Joachim Luis - Biography Q&A
Where are you from?
I was born in San Francisco, CA, and grew up across the Bay in Alameda, CA. Alameda’s operatic claim to fame is that world renowned Mezzo-Soprano Frederica von Stade lives here!
Which character are you portraying and do you identify with him or her at all in your own life?
I’m covering Rodolfo, the poet. It took me awhile to actually see a live version of this opera, but when I did, it hit me hard that I’m practically living the bohemian artist lifestyle! Though I’ve had a couple in the past, I’ve resisted having a ‘Big boy’ job because of the flexibility that is sometimes needed in order to be a performing artist. I remember getting that post-gig paycheck after being broke for a spell, and the first thing I did was spend it lavishly upon myself and friends for a night out of good food and drink. And then I woke up the next day and realized, “Darn, I should have saved that money!” A lot of us trying to make the performing arts our profession can all relate to these guys who are trying to survive on their talents.
What appeals to you about working with Windy City Opera?
As a Co-Manager of an opera company, I appreciate the dedication and time taken by the folks behind the scenes in order to make a production come to life. I’m also excited to have the chance to do a role that has up to this point in my life been nothing but a fantasy. Finally, the opportunity to work with a fresh, new, up and coming conductor is always a win-win for singers!
What’s something about opera that fascinates you?
I’m fascinated with the settings and stories of operas, and most importantly, making these operas relative to the current time we live in. Getting a younger generation interested in our art form is one goal of mine.
When did you know performing opera was what you wanted to do with your life?
My wanting to do opera was a slow and steady build, not unlike a volcano building up pressure, until it erupts. It finally hit me in summer 2010, in my first and only Young Artist Program (YAP) in Princeton, NJ. I was sitting around 30 other people who had come there for the same reason - to sing opera. I did nothing for two months except get to the music building, practice, rehearse, and talk opera. Of course, I continued that ‘Bohemian’ lifestyle, spending all my money on food, accommodations, and drinks.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not involved with singing or preparing a role?
I enjoy cooking, especially trying to recreate my parents’ home Filipino cooking, but so far I think it’ll never taste as good as theirs! I’m also dabbling in home brewed beer. In a non-opera but singing context, I also host/MC for Live Band Karaoke Chicago, as well as sing and arrange contemporary/jazz a cappella. One thing I miss terribly is snowboarding. As I grew up near Lake Tahoe, I used to go constantly. However, since I moved to Chicago 7 years ago my snowboard has since taken up the job of ‘Dust collector’.
What did you think of the first opera that you saw/heard?
It was a production of La Traviata at the San Francisco Opera in 2004 and I was
actually bored out of my mind. I had just started my 2nd degree, which was in Music Education, and a girl that I liked invited me to go to the opera. Since I HAD to take Classical Voice lessons instead of Jazz Voice lessons (a consequence of choosing Music Education as opposed to a B.A. in Jazz Voice) I figured that I’d check it out. Bad move. I was yawning within 20 minutes into the opera. And this was a production with Ruth Ann Swenson, Rolando Villazon and Dmitri Hvorostovsky! Six years later I decided to give the opera another shot and watched a dress rehearsal at Chicago Lyric. No dice. Within 20 minutes I was yawning again. So I concluded that I just don’t really like this opera (But I love the Brindisi…)
What music has inspired you recently – opera or otherwise?
I’ve been listening a lot to this opera, and each time I listen to it, I’m liking it more and more. I was scared of Puccini, and thus never really listened to his operas, because I believed my voice wasn’t fit to sing it. Non Opera music: As of now, I’m singing two US Premiers of Requiem masses by Italian composers circa World War I. They’re so lush and romantic, and quite beautiful.
Did you have an experience related to singing, while stressful or unexpected at the time, you now find amusing?
I once missed an entrance to a scene. I was playing the role of Nerone in Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea” and I missed my entrance because I was outside lamenting to my friend and colleague about how I had screwed up our duet. I lost track of time (there were no monitors, yes, not an excuse, just saying) and then in the middle of my lamentation an assistant director ran up to me and said, “Nero, right?” “Yes.” “You’re on.” “How soon?” “Um, 45 seconds ago!” I ran down the hallway, put the cough drop I was sucking on in between my cheek and gums, and entered the theater. All the characters were acting as if I were singing to them, reacting to the harpsichord accompaniment as if there were words coming from it. I sang as soon as I started walking into the theater, and my colleagues continued on as if nothing happened. That taught me two things: Always be aware of your entrance cues; and how to be professional and make the show work when others make dumbass, boneheaded mistakes!
Do you sing to your pets? If so, do they enjoy it?
I don’t have any, but my roommates’ dog sometimes perks his ears at me, especially during vocalises when I’m singing high notes. And then he put his head down and goes back to sleep.
Have you ever worn a stage costume outside of the theater?
No, but I’ve definitely forgotten to take stage makeup off, and not realize it until we’re out at the restaurant afterwards and none of my friends have their makeup on still.
If I could have coffee with any living person, it would be…
I’d sit down all these artistic directors of opera companies who feel okay with charging singers a non-refundable “application fee” just so we can send in our materials (on our dime) and have them reject us without even hearing us first. I’d sit across from them, look them in the eye, and tell them that this HAS to stop. And then make them pay for my coffee
If you could trade places with anyone for a day, I would choose…
My alternate universe self who has his grad school financial aid paid off already
Tell us a secret.
I actually hated opera and tried very hard not to get interested in it. My good friend
from undergrad, a tenor who no longer sings opera, kept trying to get me to audition for the opera scenes, and I refused him constantly. He kept telling me, “But we need tenors!” Then I went to the opera scenes concert, and watched him do TWO Love duets with pretty sopranos, including a long stage smooch! Yeah, that changed my mind about opera pretty fast. As a friend of mine once said, “I look forward to shows because we get to kiss someone who’s not our significant other, and it’s all for art!”