Janice Edwards

Janice Edwards

Boston Singers' Resource News Bulletin, January 15 , 2003

It is my pleasure to introduce to you the
lovely and talented Ms. Janice Edwards, dramatic mezzo soprano.
An international performer and voice teacher who now resides
in New Hampshire, Janice shares her story with us. Welcome
to New England, Janice Edwards!

Mezzo-Soprano Janice Edwards has sung with many leading international orchestras and opera companies including Arizona Opera, Karlsbad Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the National Theatre of Prague, Dvorák Summer Music Festival, Collegiate Chorale and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Equally at home in opera, oratorio and recital, Ms. Edwards' repertoire encompasses the principal Wagner and Verdi heroines as well as major oratorios including MESSIAH, VERDI'S REQUIEM, ROSSINI'S STABAT MATER and various works of Bach including passions, masses and cantatas. Ms. Edwards has performed numerous recitals in the U.S.,Denmark and the Czech Republic, with repertoire ranging from standard to contemporary.

During her six years in Europe, Ms. Edwards appeared with, among others, the Janácek Philharmonic (BEETHOVEN'S NINTH SYMPHONY), the Kocice Philharmonic (MAHLER'S KINDERTOTEN LIEDER) and the Prague Radio Orchestra (MAHLER'S DAS LIED VON DER ERDE).

In 1993, Ms. Edwards was cast as "Fricka" in DIE WALKURE in Arizona Opera's DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN, the first-ever Ring to be presented in the American Southwest. She returned to Arizona for the RHEINGOLD "Fricka" in January, 1996, and subsequently performed two full Ring cycles in Flagstaff in 1996 and 1998. Opernwelt (August 1996) described her "Fricka" as "an excellent combination of vocal skill and dramatic forcefulness." The Tucson Citizen found her "Fricka" "a godly queen to pay attention to. With both the full heroic voice to shake the balcony and the dramatic focus to undo Wotan's conniving, she cut a figure of uncompromising authority."

In 1996, Ms. Edwards moved to Copenhagen where she appeared with various groups including the Carl Nielsen Quartet and the Danish Sinfonietta. She also premiered a song cycle by the distinguished Danish composer Erik Norby.

Since returning to the U.S. in 1999, Ms. Edwards has appeared with the New Hampshire Music Festival (BEETHOVEN'S NINTH SYMPHONY), Manchester Choral Society (MESSIAH AND BACH MAGNIFICAT), Great Waters Music Festival (ELIJAH) and the Granite State Opera ("The Mother" in AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS and PERIL AND PANDEMONIUM- A Wild Night at the Opera).

Upcoming Engagements include:
BEETHOVEN'S NINTH SYMPHONY, Keene Chamber Orchestra (Feb. 03)
A CELEBRATION OF AMERICAN OPERA, Granite State Opera (March 03)
FACULTY RECITAL, Plymouth State College (April 03)

BSR: So, where did you grow up? How did your love of singing start?

JE: I was born in North Carolina and moved to Georgia when I was 11, where I lived till I went to graduate school. I'll never forget what my dad said, when I was about 6, when I started begging for a piano: "If I have to tell you to practice, I'm going to sell the piano and buy your sister a pony." Boy, what a threat! Well, as it turned out, Dad was always telling me to stop! AND, my sister got her pony anyway.

But, the biggest influence of my early musical life was my Aunt Jeanette ("Sis") and Uncle Ross. Sis and Ross were semi-professional singers who were at the center of what classical singing there was in the 30s, 40s and 50s in Nashville, Tennessee. They started a chamber choir, sang as paid soloists in various local churches, and even imported a teacher from Atlanta who drove up to Nashville once a month to give lessons to them and their friends. They were the most glamorous people I had ever seen, and I lived for their visits to Georgia or long summer vacations in Nashville.

When I was about 12, they drove to Georgia to take me to my first opera, TOSCA. This was when the Met still toured. The cast was, if I remember correctly, Milanov, Tucker and London. To this day I remember the details of that night - dressing up, driving down to Atlanta, dashing up the stairs of the Fox Theatre and hearing the orchestra warm up,and just as we were seated, the thrilling opening chordsof Act I. I was hooked from that moment on. Afterwards, Sis, Ross and I, and their Atlanta friends, Including their voice teacher Alec Simpson, all went to dinner andI was mute with emotion. Seriously, I was so overcome that I had a huge lump in my throat and knew that if I tried to speak, I would burst into tears and make a fool of myself. So I just kept quiet and listened to the grown-ups discuss the evening and performances coming up for the rest of the week. To this day, TOSCA is my favorite opera

For the next few years, Sis and Ross would come every May to take me to an opera or two. In fact, the next year it was more Puccini magic, with Nilsson, Corelli and Moffo in TURANDOT.

