Marc A. Scorca: Well, it is wonderful to be here with you and Carol Vaness, thank you. You may know that our 50th anniversary at OPERA America was in 2020, which was interrupted a bit by COVID. One of the projects that we wanted to do for our anniversary was to capture interviews with at least 50 people who had really made an indelible impression on American opera. And you are one of them. And I'm just so grateful to you for taking the time today to speak to me.
Carol Vaness: Thank you for asking me. I'm honored to be considered in the top 50 people who have, at least, made a footprint.
Marc A. Scorca: You really have. At such a pivotal moment, as American artists really began to populate the major stages around the world, and you are just such an important member of that cohort of great American singers. I always start off my interviews though, by asking who brought you to your first opera?
Carol Vaness: My first opera - I was in undergrad and I had been a piano and English double major, but the choir director was a very cute guy and I really loved to sing in choirs and he invited me to take voice lessons. So I started voice lessons with this guy and I was really there because he was cute, and he took me and my girlfriend (we were both in the choir) to see Beverly Sills sing Manon, which was then my first opera, when the New York City Opera came to Los Angeles. So I saw her do that and then he took us the next night to Don Giovanni, where I believe it was Maralin Niska as Donna Anna. I can't remember the rest of the cast. Besides Beverly, I think it was Hank Price in the Manon probably. But of course, I sat and I thought, "Well, this is nice; lots of costumes," and I liked the aria about the table. So when I left... to me, the aria was beautiful. I couldn't figure out when the aria started. I didn't really know that much about opera. Don Giovanni made more sense to me in a structured way. And I, of course, understood the story. But after the first act, my teacher...and I was studying as a mezzo, so to speak, under him and we went out for the intermission. He said, "You know, you're going to be singing that part." I said, "I'm not gonna sing that Zerlina part; I don't wanna be a peasant girl." And he said, "No, no, the Donna Anna." And I was like, "I could never sing that. It's too hard." Go figure.
Marc A. Scorca: Wow.
Carol Vaness: Yeah. He was a very, very wonderfully educated man. In teaching me, I didn't realize, or I didn't know maybe, that I was his first private voice student, and he gave me a recording of Christa Ludwig singing the Kindertotenlieder. He gave me the music, which I still have in my studio today. He gave it to me and he gave me this recording and said, "I want you to sound like that." So, I mean, it could be worse...imitating Christa Ludwig.
Marc A. Scorca: I should say. You were a really good first student, that's for sure. That'll launch a studio. And how interesting Carol, that those two operas in a way would play out so importantly for you. One: that you heard Beverly Sills, who then was an important connection at New York City Opera. And then Donna Anna, which became a signature role for you. In that pairing of operas - it's just fascinating.
Carol Vaness: It's interesting, and not only was Beverly with the City Opera, she came into my existence as a singer when I was in the Met Auditions. And I had lost. Giorgio Tozzi poured me a bunch of red wine. I was upset and blah, blah, blah. He slapped me on the back. "You're an opera singer; you're not a contest winner." And I'm like, "I would like to be a contest winner"...went back to the hotel and I didn't know what to do because I didn't have any work coming up, and I thought to myself that Kurt Adler in San Francisco had been very kind during the Merola Program. And I called him up, drunk as a skunk, and said, "Mr. Adler, I don't know what I'm gonna do. I know you've got a young artist program." It's very hard for me even now to take bold steps. So where I got the chutzpah to do it, but I guess the wine...in vino veritas... and basically he called me back about 40 minutes later to tell me that Beverly Sills had gone to Atlantic Richfield, which had sponsored a lot of her telecasts, and got them to give the money for me to spend two to three years in San Francisco. So that's how she came into my life.
Marc A. Scorca: Wow. I didn't realize that. How interesting. We'll get back to young artist programs and competitions in a second, but I'm always fascinated, and I remembered this from years ago that your first teacher had you studying as a mezzo. Now you put it in air quotes, and he suggested you'd be singing Donna Anna, which is not a mezzo-soprano role. So how did that work out? Just exploring the middle-bottom of your voice, before finding the soprano in you?
