Marisa Lenhardt is a Bay Area-trained opera singer with a long history of performance at an international level, including with luminary American mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade. Now that’s she’s a Rogue Valley local, we caught up with her to ask her about her career.
JG: Marisa, what combination of factors led you to opera as a career?
ML: I joined the San Francisco Girls Chorus at the age of 7, with my first solo on the stage of Davies Symphony Hall when I was 15. I took a year off, convinced that I never wanted to sing again. When I was 16, my father enrolled me in the six-week UCSB Young Vocal Artists Institute. There, with 12 hours a day of rehearsals, coaching,and languages, I became convinced that this was the life for me. I went to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where I received my bachelor’s degree in vocal performance. I moved to New York immediately after school, and back to the San Francisco Bay Area after two years there. Success as I’ve known it started when I went off the beaten path and began singing opera over techno in the Thunderdome at Burning Man and working with Velocity Arts and Entertainment. I began learning trapeze as well.
JG: Can you talk a little bit about your most exciting moments as a performer?
ML: There have been so many! Francis Ford Coppola added a scene for me to sing in his independent film, “Twixt.” The National Anthem for a packed stadium of 62,000 people. The aforementioned first solo, “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” in front of 3,000 people. Opera over techno in the Thunderdome at Burning Man. Miss Jessel on the trapeze for DC Public Opera’s Turn of the Screw this past January. I’ve been honored to perform several times with Frederica von Stade, once with the Chris Brubeck trio, and we’ve done the Lakme Flower Duet together a few times. The most meaningful performances are when I’m asked to sing for funerals, to help with that passage … and, in particular, singing before the Temple Burns at Burning Man. My career has been so unconventional, and I’ve been so fortunate to have wonderful mentors and opportunities.
JG: Being a professional singer is a grueling process, what does your daily regimen and practice schedule look like?
ML: We rarely earn enough as artists to support ourselves so, unless we have significant financial assistance, we support ourselves in other ways. My weekdays (and a lot of nights and weekends, too) are spent working for Adobe Systems (an American multinational computer software company). I won’t get into those details here! But I am not a full-time singer, with days spent coaching and singing and in rehearsal. I memorize in transit; I record my music alone in my studio or with a coach, and I listen to it in my headphones and sing along while riding my bicycle to work, or at work when I’m not in meetings. Then, when I get home, either before or after dinner, I sit in my studio, plunking out notes, working on technique. I squeeze in coaching and lessons whenever I can. My husband is incredibly supportive; he cooks, I clean. His support and our partnership are crucial to my ability to have, basically, two full-time jobs.
JG: Tell us about your upcoming performances and projects.
ML: I’m very excited to join Jefferson Baroque for the Mondonville this season! There is such a trove of music from this era, and it’s a joy to sing. I was introduced to Music Director Margret Gries by a dear friend in Ashland who is a classical music aficionado, and I hope this will lead to more performance opportunities in Rogue Valley and the PNW. In June I’ll be singing Micäela in Carmen with Verismo Opera in the San Francisco Bay Area, and later this summer I’ll be singing my dream role, Violetta in Traviata, also with Verismo. I’ve wanted to sing this role my entire singing life; when I first started out with the 24 Italian Songs and Arias, as does every young singer, I dreamed of turning into a dramatic coloratura and singing Violetta. A circuitous, long time later, I finally get to do it.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.