BSR: What a GREAT story and a lovely memory to share! Where did you study music formally?

JE: Well, as already mentioned, I got my first piano at about age 6 and soon became a student of the big "poo-bah" teacher in town, Mrs. Feldmann, who was also the head of the piano faculty at Brenau College. I sang in church and school choirs as a child and always felt so free when I sang, but studying and playing piano was the "done thing" for a well brought up young southern lady, so I stuck with it seriously through my first semester of grad. school. My senior recital was a combo of voice and piano.

I got a Music Ed. Degree from Brenau and then went to Peabody College In Nashville for a Masters in Music Ed. I then taught elementary music for 2 years. However, Nashville did not have much to offer in the way of classical music. I heard about Eileen Farrell being on the voice faculty of Indiana University, and, since I had some of her records and had always loved her singing, I wrote her a letter and asked if she would take me on as a student. I ended up with a teaching assistantship at IU and studied with her for two years in the late 70s - she was a big influence on me and I learned a lot about being a singer, though not so much about vocal technique. However, it was a kick being in her very exclusive studio.

After 2 years at IU, I was ready to move on. I didn't finish my degree (I was working towards an MM in vocal performance), but it was certainly a learning experience.

In 1978 I moved to New York and studied and coached with Daniel Ragone (who is my main coach to this day), Elizabeth Cole, Jonathan Morris, Janet Bookspan, Benton Hess.

BSR: Have you always had a dramatic voice?

JE: Interesting question. I would have to say "yes." For awhile, during my early years of training, my voice and tastes tended towards the lyric mezzo rep., but once I got a taste of Wagner, there was no turning back. In 1993 (wow - it was exactly 10 years ago this month), I sang the WALKURE "Fricka" with Arizona Opera. Two years later they hired me for the RHEINGOLD "Fricka", and in 1996 and 1998 I sang two complete cycles. It was a wonderful experience and I feel quite privileged to have had the opportunity to participate in a RING cycle. I would say that was one of the highlights of my career. The other was singing DAS LIED VON DER ERDE with the Prague Radio Orchestra in 1998.

BSR: "Dramatic mezzo" seems to be a rare thing around these parts. Am I correct?

JE: Yes, as you know, Boston has the reputation of being more of an "early music" town, even though sometimes BLO and the Boston Academy of Music do "heavier" things. It has been my experience that there aren't that many companies in this area that hire big voices.

BSR: Do you have any favorite roles or oratorios you like to sing?

JE: Oooooh yes! VERDI REQUIEM, MISSA SOLEMNIS, DAS LIED VON DER ERDE, KINDERTOTENLIEDER, "Fricka", "Eboli", "Carmen", "Amneris", "Mother (AMAHL)" are some favorites I have sung. I've also studied "Augusta" (BABY DOE), "Brangaene", "Waltraute", DES KNABEN WUNDERHORN but have not had the opportunity to perform them.

BSR: I thought of you when I sang the VERDI REQUIEM with the BSO this past fall. The soprano, Barbara Frittoli, was just so wonderful and amazing; I spent the whole time wishing I was her. But, the mezzo was having a tough time with her part; I was thinking "Janice should be doing this!"

JE: I just LOVE it when professional singers still get inspired by good singing and good music making. It is much too rare. As we get older, we really have to fight becoming jaded and cynical...in fact, I know a lot of YOUNG musicians and singers who are jaded and cynical. But even at my advanced age, singing is still a miracle to me...the human voice is the most amazing instrument there is, and I am constantly awed by its power and possibilities. Thanks for sharing this.

Thanks, also, for projecting me, at least in your thoughts, into the mezzo role. This is a piece I adore. And yes, the "Lux aeterna" is a killer for the mezzo. Note for note, the mezzo has the largest solo part...you've got the extremely dramatic aria, then the emotional "Lacrymosa," the transparent "Agnus Dei" with the soprano, plus a lot of other quartet work...THEN, you have to pull back for the "Lux aeterna" RIGHT in the middle of your passaggio...You have to be extremely careful with that section, and if you are not cautious all along, you can crash and burn in that movement. I believe that's called "experience."

BSR: Do you still study?

JE: I have been working regularly with Joy McIntyre at BU...always helps to have a new set of ears, and she is really terrific (I met her at the New England NATS conference in the summer of 2001). She has helped me with those little pesky technical details that always seem to crop up. I was very sad when she retired and left Boston last summer! However, we are still in touch and she is planning to come to NH to hear my faculty recital at Plymouth this April, which she helped me prepare before she left town.