Carol Vaness: So it really was the very top that I had issues with. And by the very top, I mean, C, C sharp, D, which is as high as my voice ever went. And it was funny because I always had middle voice. I used to sing with a school kind of rock band, and I played the guitar. My middle voice was very much like my mother. Like, you can hear my speaking voice is low. My mother's voice was lower. And so when my mom, whenever she would sing around the house...which she only did before I became a singer. After that, she didn't wanna sing around the house any more. I don't know why. But her voice was always very rich and warm in the middle. And I had no trouble with chest voice. It didn't even occur to me that there were people who didn't have it, because I had sung The Beatles' songs and I could belt out things in the bottom of my voice. So that part of my voice...once he got me into singing the Mahler, for example, and I expressed some desire to maybe sing higher, he actually gave me 'Abscheulicher' from Fidelio. He gave me 'Piangerò, la sorte mia' of Giulio Cesare, and he gave me some things that were quite high, but he billed me as a mezzo. So I think in effect, it was just everybody learning what kind of voice I was. It's my middle voice that I think has really served me in my life in the roles I wanted to go into, especially the roles that were on the heavier end 'cause I didn't really have to yell the middle. I could just sing it, whereas a lot of girls have to pump it out when they get to Manon Lescaut, which I consider to be a very heavy role. But for the top, when I got to the high C, once I got my breath under me, and I understood that you could sing a high C and not be scared to death...In fact, that's what happened with my first role, which was Tosca. I thought, "Well, there's these four high C's," and I wasn't afraid of them. I thought, "Well, I'm a mezzo anyway," although my new teacher said, "You know, you're not a mezzo." So in effect, I really didn't study as a mezzo with someone who knew what to do for mezzos.
Marc A. Scorca: Right.
Carol Vaness: Every contest I sang, even the one called the AEIOU Contest.
Marc A. Scorca: I've never heard of that.
Carol Vaness: Of course you didn't, but I won $50, and the main comment with the judges (was) "You're not a mezzo"..
Marc A. Scorca: Wow. But when you're starting out - to sing where your voice is, is a healthy thing to do. And I always remember because I worked for Beverly Sills for those four years in the early '80's, and she also had a low speaking voice...so interesting. So, the Met Competition didn't pan out, as you might have wished it to, perhaps for the better, and you worked in San Francisco opera as a young artist.
Carol Vaness: I did. It was kind of a wild time while I was in San Francisco, because I actually did a lot of roles, but I had a lot of issues. I got really sick. I started to catch laryngitis and I would have strep throat once every two months, and eventually that took a toll, and there came a time when I had been asked to come to a brown bag rehearsal of Traviata. And we had just done Così the day before in Geyser Peak Winery in 95 degree heat. And I, of course, was singing Fiordiligi. And I was sick as a dog. And I said, "I can't come." And they said, "You have to come," and being a young singer and not wanting to lose my job, I went down sick and I just walked in. I said, "I'm gonna mark, blah, blah, blah." And apparently the woman who was directing got very pissed off at my marking and yelled at me and said, "You're not a professional and this just goes to show how strong you have to be," because this woman said, "You know, I'm gonna tell everyone, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." And I just started singing then. And we were doing the first act aria scene with the tenor, and I started singing and I got up on like the second high C, and I felt "Bang" in my voice and I had hemorrhaged my right vocal chord.
Marc A. Scorca: Oh my word, I did not know this.
Carol Vaness: Well, it's kind of an old story. I've told it to people before. But when that happened, Mr. Adler said, "Well, I'm not gonna fire you," because I needed the insurance to have my tonsils out, so I could stop getting sick. The first thing I was going to do when I came back from this injury, which was in two months, was Julius Caesar in the Spring Opera Theater, and so I was scared shitless of course. I recovered from my laryngitis. I went down to Southern California, to my teacher, David Scott, and my doctor who was Hans von Leden, considered now the grandfather of otolaryngology. And he basically didn't say anything to me, but said, "You must work slowly, slowly, slowly." And within the next month, my voice came back inch by inch, but secure. The first lesson, I'll never forget. I was singing three notes cracking on at least two of them, and I was like, "How is this ever gonna...?" But he was "Just stick to it." My first lesson was 10 minutes.
