Carol Vaness '74, Music
Sex, vIolence, murder, love.
These are just a few reasons professional soprano Carol Vaness thinks opera rocks. Having
sung dozens of roles since her 1984 debut with the Metropolitan Opera, the Upland-based
singer and Cal Poly Pomona alumna is perhaps best known for her signature role as Floria Tosca,
the lead character in Puccini’s opera “Tosca,” which she has performed all over the world.
“I’m pretty good at stabbing people,” laughs Vaness, who as the Napoleonic-era Tosca
takes revenge on the opera’s bad guy, Baron Scarpia, and then flings herself to her death from
Rome’s Castel St. Angelo.
But we’d expect nothing less from the thrill of a good, action-packed opera. “Tosca” was
Puccini’s first verismo -style composition filled with everyday people caught in the swirl of a
melodramatic, violent plot. “So, it’s full of guts and sex and violence and love and lust, and you
name it. It’s got everything in it,” say Vaness. “And everyone really likes how I kill Scarpia.”
Booked through 2008 in several major roles for a number of top-tier opera companies,
Vaness will be performing the major role of the Marschallin of Werdenberg in Richard Strauss’
“Der Rosenkavalier” this summer in Seattle, but she’s also making time to teach kids the fine art
of opera performance.
“Singers’ careers are getting shorter and shorter these days, and I’m trying to elongate
the careers of these kids by getting them started now,” she says, adding that it’s important
for them to learn from someone who’s in the thick of daily performances. “The business has
changed, and there’s a lot of MTV stuff going on, but there are many things that young singers
can benefit from through the study of opera.”
For Vaness, who earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Cal Poly Pomona in 1974,
one of the happy byproducts from her successful, non-stop, globe-trotting career is acquiring
working knowledge of several languages and fluency in others, from Italian to French with a good
amount of Russian in between.
The first time she sang a Russian opera, the libretto was handed to her in Cyrillic.
“I had to find a version in the Roman alphabet, and I had to learn it by rote, which is the worst
way to do it because you’re just learning a bunch of
sounds,” she says. “You really have to know what every
single word means, or you can’t portray the drama.”
Which is what she teaches her protégés.
“I urge young singers to pretend they are that
nationality. If you are singing in Italian, you
can’t portray love if you don’t know what
ti amo means. I want to bring that courage
out in young singers.”
This may ultimately lead them to
stage-bound careers filled with guts,
love, violence and murder — in the best
operatic tradition, of course.
||In a special program to benefit Cal Poly Pomona music majors, Carol Vaness presented a master class on June 28 in the Music Recital Hall. Five talented music students were given the opportunity to learn one-on-one from the celebrated soprano.