BSR: Please, do tell us about your April recital.

JE: I became interested in the music of fin de siecle Vienna a few years ago when I purchased a CD containing
music of Korngold, in particular his Opus 14, LIEDER DES ABSCHIEDS. The music just blew me away, and since German repertoire really suits my voice, I started researching other composers of this period. So at last, I am going to do this really esoteric program I have been hoping to do for about six years, with music of Korngold (Opus 14, Opus 22 and a couple of other of his songs), Zemlinsky (Opus 5), Schreker and, just so I don't scare away the audience, some Mahler (Rückert Lieder) and some Strauss!

BSR: Sounds wonderful! How did you end up in New Hampshire?

JE: Well, my husband took a job here in 1999, as executive director of the NH Symphony. Prior to that we lived in Prague for 3 years, and then in Copenhagen, where Tomas had had his first arts admin. job (Copenhagen Philharmonic).

BSR: What is the music performance scene like in New Hampshire? Who are the leading organizations/people?

JE: One of the things I'm not thrilled about in NH is the lack of opportunities to do really dramatic works. However, I have tapped into what is here, and feel I have done pretty well in 3 years. I have another Beethoven 9th coming up with the Keene Chamber Orchestra in February (I seem to be on a "Messiah/Beethoven 9th" treadmill!)

Phil Lauriat, Artistic Director of Granite State Opera, is doing a lot to promote opera in southern New Hampshire. He and his wife Lilliane work very hard on fund raising and marketing, and I have very much enjoyed my association with them. Lisa Wolff, director of the Manchester Choral Society, is also a good contact and she has built this into a very fine community chorus. NH Symphony does very little in the way of oratorio or even hiring singers, unfortunately

BSR: But, you still have a lot of ties to Prague and New York, also. In fact, you performed in a concert in Prague this past summer, right?

JE: Yes, I sang in a concert at Nelahozeves Castle, which is just across the road from Dvorak's birth place. I have sung there before...it's really beautiful. And, I got a call yesterday, in fact, from a colleague in Prague who runs the Dvorak Summer Music Festival, asking if I would be available to sing 4 concerts of American music next July at various venues in and around Prague!

When I lived in Prague (1993-96) I had a lot of work, but no opera...lots of concerts with orchestra (Das Lied von der Erde, Kindertotenlieder, numerous oratorios, and gobs of recitals with piano). I miss the musical atmosphere of the city, as well as my friends, so I look forward to going back to sing, occasionally.

I go down to NYC about once a month for a long weekend to audition or just to stay in touch with my friends, coaches, and the fabulous cultural life of New York. I always try to take in something at the Met or another big venue.

BSR: Do you feel there any particular things that have contributed to your singing success (vocal health, maintaining contacts, PR, etc.) "Tricks of the trade," so to speak?

JE: In order to get work anywhere, you have to just keep after people - getting your name and resume out there, following up, etc. I am hoping to get a website up in the next few months - not because I think it will get me jobs - but because I feel it is important to maintain a presence and make it easy for various conductors, coaches, colleagues to take a look at my resume. This is a big, expensive project, but I'm determined to get it up before the fall! It will have photos, my bio, review excerpts and sound clips.I have had management in the past, but nothing terribly exciting. All the agents I had still had to be nudged and prodded and reminded to call this or that person this was during my New York years, 1978-93).

BSR: And you are very dedicated to teaching as well as singing?

JE: Yes, at this stage of my musical life, I find that I get almost as much a kick out of teaching as I do performing. Also, the prospects for a teaching career are greater at this point. I am in my second year as an adjunct at Plymouth State College, and enjoy it very much. I have the most supportive and talented colleagues, and some very talented students.

However, I am aggressively seeking a fulltime academic teaching position and currently, have 5 applications out there. I also have a very active private studio in Manchester, NH, with 15 weekly students. They range in age from 15 to late 50s. While I enjoy working with singers of all ages, I am especially enjoying my 3 adult female students who are in their 30s or 40s and have decided that it's time to do something for themselves now that their kids are older. Some women take up hobbies or fitness - these women (who all have good voices) want to sing and are so enthusiastic, intelligent and thrilled to be doing something like this. It's a gratifying journey to take with them.

BSR: Thank you so much for sharing YOUR journey with us. Cheers to you - a rare singing gem in New Hampshire!

For more information about Janice Edwards or to contact her,
please email dkmezzo@hotmail.com or call 603/268-0992