Marc A. Scorca: Wow.
Carol Vaness: But when I was done, I sang Julius Caesar to some of the greatest reviews. Every now and then I go through all my stuff, 'cause I'm trying to clean things out in my basement, and I see these things and I'm going, "Yeah, but what they don't know behind this review is, what was going on. In reality - in my head was "Sing healthy, sing healthy, sing healthy"...
Marc A. Scorca: You went from San Francisco Opera in the training program into your career with almost no downtime...
Carol Vaness: Except - that first year - all I had on my docket were three performances of Clemenza di Tito. And then at the last minute, somebody either pulled out or got sick in Spoleto USA. The opera they were doing was Il Marito Disperato and The Bells (Rachmaninov). And I happened to be a very, very quick learner, so in a weekend I learned this opera. I mean, it's (like) early Donizetti, so it's not the hardest thing you've ever learned, but you know you have to memorize. So I got down there in two days and I think we maybe had four performances...five, maybe? I remember making something like $400 a week and feeling like I was rich. I had sold my car in San Francisco before I came to New York, so I had a little bit of money there and then three performances in Spoleto. And that was my first year. After Clemenza, things started to move.
Marc A. Scorca: Right. And, of course, Clemenza was your debut at City Opera as well. I was there.
Carol Vaness: Oh my gosh.
Marc A. Scorca: And it has never been sung as well, Carol Vaness., It has never been sung as well.
Carol Vaness: Well thank you.
Marc A. Scorca: The great final scena: no one has sung it top to bottom the way you do. And you know, when you were describing your easy access to your chest voice, your middle, but then you had found the top notes, you were describing the final scene of Vitellia in Clemenza di Tito.
Carol Vaness: Yes. It's frustrating for a lot of sopranos when they look at the role, because, you know, that aria used to be in the mezzo anthology.
Marc A. Scorca: Yes. Yes.
Carol Vaness: I mean, a lot of people think, "Well, it's a mezzo aria." Well a mezzo can sing it, but when, for example, I jumped into a Clemenza at Covent Garden when I had arrived for Glyndebourne and it was Yvonne Minton or Janet Baker, one of the two of them had canceled, but both were mezzos.
Marc A. Scorca: Yep. I first learned it with Janet Baker.
Carol Vaness: And they explained to me that if I wanted to sing the high notes at the end of that one and a half minute trio, that I could, but they had not been singing it. And I'm going, "How can you not sing it? It's written right there." So anyways, so I could do that. I mean, it's so short to show your top, but it still was fun. I actually got to the point where I did like Clemenza. When I first started, I absolutely detested it. I said, "This is cheap Mozart." Just as stupid as a soprano could be. "This is cheap Mozart."
Marc A. Scorca: I just love the duet in the first act. It's just such beautiful music.
Carol Vaness: Oh yeah. It is. It's beautiful.
Marc A. Scorca: There you were making your debut at City Opera as Vitellia, and I've asked a number of people this, 'cause now that it doesn't exist any longer, what was it like to be a young artist at the start of your career at New York City Opera? What was the City Opera experience like?
Carol Vaness: It was, in a bizarre way, like frantic comfort; insane comfort. Everything that went on there...(it) was not unheard of that "Oh, you're here today; you wanna sing?" Like when I got sick during Traviata, Ashley Putnam was in the (house).
Marc A. Scorca: I was there...
Carol Vaness: And you were there. Oh my God, you were there too. Well, I was sick and I had worked so hard to get that far that I was just telling myself "You're not sick; you're fine. You're not sick; you're fine." But I had a temperature of 101 and I'm sitting backstage. After I walked off, Beverly came back, of course, and Ashley's standing there. She said, "You wanna be a hero?" And God bless Ashley. They went; they put her in the costume, and pushed her out. The person I felt the saddest for was Jon Garrison, because he had gone to warm up a little bit before the thing in 'Sempre libera', and he said that when he came back out, he thought he had missed it. He said it was totally silent going, "Oh no, I've missed the end of act I.
