Opera singer J’Nai Bridges has range in more ways than you think – The Globe and Mail

J’Nai Bridges will be making her Canadian Safari Company debut as Carmen, running Oct. 14-Nov. 4. Dario Acosta/Handout

When American opera singer J’Nai Bridges talks about the genesis of her musical career, there’s one story she tells and re-tells about the particular day she chose between two wildly different worlds.

In high school, basketball was Bridges’ main extracurricular. But even as captain of the varsity basketball team, the girl needed an arts credit to graduate, so the lady auditioned for Advanced Placement choir. When the teacher told her she had a natural ability, she decided to start taking private lessons. Then, the dramatic conflict: Her very first audition for a role in an safari (it was Tosca ) fell on the particular same day as a good important golf ball game.

Young J’Nai thought she had it figured out. She’d ask the girl coach if she could skip that afternoon’s practice so she could go to the audition, then she’d get her mom to drive her two hours to the rival school in time for the start of the game. But when the girl arrived, the particular coach experienced changed his mind. He benched her, and told her it was because the lady had displayed poor sportsmanship.

“That was the last day time of my competitive basketball career, ” Bridges says.

Within a couple of months, she’d informed her private instructor – plus her parents – that will she wanted to audition with regard to music conservatories instead associated with heading to university, turned down all of the girl basketball scholarships and shifted her focus to singing.

“Basketball has been always something that I loved! I still love it. I nevertheless play and I go to games any chance I get, ” she states. “But performing grasped me in the different way and I just felt, ‘Wow, this is something that I want to explore. ’”

This tale helps explains who Bridges is: an one-time golf ball hopeful turned bonafide ie star. This month, Links, 35, will make her Canadian Opera Company debut with the titular role in Carmen .

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Her road to this milestone is dotted with other career highlights: Bridges attended the Manhattan School of Music within New York, earned a master’s degree at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music and participated in artist training at Lyric Ie of Chicago. She won her first Grammy regarding her New York’s Metropolitan Opera first appearance playing Nefertiti in Philip Glass’s Akhnaten last year, and recently she became one of simply a handful of classical singers in order to perform the NPR Tiny Desk concert

But her story doesn’t quite get in the “why” of her artistry, or her purpose, as a doer who set a goal in what will be widely perceived as a white and elitist industry plus pursued this. For that will, you have to understand where she comes from.

Raised near Seattle, alongside 2 brothers and a sister, Bridges remembers a home filled with music, though it wasn’t necessarily classical.

“I was always drawn to songs, ” the girl says, recalling her parents’ strategy to obtain their kids out associated with bed on grey mornings. “It had been hard to wake up intended for school, so my mother and father would blast music plus that would get us going. It was mostly Motown, jazz, R& B – a lot of Black American music. ”

That’s not to say the lady had no exposure to traditional music; she grew up singing in the choir at the girl church, and all the siblings took music training, which to get Bridges meant classical piano. But this wasn’t until that AP choir class that she realized the girl loved this style, that she has been good at this particular type of performance – and perhaps most importantly, that will she belonged in this space, too.

J’nai Connections performs from Carnegie Hall in 2018. The Canadian Press

That was not a foregone conclusion. Onstage, principal opera roles are most often filled by white performers, and the works that are performed most frequently are overwhelmingly by white, male composers. Blackface is still acceptable at some companies – Paris Opera only banned the exercise in 2021, following staff outcry, and in July, soprano Angel Blue pulled out of a performance of La Traviata with Arena di Verona after learning that the theatre had lately mounted a performance associated with Aida that will included blackface.

The trend continues backstage; according to the 2022 study by Safari America, only about 20 per cent of employees and board members on opera companies in the United States plus Canada identify as BIPOC. And of course, audiences reflect this particular dynamic. So, the implicit message is usually often: this is not a space for young, racialized people.

But Bridges says this has not always necessarily been true.

“We’ve always already been here – always. In the 60s and 70s, opera in America was actually much more popular. And there was a time where therefore many Dark opera divas, women and men, were singing all around the country. There was real diversity on the particular opera stages. Of course , probably not enough, ” the lady says, adding that there was a time when she didn’t know this history. It was just when the girl began researching the Black opera performers who came before her that the lady found Kathleen Battle, Denyce Graves, Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman plus Shirley Verrett, divas whom she counts as influences.

And now, she’s aware of the space she occupies, too. She has always spoken up about the lack of diversity within the field, even organizing a panel discussion about racism and inequality in opera pertaining to the Los Angeles Opera in May, 2020, not long after George Floyd’s murder. She knows what it means for her to become visible within this industry.

“I believe people feel most welcome when they see themselves on stage – representation really does matter, ” she says. “So it’s a win-win situation for everybody. It’s the win meant for me to feel like We can breathe a little deeper upon stage knowing that I am supported simply by people that have actually helped me in order to get to this point. Yet it’s also that safari and classical music is for everybody. ”

That’s one reason the girl loves the lead part in Carmen , which she offers performed six times. She relishes the particular technical challenges from the part, which the lady says is definitely “tricky” in order to perform because the music is quite low for a mezzo-soprano, plus she’s a fan of the character herself, citing her strength and independence. Bridges furthermore appreciates the familiarity associated with this ie – many people will recognize The Habanera , the particular aria Carmen sings the first time she appears on stage, even if these people didn’t understand where it was originally from.

But beyond all that, Bridges sees Carmen as still deeply relevant to what’s happening in today’s world. The girl ties the opera’s themes of power, autonomy, race, class and love to the particular ways women in the current society are usually oppressed.

The lady hopes she can play a role in helping others make that connection, as well.

“I want to end up being a link in making this particular art form more accessible, ” the girl says. “I would love to come back within 30 years and see the audiences so diverse, plus with age too, because right now it’s mostly older people. I actually think I would want people to say ‘Yeah, I didn’t know regarding opera till J’Nai Links exposed me personally to it. ’”

The particular Canadian Ie Company’s production of Carmen opens April. 14 and runs until Nov. four at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.