A Day in the Life: UCLA

Interview and write-up: @EmerNestor

Photographs: @FMarshallPhoto

Joanna Lynn-Jacobs is currently a student on the distinguished Voice and Opera Masters program at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. We caught up with her in between college midterms and her appearance in Saverio Mercadante's I Due Figaro.

What led you to UCLA?

I was always singing around the house when I was little. My Dad is a singer and jazz musician so I grew up hearing him practising and giving voice lessons. I sang in school choirs and musicals all through my childhood, but didn't start studying classical technique until the age of 14 with soprano, Agatha Carubia. She encouraged me to pursue classical singing in college. I majored in Vocal Performance at Boston University, where I spent 4 years studying with Jim Demler.

As a child, what were your early impressions of opera?

Actually my first introduction to 'opera' singing was when I heard two of my mom’s colleagues sing the pop/classical hit 'Time to Say Goodbye' at a work party one year. I was very young, but I remember being in awe of the power of their voices and the beautiful harmonies.

The first opera I saw was Tosca. I think I was about 10 years old and we had gone for a school field trip. Honestly, I remember being very confused. It wasn’t until I was singing in my high school choir that I really started to fall in love with classical music.

Why did you choose the Masters Programme at UCLA?

I had received some lessons from Michael Dean in the past and I wanted to study full-time with him at UCLA. I also really wanted to work with the opera director Peter Kazaras, who I heard was amazing and this turned out to be true!

What does a day in the life of a student at UCLA involve?

During the opera, my days include a couple of classes in the morning, coachings, lessons and practising in the afternoon, and rehearsals sometimes until 11 at night. Now that we’re done with the opera my schedule seems incredibly light.

How do you deal with the competitive nature of your profession?

I feel I have been very lucky with the people I’ve worked with and have never run across any truly nasty competitiveness. But the nature of this profession is inherently competitive, and knowing that it simply goes with the territory, and isn’t necessarily personal, helps me to keep things in perspective. I figure I have to just do my absolute best and expect that my friends and peers will do the same.

Do you suffer from performance nerves, and if so how do you deal with them?

For me there are good performance nerves and bad ones, depending on the situation. But I’ll take any kind of nerves over none at all. Dealing with nerves is like choosing from a buffet table with a wide variety of dishes. I just have to know the dish I like best and figure out how to make it myself whenever I need it. My best recipe so far involves enough sleep and food, not having to do too much before a performance and reviewing tricky spots in my head even if I think I know it by heart.

How do you balance the theoretical side of study with the technical side of performance?

All of the practising, language work, background research and preparation of a piece or role dovetail pretty directly into my performance. I don’t think the two can be separated. Part of the challenge is incorporating all of the study and practise into my body ahead of time, so that I can draw from it naturally in the performance, even if I'm thinking about technique, technique, technique the entire time!

Describe your style of singing/performance.

Above all else, I aim for honesty in my singing. When I see someone perform, I want to see and hear that they are smart enough and brave enough to bring honesty and compassion to all the complexities of life. So that’s what I want my performances to be like. I’d say my style is simple, sincere, and not without humor.

What aspects of the graduate program do you enjoy most?

I love working with the faculty: my teacher Michael Dean, the opera director Peter Kazaras, the people he brings in to work with us, and all of the amazing coaches.

If you had the opportunity to sing any role in any opera tomorrow, what would it be, and why?

I would sing Dorabella, Stéphano or Cherubino because I’m ready for those roles now, and they are all sassy and interesting, but in different ways.

Who do you admire most in your field?

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Joyce Di Donato, and Renée Fleming.

Stepping outside the world of classical music for a moment — what type of music do you like to chill out to?

I listen to almost everything (not so much rap, or metal though). Recently, I’m pretty happy with my Sam Smith Radio on Pandora. I love singing 1930’s/40’s jazz/R&B and tango music.

What does the future hold for you?

Well, I’m hoping that if I stay true to myself and passionate and honest about the things that I want to do in life, I will one day figure out the answer to that question — hopefully sooner than later.

In 2015 I’ll be finishing my first year and starting the second year of my Masters program. Singing, dancing, working and living in LA...and hopefully seeing lots of concerts and performances!

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