Marc A. Scorca: That's funny. I didn't know that piece. And I remember, Ashley saying, "Beverly, I don't know this production" and Beverly saying, "Ashley, it's act II of Traviata. What else do you need to know?"
Carol Vaness: Well, in effect. I mean, you can futz around with it, but now with all the experience I've had in my life, I could tell people (and they might be shocked) that I arrive in Vienna to do three or four Toscas with Juan Pons and Marcello Giordani, and we didn't rehearse the staging. We just talked and did a couple of points where their supers were gonna come in, and we just settled on The Met production. I said, "So what are we doing here?" Marcello looks at me and goes, "How about we do The Met production?" I'm going "Okay. Let's do The Met."
Marc A. Scorca: Wow. But you didn't participate in, you know, first the Glimmerglass young artist program and then the Santa Fe young artist program. You went from sort of high intensity San Francisco training right into your career. Did you have a natural inclination to the stage? Did you just sort of develop your skill set as you went along? How did that work for you?
Carol Vaness: Good question. I think I learned a lot at every time I worked. I spent a great deal of time studying, and studying my own movement in a mirror, so I could be sure that if something was going to be this or that...By the time I got to Julius Caesar in San Francisco, I started to get a clue about some types of acting - some stylized, some not. And then I was (singing) the kids' performances of Mimì in the Ponnelle Bohème, that year that they did it with (Ileana) Cotrubaș, (Giacomo) Aragall and (Samuel) Ramey. And I did that Mimì, and by the time I started to do those things, I was getting it. I never found Clemenza difficult to act because she's so (gesticulates 'full-on'). I could just be mean until I felt sorry for myself in the (final aria). I don't know. Maybe it came naturally to me. I feel like I've always kind of had (like every singer) a kind of dramatic flair when I need it. I'm very outgoing, as you know, and I'm not ashamed to copy something I see someone doing, that is really excellent. A lot of singers say, "But I wanna develop my own character" and I'm going "Okay. But unless you're in a festival situation..." Glyndebourne came early for me too. Working in Glyndebourne - just doing everything so much. All that time, working on recitatives - the meaning, the movement, the this, the that. All of those things were amazing training for me. And I know you can't recommend Glyndebourne to everybody, but that kind of festival situation, if young singers could look at what it really takes to study. That doesn't mean just learn the words. I mean, learn the words and get the idea of how they're going to feel in your mouth and the color of emotion you wanna make with that word. And I think that that kind of work is what I encourage people in my studio to do, because it's not just about the perfect 'ah' vowel. Having a good 'ah' vowel is great, but 'ah' changes per language, so you have to be flexible. I think probably it has always served me, that if I needed to swivel on a dime, I could do it. I could change.
Marc A. Scorca: Now you mentioned Julius Caesar (Handel). You mentioned Così, Clemenza. I was at the opening of your Alcina at City Opera: the Beni Montresor (designed) production.
Carol Vaness: I loved it.
Marc A. Scorca: That production was so good.
Carol Vaness: It was incredible. Well, Andrei Serban is quite a personality. I adored him, but cuckoo - yes - in all the good senses of the word. Not afraid. Although he did come in and say, "Why do we have to do all these repeats? Let's cut all the repeats," and Raymond Leppard's going, "No, I don't think so."
Marc A. Scorca: It was just incredible. So, here's Handel and Mozart. Of course you sang Verdi. I remember your Vespri Siciliani; all your Puccini, but the core in the early part of your career was Handel and Mozart.
Carol Vaness: Yes.
Marc A. Scorca: And was that music or were those characters that spoke to you in a particular way? Was your voice just particularly well suited to that repertoire? You and Handel and Mozart. What was that relationship about?
