Soprano Meryl Dominguez is an up-and-coming star who is redefining what it means to be a diva in the twenty-first century. With first-rate training and performances at Santa Fe Opera, The Academy of Vocal Arts and Music Academy Of The West and also an impressive array of operatic heroines under her belt including Lucia, Violetta and Donna Anna, she is fully prepared for a successful career as a leading lady on the operatic stage. Meryl recently took time to share her journey with us, as well as her approach to singing, dancing and knitting!
CS: How did you end up pursuing the life of a professional opera singer? How did your dance training affect your approach/mindset to singing?
I grew up in New York City. It was a strange place to be a child, but one of the many great things about the city is that music is everywhere. It’s on the subways, the streets and the theaters, and I grew up seeing so many shows. One of the first I could remember was Bernadette Peters in Annie Get Your Gun! My parents aren’t musical people, but they fostered my interest, and I had violin lessons until I could take singing ones. Having this career is more a calling than an interest or a passion, so the more I studied, the more I knew that it was inevitable for me to try and go into singing professionally.
I also began dancing when I was young, and even though I was never meant to be a professional dancer, I ended up coming back to it in college as it is such an amazing synergistic pursuit with singing. Knowing the anatomy of your body and musculature makes so many things easier in singing… It’s an athletic venture! It makes me think deeper about the physical technical aspects of singing, but also about the expressive side. Like music, dance can communicate what words alone cannot, and such expressive movement can really enrich operatic characters and bring them to life. I firmly believe all singers should take pure dance classes: There is so much for all of us to learn about performing with our body.
CS: Do you approach competitions differently from regular auditions and performances? How do you get in the right vocal mode and headspace for each situation?
I definitely do… For most of my repertoire, Violetta, Lucia, Juliette, there is ‘rev-up time’ built into the most difficult parts of the role, so excerpting those difficult sections for competitions and auditions mean you need to be ready to hit the ground running. I love getting nervous right before I get in the room! It means that you can trust your body to have the energy ready when you need it.
For performances though, I try to be as relaxed as possible, and just think about the character in the moments before the show begins. I focus on questions like what is the exact scene before Manon enters the stage, and what is her mindset when she sees the big city for the first time? All that mental work fills in the narrative gaps for a performance.
In terms of the physical preparation before a performance, I do a lot of stretching, some planks and other light core work, and not a lot of singing.
CS: As a young twenty-first century soprano, how are you redefining what it means to be a diva?
For the longest time, I hated the term diva. The people around me who used it seemed to use it as an excuse for childish behaviors, not being prepared, acting out, and generally being entitled. Even the root of the word means “goddess” and in modern use leads to this actual worship of these women, and says little to nothing about the artistry or what goes on behind the scenes. Of course the word wasn’t originally bad, and the old school divas were hardworking, amazing artists, but now the term is about attention, dramatic behavior and ultimately insecurity. Don’t get me wrong: The singers are still hard-working, amazing artists, but the term “diva” now connotes a bad image, and I think it alienates audiences who are looking for art in which they can see themselves reflected.
I would love to redefine the term to make it about understanding the past and tradition, but also being a generous, giving spirit as an artist. We give our voice to the audience, and inhabit these amazing characters in extraordinary circumstances, all in service to the audience and music. Being kind and generous are the hardest things someone can do, and I think it takes unbelievable strength to be an ambassador of art like opera.
CS: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your life as an artist, or something else you have coming up soon?
Aside from being an opera singer, I love making things with my hands, including baking, knitting, gardening, I even have a spinning wheel in my tiny New York City apartment. The dream is to one day incorporate it into a show, or maybe part of a recital. Can you imagine singing Gretchen am Spinnerade, or Musto’s Penelope songs while actually spinning?! I am a total nerd, and I love that sort of thing.
In terms of what is coming up next, there are a few things in the works that I need to be hush hush about, but I am very happily blabbing about a recital that Parker Ramsay and I are putting together this spring! Parker is an amazing Harpist (and Organist, and harpsichordist) and friend, and we have put together a fantastic program that has some of the music you know and love, and expands to music you didn’t think harp and voice could do together, hopefully including a premier of a set from Geoff King. We are still sorting out details, but it should be a blast!
For more information about Meryl, visit meryldominguez.com