Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Tenor James Valenti talks about traveling, vocal health, Europe, and more. Watch James Valenti’s Masterclass
Opera singers are often on the road more than they are at home. How have you found to maintain some sense of grounding and stability when you are never in the same place for very long?
It’s important to have hobbies and interests outside of opera and the theatre. This art form is all encompassing and you get the opportunity to study other languages, history, and enrich yourself with other cultures. So I immerse myself. I visit local restaurants, try local cuisine, visit museums, go to local sporting events and make friends totally outside of my business.
I also think you have to be the kind of person that is truly comfortable being alone and cherishes “me time”. I do! I like making my own schedule and falling into a routine. Making a routine for yourself is very important.
Valenti singing with soprano Anna Netrebko
Let’s say you have a six-week contract away from home. What do you make sure to pack?
Depends on the weather. One of my favorite extended contracts was in 2015 when I made my debut at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. I had the privilege to spend nearly seven weeks in that gorgeous city. It reminds me of Paris, because of the architecture, but with tropical weather, palm trees and flowers everywhere. It was Nov, but it was summer down there. I packed many bathing suits, linen shirts and shorts. I also always pack a small high density foam roller for when I do yoga each morning as it helps me with back tension and really helps open up the lower back. In BA, I was singing Pinkerton so I had many free days when they were staging Act 2, to explore the city. I took Tango lessons, watched Polo matches, ate great steaks and did a lot of shopping. I made friends with locals who showed me all around. I also had plenty of time to lounge at the pool and read many books. It was a paid vacation!
Traveling can be hard on the voice. Dry air in planes and cars as well as changes in climate and altitude can create difficult singing circumstances. How do you prepare so that you arrive on day one of rehearsal in the best possible shape?
Hydration! Sleep and hydration. People often ask what I do to stay healthy and there are many other things like eating ginger, black currant glycerin lozenges, exercise, but I feel that 95% of it is simply staying well hydrated and getting quality sleep. So just drink a lot of water on the flight and keep it clear coming out. Try to sleep on the plane. But I am quite tall and honestly I NEVER sleep well on planes. I simply can’t get comfortable, even on first class flights. Sleep aids like Ambien and various over the counter P.M. drugs can help combat jet lag for the first few days and reset your circadian rhythm, but ultimately they are sedatives and not true natural sleep.Very different brain wave patterns than natural sleep and not as restorative.
Valenti as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly.
You have frequently performed in Europe. What differences do you find between the rehearsal process in Europe versus in the United States?
Most theatres in Europe operate in the stagione repertoire system. Meaning they plug you into a production they have been doing for decades. I call it, “opera just add water”. You typically only get a few days of rehearsal and the direction is “on this line, stand here, then stand here”. Not a lot of stimulating artistic creativity. You must find it for yourself. Often you don’t get an orchestra rehearsal or even time on stage until the actual performance!! It is trial by fire! Unless it is a new production or a remount of something not done for many years (which also happens more often now), you don’t get much rehearsal at all. So you must know your role well and have it in your body. In the USA when working at regional theatres you often get a few weeks of rehearsal and time to really create something and build relationships with your colleagues.
If you had the ability to talk to your 25-year-old self, what advice would you give?
Don’t be afraid to say no. Be patient and save more of your money.
What do you believe is the most often overlooked skill a singer should have?
The ability to adapt and accept criticism. You must have belief in yourself, your abilities and very thick skin. As singers, we have voice teachers, coaches, conductors and managers constantly telling us what we are doing poorly. You must be able to take this, process it and hear it without letting it rattle you or shake your confidence. Without taking it as an attack or take personally. Easy to impart, difficult to apply.
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