Carol Vaness: When I did my first Donna Anna, which is as a grad student, I chose that role, because my teacher had given me the option of choosing one of the female roles in Giovanni. So I chose Anna and, as I was looking at it, I tried to imagine myself, you know, acting. Mozart, at that point, it was very high for me, but they had just started all those television things with Luciano (Pavarotti) and Renata (Scotto) et cetera, et cetera. And I thought, I wanna look good on television. And so when I worked, I would work in a mirror to make sure that I could act that way, especially with Mozart, because having to balance my voice on what I call my F...some people do it, but you can see they're uncomfortable. I was determined for it to not only sound good, but look good. And so for me, once I started to get the idea of that - this is a balance - and if I can keep this balance with 'ah', then I have to find the position for 'ae, oh, oo'. 'Oo', of course, being very easy to find most of the time for me, because of the head voice, and so I pretty much felt like whenever I was doing Mozart, I was intrigued to find new things, because it's got so much in it, that the more you look for it, you find one thing and then you see revealed a couple more things - "Oh, but what about that? What if I go for that vowel? Or how does this balance? Does this look okay? Do I look like I'm screaming? How am I gonna do 'D'Oreste, d'Ajace'?" which I learned to do through the Ponnelle production, 'cause of all that bent-over stuff and staying very...once you've sung doing all that movement, all you have to do is get your voice in the same position without doing this (illustrates geting tight, stressed). And that for me is what I worked on the entire beginning of my career. Handel: I never felt like I was a flutey, light Handelian singer, although I did hear...someone had posted a thing of me singing Alcina in Paris on the radio. And my voice is very clean and bright. I wouldn't say light, but I wouldn't say heavy. I've always sung into Handel.
Marc A. Scorca: And only more recently, have those roles been taken by lighter singers and when we grew up, you had fullthroated singers singing Handel.
Carol Vaness: Absolutely. And that would mean, if you hadn't already, you'd have to take time out of your schedule to work on flexibility and work on the clarity of your coloratura, and the style of coloratura, because there are some arias that have a bunch of staccati; there are some that are all connected, and there's some you have to work out, so that it sounds the most beautiful it can sound.
Marc A. Scorca: Yeah. You began to answer a question that I had, because there are some singers who sing 300 roles, you know, once, and then there are some singers who have a smaller repertoire, but they live with the roles; live with Fiordiligi, Donna Anna, Tosca, and you are one of those. You lived with your repertoire. How did you keep it fresh for yourself to sing Donna Anna, or Fiordiligi or Tosca so many times, so many different productions?
Carol Vaness: Well, I didn't have to work hard to make it interesting to me, because basically I found there's so much depth in libretti. In the da Ponte, for example, there's so much depth in the words. And again, when something is technically not the easiest thing you've ever done, like 'Per pietà', which goes back and forth: low, low, low, and then high B's at the end - that's very different. Different style too, especially from the rest of the role of Fiordiligi, which sits high. You're on the top of every darn ensemble going, "Okay, get down now, I'm tired; it's enough for me." But how I stayed interested? I didn't even have to work to be interested. I was interested. When I did Tosca...my first Tosca is the recording with Muti. That's the first Tosca that I got paid. The other was an undergrad; I was 21. Basically, he taught me how to look at the score, just look at it. Because there are a lot of people...like I tell students, and they're singing this aria, and they're singing really loud or they're singing really soft - and I'm looking at this score and I say, "Well, can you tell me what this means here - this marking?" And there'll be a marking, 'spirituoso' or (something), and they'll say, "Oh, um, no.” And then I'll say, "Well it's important that not only do you translate, but you look at all these markings" Puccini's Tosca: he tells you exactly what to do in each bar. There's not a bar that's the same. All the markings, and it gives you some insight into the depth of the character. It's not just loud; 'Vissi d'arte's' not just soft. It's not all fast. It's not all slow. And Bohème is even more complicated, 'cause you have even more people singing together. And so, for me, I get excited when I think about a score and getting to see whatever is in there. And Mozart too. But there are times when I wish Mozart would've made even more (notations). But I was given a gift by a dear friend of the Mozart opera facsimiles. So whenever somebody says, "Is this the Bärenreiter?" I'm going, "Yeah. Well, the Bärenreiter had three publishings of this and two of them are totally different. Let's look it up in the real score. Look it up. And aha. First one was right. Second one, corrected – wrong."
