Talking with singers: Tamara GuraInterview
American mezzo-soprano Tamara Gura just finished a run of Adalgisa in Norma at the Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, the most recent in a string of coveted role debuts including Nicklausse (Les contes d’Hoffmann) in Salzburg, Isabella (L’italiana in Algeri) in Weimar, and Carmen in Essen, Wiesbaden, and Darmstadt.
Gura is currently in Bangkok, singing in Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time with Siam Opera. We spoke with her about loving her nomadic lifestyle, and the in-hindsight advice she’d give her younger self.
Why do you sing professionally?
I left home at an early age in pursuit of intense musical and theatrical training at a boarding high school for artists. I had dancers, musicians, actors, set designers, visual artists as roommates and hallmates already at the age of 16.
I felt very inspired by all of these young creative artists and how dedicated they were already to mastering their craft. For me, opera is the perfect combination of many art forms. It gives me the chance to deeply explore a character onstage, to express myself through dance (particularly for roles like Carmen) and to learn to communicate at the highest level through the powerful instrument that is the human voice.
With the voice as my instrument, I feel it changes with me as I grow. With time and exploration, more of the spectrum of possibilities are revealed. I am able to give an expression through my voice that is spontaneous to the circumstances of the moment.
What do you know now about the singing career that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
As advice to myself 10 years ago, I would say this:
Trust your uniqueness and what you have to say. Make it your goal to find out what that is and how you can share it with the world. Take your time so that you enjoy each step of the process.
Transport the audience to a place where your passion lights a fire in them. They will see a part of themselves if you dare to offer an authentic portrayal. Don’t be fearful of the unknown - that’s where the best surprises often live!
How does it feel to debut a role that has such a history of its own, like Carmen, Adalgisa, or Isabella?
It is a privilege to debut new roles with directors who entrust me to help them bring their vision to life. I am fascinated by the process of embodying a role and approaching it from the inside. I love directors who challenge me and who encourage me to risk by stepping into the uncharted waters. They find something particular inside of you and together you explore it.
Roles bring with them great traditions and expectations. You can inform yourself by reading, watching, and listening to as much of what has already been brought to the stage, but in the end, you must be open to find what speaks to you, and learn not to always know the answer but to ask the right questions.
I have been lucky enough to debut in just this past year such diverse roles as Carmen, Isabella (L’italiana in Algeri), Adalgisa (Norma), and Nicklausse (Les contes d’Hoffmann). You can bring something of yourself to each role - perhaps even discovering a new facet of your sensibility that you weren’t acquainted with before.
How do you stay healthy and sane while traveling for work?
This is relatively easy for me, personally. I have always loved travelling! So, it is an added bonus to get to experience all of the different countries and cultures while performing. I have a great passion for foreign languages and love experiencing how my personality changes with each language. I love immersing myself fully and savouring what each city and country has to offer - not only onstage but offstage as well - be it salsa dancing in Spain or riding a tuk tuk in Bangkok, mountain climbing in Colorado, or midnight walks through Ancient Rome.
If you didn’t sing for a living, what would you do instead?
I would be a film actress or a professional dancer…And quite possibly a surfer - you can’t keep me away from the beach.