Jennifer Rowley

American soprano Jennifer Rowley embraces a dual career as an international opera star and a voice teacher, with passion and commitment to both her audience and the next generation of singers.

Having known Jennifer Rowley for years, it has been a pleasure to witness the evolution of her career, which doesn’t shy away from bold decisions and last-minute jump-ins. This time, I connected with the diva as she prepared for a gala concert in Seoul, South Korea, a destination she always loves returning to for the kindness of its people and its culinary delights. As we talked, I was a day behind her in NYC, which seems fitting for a woman who appears to always be one step ahead, prepared, and ready to face any challenge with grace.

 

As an international opera star who must constantly adapt to traveling and singing around the globe, what is some advice for young artists on how to best handle this lifestyle?

This past season I have done a lot more jumping overseas because of my new management. It’s always fun visiting new places in Europe and Asia but, of course, this is challenging when you are traveling from America. 

I always recommend knowing which airport closest to you will allow you to travel nonstop internationally. In my case, I know that from Atlanta I can pretty much get anywhere nonstop, which allows me to schedule my sleep ahead of time. If you do this, you are doing yourself a huge favor once you get to your destination for rehearsals. Your body is regulated by sleep and meals, so sleeping on the plane and having breakfast as soon as you land is very helpful. 

The other element that helps me regulate my body is to go exercise immediately once I get to my destination, even if it’s just a long walk on a treadmill, just to get my body moving. Exercise is so helpful when it comes to adjusting to a new place and time zone. Every singer has their own tips and tricks about traveling, but for me sleep and exercise are very important.

How has your pre-pandemic move from NYC to Florida influenced your travel strategy and how has it benefited your work/life balance?

When you are a young singer, you need to be in NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles…those cities where there are teachers, coaches, auditions, and things are happening. I lived in NYC for 12 years when I was coming up as young singer, and it was absolutely a necessity. I met my teacher, worked with Martina Arroyo, and had pianists readily available. But when you get to a certain point in your career—and you’re traveling a lot and you don’t need to be in that pulse of auditions and competitions anymore—if you have an airport nearby, you’re good to go! 

I will quite often just go to NYC to have a study week, where I’ll see my teacher and my coach every day. During the pandemic we found out that working on Zoom and Facetime works quite well, even if that’s something my teacher and I were already doing before the pandemic for check-ins during my travels. For that type of work, I think it’s important that the person you’re working with has seen you before and knows what the voice sounds like in person and what the body is doing breathing-wise. I’ve been with my team for so long and they know me so well that we can work well like this. 

Being based in Florida has also worked quite well for me so far, but you do have to be in a place in your career where you’re working with a manager who is putting you out for things. And if you’re earlier in your career, you need to be ready to go whenever your manager gets you an audition in NYC or another major city. For younger singers, I find that’s challenging. But once you’re working regularly and not doing auditions anymore, then I think if you can find good people to work with where you live, there is more flexibility. I have great coaches where I live from Sarasota Opera and Palm Beach Opera. Between that and my occasional NYC trips, it works for me! 

When you get to a certain place in your life and career and you are not home all that often—when you are home, it should feel like a vacation, like your oasis. When I walk into my house, I get this wave of calm that comes over me and I know that everything is fine; I can rest now and go relax. It’s a great feeling and one that I treasure very much. 

In the last few years, it has become evident that you are passionate about being an advocate for young artists and teaching, as well as performing. What draws you to this and how do you balance it with your busy performance schedule?

When I was in graduate school, Martina Arroyo was a huge mentor for me, and she always told me the truth. It’s hard to take that kind of feedback when you’re in your early twenties, but you must change your attitude and realize that these amazing teachers are seeing something in you, and they are trying to help you. 

I continued working with her for years in NYC once I graduated, both in her Prelude to Performance and Role Preparation programs, and she was always so honest, always pointing me in the right direction. She was instrumental in me being here right now. Because of what she gave to me, I always wanted to pay it forward to the next generation once I had enough knowledge to share. 