Marc A. Scorca: What a great resource.
Carol Vaness: It's very cool and very, very interesting.
Marc A. Scorca: Role models. We've invoked many names here. Did you have - either that you knew them and talked to them, or just didn't know them, but thought about what they did...did you have role models in your career?
Carol Vaness: I would say Beverly. We didn't sing the same rep, but I loved how she dealt with people. Of course, I loved how she sang. I couldn't sing like that. In terms of other role models... Believe it or not, it's kind of strange, but Luciano...
Marc A. Scorca: Really?
Carol Vaness: And Luciano, because when I was close to him, it was like a voice lesson, every time. I watched how he husbanded his resources as he got older, because I got him mid and late, and the quality that he would give every single night was incredibly inspiring to me. I feel like it's nice if you're the kind of singer who comes in and you have one great night, but when you come in and you can give a great night, that's not the same - night after night after night - that's when you become a star. Because, it's something...his work ethic. Maybe he wasn't always that good with learning notes, but he worked very hard at what he had. Otherwise did I have other role models? I used to go, when I was trying to learn to act more myself, and I bought front row tickets to Diana Soviero's Traviata, and I 100% credit my fourth act to her, because I watch how she walked and I went every night, and of course we didn't have these things (holds a phone up), where we could video it. So, you know, it wasn't on video. I was gonna watch it, and it was amazing. Amazing. And so I used that as a tool.
Marc A. Scorca: A wonderful singer, Diana. Wonderful singer.
Carol Vaness: Yes. And a great colleague and a great person.
Marc A. Scorca: Absolutely true. And she was another one of those great American singers, at the time, whether it was Gianna Rolandi or June Anderson or Johanna Meier or Diana Soviero. There was this cluster of you that were just phenomenal artists, and of course had that start at New York City Opera where you kind of arrived and sang anything.
Carol Vaness: Well, you actually felt a great deal of support from your colleagues there. You know, the room where everybody sat to take a break, had machines in it and had a couple of beat-up couches, and we'd all just get in there and "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah," and then go back to work.
Marc A. Scorca: The canteen downstairs. Absolutely. In a way you've answered some of this already, 'cause I was gonna ask you about the introduction of cameras into the opera world. You said, early on in the late '70's, when things were starting to be on TV, you thought to yourself, "I wanna look good," but you also spoke about watching yourself in the mirror and thinking about how does this look? So in a way you prepared yourself for life with a camera.
Carol Vaness: Yes.
Marc A. Scorca: Do you work hard with your students to think about, "Okay, doing this on stage, doing it on camera"...is camera a part of what you teach now?
Carol Vaness: Basically kind of, in that: have cell phone, $14 tripod, take it, record yourself how you look when you sing. Much better actually, if you have the guts to look at yourself, 'cause some people don't. They don't wanna know. "I don't wanna look at..." "Well, have a look because it's important. Your technique can be seen on your face." And so I basically make sure that when people leave my studio that I've made them pay attention to what they do physically. Like I have a baritone who is like this (demonstrates hunched shoulders) and by the time we're done with this lesson, he's walking like this (demonstrates a relaxed look). I said, "That's all very well and good, but you've gotta do that while you're singing. And I can't tell you every time; you're gonna have to work on that." And you know, it's the singers that go and work on those things that are more often than not the successes, because they're willing to look at stuff that they don't like. And sometimes you can be surprised. Years after I've sung something, and I think, "Ugh, that was terrible; I'm not listening to that." And I go back and listen and go, "Hey, you know, it wasn't half bad."
Marc A. Scorca: Did the presence of cameras change your performance at all? Or was it all the same to you?
