Ava Pine has become the most popular home-grown opera soprano in Texas. She just sang Dallas Opera’s Magic Flute, she’ll soon appear in Fort Worth Opera’s Lysistrata. But KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports she has bigger dreams.
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[piano music and singing start, continue under]
Ava Pine is rehearsing Lysistrata, Mark Adamo’s opera from 2005. She plays the title character who exhorts her fellow Greek women to boycott sex – to force the blustering Greek men to stop a pointless war. The opera’s actually a bawdy comedy. But here, Pine has to pivot emotionally. Lysistrata has just learned that as the leader of the cause, she’s won the battle but lost her lover.
Pine: “She has so many layers to her and so, it’s my job to make sure that the audience sees her heart. It’s a tremendous challenge.”
Pine will probably make it look easy. She brings a freshness, a joy to her performances that’s one of her great appeals onstage. That – and, of course, her voice, a rich, warm but lively, lyric soprano. A decade ago, Darren Woods, general director of Fort Worth Opera, first heard it at the First Presbyterian Church.
Woods: “I was singing in the choir, and she had a solo, this kid in TCU. And I was just thunderstruck. I immediately said, Do you wanna be an opera singer?”
She didn’t – not for another three or four years. She’d grown up singing country music in Fredericksburg with her father, a singer-songwriter. And she’d studied music at TCU. Opera wasn’t really in her plans. But, as she says, “The dream of being an opera singer kept chasing me, rather than me chasing that dream.”
At Dallas Opera, Pine has had almost a dozen roles in the past six years – most of them rather small before she starred in The Magic Flute. But the company did something else for her. It created an entire program for the beginning singer. Jonathan Pell is the Dallas Opera’s artistic director.
Pell: “We’d never had a fully-fledged young artists program. But we had a number of small roles coming up that I thought, rather than engaging a different singer for every production, I could engage one artist. And so she became the first of our resident young artists.”
[music from Marc Antony & Cleopatra starts under] With Fort Worth Opera, she made her acclaimed debut as the Angel in Angels in America in 2008 (below) and has sung a string of leading roles ever since, such as Cleopatra last season in Handel’s Julius Caesar. In fact, early on, she specialized in singing Baroque music, including appearing around the country in various productions of Messiah. She also sang on this Grammy nominated recording, Marc Antony and Cleopatra, by the Houston ensemble, Ars Lyrica.
Pine was 28 when she started in opera. That’s a late start. But even at 35, she seems and sounds younger onstage than she is. Pine has come to realize she’s probably never going to sing the big, romantic, tragic women of Verdi or Wagner. Her voice doesn’t have that dark power. But that’s fine with her.
Pine: “There is a limit of genetics. And that’s why I never will grow into a bigger voice because, you know, I’ve got what I’ve got [laughs]. But I would like to take on some of the more challenging bel canto heroines.”
She talking about roles like Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. And she’s talking about doing them in New York and Chicago. Darren Woods says it’s a mark of Pine’s maturity that she knows her strengths and limitations and has planned her career moves accordingly.
Woods: “She’s right now about ready to break into the Met, Chicago, those places. She needs to have some European credits before that’s probably gonna happen. So it’s a real strategic move to go to Europe and spend a good deal of time there the next year.”
Pine is lining up auditions in Europe. With the right breaks, she’ll have a calling card to some of the leading opera companies in America. So … is this Pine’s dream now? What does she see herself doing in 10 years’ time?
[music from Lysistrata continues under] Pine: “Just more of this! I mean what I’m doing is basically a dream come true. And I would just like to keep living the dream! [laughs].”
Photo credits: Out front, Ava Pine and Randall Scotting in Fort Worth Opera’s Julius Caesar. All Dallas Opera images: Karen Almond. All Fort Worth Opera images: Ellen Appel.