Alexandra Schiano - Biography Q&A
Where are you from?
I have at least 6 hometowns, so pick your favorite of the bunch: Bittburg, Germany; Boise, Idaho; Misawa, Japan; San Antonio, Texas; Iowa City, Iowa
Which character are you portraying and do you identify with him or her at all in your own life?
It is so tempting to recoil from this question and say “Goodness no! I’m not a party girl, I don’t date older men for their money, I’d never run out on a bill and I would never toy with a baritone’s emotions that way!” but really, I think Musetta (who I cover) has a terribly good, generous heart, and is every bit as much an “artist” as the painter, the poet, the musician and the philosopher… There’s a lot of tenderness to play with, and its fun to look for those moments.
What appeals to you about working with Windy City Opera?
Selfishly, if I could pull out my 21st-century-female-card, I am very excited for the opportunity to work with a female conductor. Generally, I think there is a dearth of opera companies in Chicago that celebrate young talent (in a city that is full of it) and am delighted to help up-start the start-up!
What’s something about opera that fascinates you?
I’m a hobby historian -- it’s tough to pick one thing, but let’s go with censorship in/at the opera. Even the most family friendly of operas has sex, violence, substance abuse, or often all three! (Well, except maybe The Tender Land, which is why no one really likes it that much… come on, be honest!) So an examination of which of those elements caused the most offense to the powers that be in any given time and place is always fascinating.
When did you know performing opera was what you wanted to do with your life?
Pretty late, actually... I took my first lesson when I was almost 18 years old, enjoyed it, and decided to dabble. It quickly became apparent that opera is a field of all or nothings, and being a person ruled by my passions, decided to jump right in.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not involved with singing or preparing a role?
Eating. Also being honest, apparently...
What did you think of the first opera that you saw/heard?
I thought it was ridiculous. It was a Madama Butterfly set in front of a torii gate with all the men and women wrapped in bathrobes… But there was so much potential, and so much excitement between the libretto and the score that I had to find more!
What music has inspired you recently – opera or otherwise?
A good friend of mine introduced me to Snarky Puppy (she’s good at keeping me current too, see?) and I have been on a pretty big Funk kick lately. I also recently discovered that Topi Lehtipuu has a solo album (so exciting!) so my play list has been alternating between baroque solos and featured jazz artists...
Did you have an experience related to singing, while stressful or unexpected at the time, you now find amusing?
In a production of Pirates of Penzance, one of our tenors accidentally flung his sword into the orchestra pit. It was stressful, and it was unexpected, and after the dust has cleared it was most definitely amusing.
Do you sing to your pets? If so, do they enjoy it?
I have a cat who thinks that I am crying when I practice, and he always rushes over to comfort me. Unfortunately, it’s usually somewhat traumatizing to the both of us.
Have you ever worn a stage costume outside of the theater?
Yes, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as I wanted it to be. Mostly I just received strange looks from people on the street, who I think assumed that I didn’t know how to apply day-time makeup.
If I could have coffee with any living person, it would be…
Excuse the obvious, opera-singer answer, but Peter Gelb. Not only must he have stories for miles, but he has done a lot in the last 9 years to bring opera to new and larger audiences, and he’s done it from the helm of one of the most renowned opera houses in the world. His time as president of Sony was also, I think, extraordinary valuable in terms of “crossover” for classical (and Classical) music. It would be as valuable as it would be entertaining.
If you could trade places with anyone for a day, I would choose…
I wouldn’t trade places with another soul. I enjoy being in my own head and my own shoes, and have so much left to do in my own life that I wouldn’t want to escape into another body. That said, if Bill Gates would like to pay my student loans…
Tell us a secret.
I have a wicked unibrow. I approach it several times a week with tweezers and an excellent sense of humor.