|On February 5, 2023, tenor Edward Graves will sing Rodolfo for our upcoming Barbara K. Jackson Rising Stars of Opera program at the Mondavi Center, in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera Center. Here is a conversation we had with Edward about Puccini, the prestigious Adler Fellowship, auditions, opera in general, and his advice for young singers.|
Christian Baldini: Tell us, how did you start singing? When did you first get exposed to the operatic genre, and when did the “bug” first get you about becoming an opera singer?
Edward Graves: I feel like I’ve been singing my whole life. I started singing when I was in church and sang in choirs all throughout elementary, middle, and high school. I also took private piano and voice lessons up until I graduated high school. When I got to college, I intended to be a music education major, but ended up getting cast in Mozart’s “The Goose of Cairo” my freshman year. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but I realized that the other singers in my class didn’t get cast. After that experience and through the encouragement of my professors, I switched my major to vocal performance and have been on this Opera path ever since.
CB: What are some of your favorite operas, and why?
EG: That’s such a hard question because I feel don’t know enough operas to have definitive and favorites. I am drawn to operas that have lasting tuneful melodies (or “earworms”) that get stuck in my head. Some operas that come to mind are Don Giovanni, Werther, Manon, Rodelinda, La Bohème, Tosca, La Fanciulla del West, Rigoletto, La Traviata, and Aida. Sometimes my scope of appreciation is narrowed in on what I’m studying so in addition to La Bohème, I’m studying and preparing the role of Anatol in Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. As I’m getting to know this opera, I’m also gaining a newfound appreciation for its gorgeous melodies as well.
CB: Have you worked with living composers? If so, how was that experience?
EG: Yes—I’ve had the opportunity to work with two well-known living composers. In 2019, I was a in the premiere of Blue at The Glimmerglass Festival. Jeanine Tesori not only attended many of the rehearsals, she also made revisions during the rehearsal process. At the beginning of one staging rehearsal, she handed the cast sheet music to read through and added it to the show. I remembered thinking how cool it was to be in the room with the composer of the show that I was working on because I normally don’t have that luxury. Last week I performed in a workshop of Jake Heggie’s new opera, Intelligence. I really enjoyed the collaborative process of the workshop and being empowered to speak up if something was written in an awkward way or wasn’t working for me. In the aria that my character sang, Jake encouraged me to use my head voice in the last few bars instead of singing full voice which better helped to convey the character’s vulnerable emotional state. A nice thing about premiering a role or workshopping a piece is that you really get to make it your own. You don’t have other singers to compare yourself to or a standard to live up to.
CB: You are a part of one of the main young artist program in the world, as an Adler Fellow for the San Francisco Opera Center. What are some of your favorite perks of this position?
EG: In addition to the resources of the company (in the form of language classes, acting classes, voice lessons, coachings, and steady paycheck,) I have the opportunity to see and go be a part of the process of what it takes to get an opera from the rehearsal room to the stage. It has been really cool to apply what I do in the studio and bring it to the rehearsal room, and then to the stage. It has also been an incredible learning opportunity to watch guest artists throughout a rehearsal process. I feel like I’ve learned so much just by watching! I’ve gained an appreciation for the process that it takes from learning a role embodying a character. There are so many layers and nuances of characterization and I feel like I’m just beginning to tap into discovering my own artistry.
CB: Tell us about the auditioning process. How was your preparation for it? Is it extremely competitive? How is the atmosphere once you are in the program?
EG: Auditioning is a skill. It can be hard to try and give your all in a ten minute time slot and then prepare yourself for not getting the job that you’re auditioning for. It can also be intimidating to sing for a panel that has never heard you before or isn’t familiar with your work. Prior to an audition, I try and remind myself to just think about communicating the text of whatever aria I’m singing. I know that I’ve done all the technical work so I try just have “fun.” Adler Fellows are chosen from the Merola Opera Program which I think is more competitive to get into because over one thousand singers, pianists, and stage directors apply annually. I haven’t found being in the Merola Opera Program or the Adler Fellowship to be competitive because the only person I’m in competition with is myself. I’m always trying to improve—my vocal technique, my languages, my acting, stage craft, etc. Being in Merola and now the Adler Fellowship has helped me to improve in those areas. Each artist has their own path and it’s hard to not compare yourself to your colleagues, but our paths are different and we are all at different stages of our development.