Now, because of the opportunities I’ve had, the team I have, and the fact that my husband became a speech pathologist, I have an understanding of the voice that I never had before. I have the knowledge and a concrete understanding of not only the business but also the technical things that one needs to learn to be successful in that business. So now I can pay it forward, and it’s something that drives me every single day. It’s important to me that the next generation of young singers doesn’t come into the business blind. American conservatories are fantastic, but there is a practical aspect of the career that isn’t being taught and is learned by trial and error. And I have done a lot of trial and a lot of error!

I would like young singers to not make the same mistakes I did or go through some of the things I went through, so I love to advocate for them and to teach them what I have learned. During the pandemic, I collaborated with Fort Worth Opera to create a masterclass series that was a success, and from there a lot of singers contacted me to study privately. Since then, I have been able to pivot to teaching and I now have a studio of 55 singers. 

When I’m on the road, I take my setup with me to work virtually, and when I’m home, I divide my day between time for my own studies and time for teaching. Sometimes I am too busy, but we have a great circle of coaches my singers can work with when I’m not around. So far, we have made it work! All these singers are wonderful people who enrich my life, and I take great joy in their success. 

At the same time, you have been adding new roles to your repertoire. How has this evolution taken place in parallel to your new teaching endeavors?

The pandemic gave me the time to work vocally in a way I hadn’t had space to in the couple of years before. I was able to see where the voice was and where it wanted to go. Because I’m a geeky person who loves a schedule, throughout the pandemic I had a voice lesson and two coachings every single week. I learned new roles and I started exploring repertoire that I never thought I would sing. 

Because of that, my voice is now in a place where I can bump up a Fach and sing some of the more dramatic Verismo repertoire. I’m also finding that the Germanic repertoire works very well in that throat space—and it’s exciting that through this exploration I haven’t lost the agility, so some of the Bel Canto roles are still a possibility. It’s fun to feel the voice grow, but also to know that you have a mastery of it and that you are not hardening the cords. Things I couldn’t do before I can do now, which is very exciting!

How do you balance your performance schedule between your “bread and butter” roles and these new more dramatic role debuts?

Everybody in the business has their top five, the things that they sing repeatedly. And then, when you’re working in a production of those top five, you can be learning something new. 

For me, I like to have a month to learn and polish a new role. It’s important to me that I have time to work the diction and learn the music, especially if it’s in a language I don’t speak. A lot of roles, if the diction is right, they sing themselves. If you sing what the composer wrote, it makes it easier. I always work on the language first and then look at the music. So, if I have a month off…I’m learning a new role. 

It is also the manager’s job to look at the schedule and find a realistic balance. There was one season where I had five new role debuts, and my brain was fried. You must know your own abilities and your own limits and have great communication with your manager. You find that out as you go.

Any upcoming projects you are particularly excited about?

Yes! Because of my recent teaching experiences, I have created a summer festival and I am very excited about it. We are doing a pilot version this August 2022 with my own studio singers. The festival is called “Jennifer Rowley’s Aria Bootcamp” and it’s an intensive 10 days where each singer works on two arias, to death! Acting, diction, coaching and at the end of the bootcamp we make two beautiful audition videos to start the fall season with great pre-screens. 

We’re doing it at the Sarasota Opera House and we have local faculty from Florida, including The Musical Athlete. The goal this season is to gather feedback from the singers to fine-tune the program for next season. We will hopefully level up to a full summer festival next summer, with performances, donors, and a nice working vacation in Florida!

Eugenia Forteza

Eugenia Forteza is a French-Argentinean Mezzo-Soprano, Actor, Influencer, Writer and Producer based in NYC. In 2016, Eugenia founded the popular social media platform dedicated to the behind the scenes of the opera world, @360ofOpera. Eugenia enjoys a versatile international career in opera, concert, theatre and film, which has taken her worldwide from NYC’s Carnegie Hall to Singapore’s Wild Rice Theatre and beyond. Follow Eugenia on Social Media at @fortezaeugenia & @360ofOpera. For more information, please visit www.eugeniaforteza.com.