which he was conducting.”

Does she find major differences between opera houses in this country and overseas? “For me, the biggest difference between U.S. houses and European is size…the European ones are smaller on the whole, and therefore somewhat kinder to all voices. I find the audiences vary from country-to-country. Some European audiences seem much more deeply-rooted in the operatic tradition than others. For instance, in Germany all the children are taught about Magic Flute in school. So when I sang Pamina in Munich, I was a bit intimidated knowing that everyone in the audience knew the opera word-for-word and note-for-note.”

Other aspects of international work are not so intimidating. “I have had great fun meeting and getting to know non-American singers. I find most colleagues to be really congenial and interesting. In this cast in which I am currently singing, there is a Brazilian, an Italian, an Armenian, a Frenchman and a Scot. If nothing else I certainly learn about other cultures, and most often find some very good and long-lasting friendships.”

What about languages? “I am constantly working to improve my languages. It certainly accelerates the task when one is in a country and having to use the language conversationally. For me I see it as a lifelong pursuit!”

Futral, who jogs to keep in shape in preference to working out in a gym (“I also enjoy getting to know a city by walking and running around it.”), offers this travel advice: “The best way to get over jet lag that I have found is to fast the day of the plane trip and begin eating again with the breakfast meal on the plane. That puts ones digestive system on hold until one gets to the new time zone, and it really helps.

“As for packing, I’m not sure I have any great tips except to try to pack as light as possible. Bring things that you really want to have with you? favorite CD’s, books, scores, cooking spices. And try to skimp on clothes.”

Can she offer suggestions for others who want to build careers in Europe? “I am afraid the process’ of gaining work in Europe is rather elusive, as is the whole business. It is really a different process for each person. A conductor who is partial to you can make a huge difference. For some, it’s a powerful and persuasive manager. And for all of us, there is the large element of timing? being ready and being available. Some have made great strides through successfully jumping in for a cancellation.

“I’ll have to say that I really have no hints about European auditioning. What I’ve done has been set up by my manager while I was working over here. Other work has come about through particular conductors asking for me for particular jobs. My work at Covent Gardens came out of an audition I did while working in Geneva singing L’Amour in Gluck’s Orphee? a job which came from my convincing manager? no audition.

“The only advice I would give any singer is to continue to strive to sing as well as one can…keep studying at all costs. This is, ultimately, the only element of the whole business over which a singer really has any control,’ if you will. I really do believe that!”