Presenting emerging artists on a grand stage has long been a central tenet of Spoleto Festival USA’s mission. For example, a 17-year-old violinist named Joshua Bell first played at the Dock Street Theatre stage back in 1985, just as one of the most revered sopranos—Renee Fleming—appeared in the Festival’s Platée in 1987, before she became a household operatic name. And since Spoleto produces its own operas every season—including two US premieres in 2018: Pia de’ Tolomei and Tree of Codes—opportunities are rife to fill them with rising stars.
But how does the Festival find these gifted operatic voices? Enter Lenore Rosenberg, the Festival’s Artistic Administrator. Responsible for hiring singers for operas, she consults with the directors and conductors and often sets up auditions for specific roles.
We recently asked Lenore three questions to help you get better acquainted with this Spoleto insider. Read her answers below.
You served as associate artistic administrator for the Metropolitan Opera for more than 30 years, given master classes worldwide, and judged countless competitions. What’s your background as a singer?
I started out wanting to sing and went to Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where I studied voice. After graduation, I did my share of auditioning. It was hard—opera is a hard profession to make a living in. But I found I had more success in other areas, backstage on the administrative side. I loved opera and wanted to be around it, even if I wasn’t actually singing. So I took jobs with various companies: my first job out of college was with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, then I worked for Opera Memphis, and an opera company in Cincinnati. After that, I landed a job with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. I came in as the conductor’s secretary. And I must have poured Diet Coke so brilliantly, because they started to let me cast the operas. My first year at Spoleto Festival USA was 2001, and I’ve been the artistic administrator ever since.
In terms of hiring up-and-comers who’ve gone on to have illustrious careers, is there anyone you’ve been particularly proud of presenting? And are there certain opera companies or schools where you find the majority of the singers?
I was very pleased with Jamez McCorckle, the tenor in Eugene Onegin from the Festival’s 2017 season [pictured above]. He was basically a beginner—he started as a baritone and only recently had switched to a tenor. He worked very hard and did a beautiful job. And in 2013, Jennifer Rowley sang in Puccini’s Le Villi. She was also just starting out, and since then she’s made a Met Opera debut and is starting to be hired throughout Europe.
Of course we know which the big music schools are, but the people we hire aren’t necessarily always from them—or even necessarily American! There are so many times when I’ll go into an audition, look at a group of resumes, and think, “These people have very good credentials,” but none of them turn out to be right for our productions. In the opera world, you can find someone out of the blue without a particularly famous teacher or who hasn’t attended a famous school. So it’s a matter of keeping my eyes and ears open.
What’s a deal-breaker? Do you have any performer pet-peeves?
Singing out of tune is a deal-breaker—and there’s a lot of that. It never ceases to amaze me. I also don’t like when people sing with a lot of strain in their voice. You should be able to sing a role with ease, which gives the music some dimension—singing soft or loud, high or low. But if someone is constantly pushing, pushing, pushing, there’s only that one sound.
When I’m in an audition and hearing 30 or 50 people sing, I hire those who make me sit up in my chair. You want someone who has that indefinable quality—someone who makes people pay attention.
Tickets to the 2018 productions of Tree of Codes or Pia de’ Tolomei can be purchased HERE or by calling the Festival box office at 843.579.3100. Tickets are also available at the box office at the Charleston Gaillard Center (95 Calhoun Street).