Carol Vaness: No, it's a little bit different. Basically the big Galas, there's nothing you can do. You just come, you sing, you go, as best you can. I wish someone had told me that I should have more facial expressions in the final trio from Faust, which is put on with me and Jim (James Morris), and Jerry Hadley. And I look like I'm going "Okay here I am. I wish I had a taco. I don't know what....". So the thing with the other ones - with the Giovanni and with the Così... the Così, especially, is that we had certain places where they asked us to "Please play this side," because they actually covered the lights, 'cause just looking out and seeing the camera lights - the little red lights - that always made me a little bit nervous, but once you got into it, it's not hard to - instead of reaching for the tenor with my downstage hand, reach with my upstage hand, that's not hard, that's just adjustment. So the thing that it doesn't change is my singing. At all. It doesn't change the singing, but it can change some of the physicality. Nowadays they're right down people's throats, and that's good for some people and not good for other people. So that's the danger of that.
Marc A. Scorca: It's just become such a part of what we do, especially in this era of COVID, post COVID where suddenly everyone's producing things on camera. A revolution. So there you are in Bloomington, Indiana, and you have a career of experience. You're working with young people. Do you find that frustrating? Energizing? How is it working with youngsters who are so green behind the ears?
Carol Vaness: Okay. So here's the thing. I just directed Tosca in Kansas City.
Marc A. Scorca: I didn't know you were directing. That's fabulous.
Carol Vaness: Yes. A very good cast: Marina Costa-Jackson, Michael Mayes and Dimitri Pittas. So a good experienced cast; her first Tosca. The difference between doing that and what I do (teaching), is that when I ask them to do something (the experienced people), they do it and they do it with intent, and they don't just go, "Okay, I'm left; now what?" With students, if I'm directing in my opera workshop, for example, I can give them directions. But what I try to do is I try to get them to think independently of what I tell them, but since I know when I graduated all I wanted a stage director to tell me was, "Do you want me to go left or right." And so the difference is I have to not only tell them left and right, I have to show them the different ways that left and right can work and why one works over the other one. Vocally, it's very, very interesting to help someone and to see the progress. It's always fascinating that over the summers, I tell people do this, this, this, this, and I give them a whole little set of things and the ones that do those little things come back, steps ahead of everybody else, because they've done what comes next. Sometimes it's just hard to explain. The frustrating thing is school has school work and opera and voice lessons and coachings are really the preparation. Now of course, only between 1 and 2% of the people in the schools nowadays are going to be working singers.
Marc A. Scorca: Yes.
Carol Vaness: And I have to say, I have a better percentage of that from people from my studio - thank heavens for them - but there are people who stop, or do something else and do very well. I would say the first couple of weeks are more frustrating than as the semester goes on, and I can see people getting things. I give them..."I don't care what you do with the rest of it for right now, come back with this," 'cause I'm pretty specific.
Marc A. Scorca: Well, Professor Vaness, I'd really like to have a career. I've wanted to do it since I was a kid. What advice do you have for me about having a career?
Carol Vaness: My advice is to listen to the great singers of the past, and I don't mean those who just recorded 20 years ago. I don't even mean me, but you could listen to me. I'm famous at least for Mozart, and practice, practice and then practice more. Look for the meaning in the words. Find the words, and be patient and kind to yourself. Don't negative speak. Do not think, "Well that was shit," and if it starts to come out of your head, your mind, then you think, "Okay, well let me just do that one more time to see if I can walk out of here with a better thought in my head than 'that was shit'”. Yeah, mostly practice and paying attention to what that character, if there is a character - and even in songs, there's kind of a character - most of them, and it's finding that and allowing it in, so you can make it part of you. It's not just enough to set it on top of you, like a garment. You have to take it in. That kind of music and understanding of libretto, that has to be taken into your heart and eventually will be part of your soul, and that's how you reach people, because then once you've got that, and an audience wants to hear it, you can share. And once you share that to an audience, the payback in that exchange is gigantic. It's a drug, it's the best drug in the world when you're singing and giving and they give back to you. And I don't mean applause either; you can really hear it when they're with you. I'm getting goosebumps talking about it.
Marc A. Scorca: I am too.
Carol Vaness: Plus it is very moving. Exciting? Kind of. More moving, transformational.
Marc A. Scorca: Magical when that happens. That's just phenomenal advice. Carol Vaness, thank you for spending this time.
Carol Vaness: You're welcome; a great joy.