CB: Why is opera important to you? What does it mean in today’s world?
EG: At its best, opera is the combination of music, spectacle, and incredible singing. When I go to see an opera, I’m looking for those three things. I want to be entertained, moved, and to leave the theater a little better than when I came in. I liken it to going to any other live theater event.
CB: What would you say about La Bohème, and about Mimì or Rodolfo to someone who does not know the opera? What should people listen for in this kind of music?
EG: La Bohème is a great “first” opera. The music is beautiful and lush and the plot is easy to follow. It is a love story between Mimì and Rodolfo that I think that a new audience member could relate to.
CB: Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for young singers?
EG: I think it’s important to always remember why you love to sing and in times of doubt, come back to that. A voice teacher told me once that “this a is marathon, not a sprint” and I began to understand what she meant the more I kept singing. This is a very long journey full of ups and downs—there might be times where you question if you want to pursue singing after facing a setback. Another piece of advice I would offer a young singer is to develop interests outside of singing. Sometimes singing can be all consuming and it can be easy tie your identity and worth to your ability to sing.
CB: Thank you very much for your time, we are delighted to feature you at our Rising Stars of Opera program!
EG: Thank you so much for having me. I hope that folks are able to come and enjoy the performance.
Praised by Opera News as a tenor of “stunningly sweet tone,” Edward Graves is a second-year Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera. His most recent Bay Area performances include a workshop of Jake Heggie’s upcoming world premiere opera Intelligence with Houston Grand Opera, as well as Stone/Eunuch in Bright Sheng’s Dreams of the Red Chamber and Gastone in La traviata, both on the San Francisco Opera mainstage. At SFO, he also covered the roles of Alfredo in La traviata and Lensky in Eugene Onegin before engaging in a “thrilling who-can-sing-it-higher face-off from Rossini’s Otello” (San Francisco Chronicle) in the Adler Fellowship’s The Future Is Now concert.
Elsewhere, he has recently joined Virginia Symphony for Handel’s Messiah, Detroit Opera as Policeman 2 in Tesori’s Blue, and Berkshire Choral International as the title role in Judas Maccabaeus. His appearance in Merola Opera Program’s What The Heart Desires earned a San Francisco Chronicle rave for his “superbly bright, clarion sound.” Upcoming performances with San Francisco Opera include Rodolfo in Bohème out of the Box, Ruiz in Il trovatore, and Nobleman in Lohengrin. He also covers the title role in Rhiannon Giddens’ Omar at SFOand makes his Spoleto Festival USA debut as Anatol in Vanessa.
Additional credits include Rinuccio in a double bill of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Ching’s Buoso’s Ghost with Michigan Opera Theatre, Robbins in Porgy and Bess with Seattle Opera, and Policeman 2 in the world premiere of Blue at the Glimmerglass Festival, where he also sang Fred in Oklahoma! and Peter in Porgy and Bess. As a Baumgartner Studio Artist at Florentine Opera, he performed roles in The Merry Widow, Venus and Adonis / Dido and Aeneas and The Magic Flute.
Graves is a 2022 San Francisco District winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s Laffont Competition. Following his bachelor studies in Voice Performance at Towson University, he received his Performer Diploma and Master of Music in Voice Performance from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.
While at IU, Graves participated in a Game of Thrones-inspired production of Rodelinda and has since been drawn to the virtuosic music of Handel. He strives to create the perfect combination of text, music, and spectacle required to impact audiences emotionally, and he advises that all new works be seen at least twice.