First, we want to congratulate you on a number of achievements such as being the Grand Finals winner of the 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and winning the First Prize of the Dallas Opera Guild Competition to name a few. How does it feel being recognized for your talent by some of the most prestigious organizations in the cultural world? Thank you so much! The first words that come to mind are overwhelming and incredible. The recognition and acknowledgement by such prestigious organizations mean that the artistry I have been working towards for so many years is starting to take shape.
I believe that nothing meaningful can be achieved alone and I am so grateful to all the people and organizations that have supported me along the way.
When did your love for singing started to take shape? Who was the biggest influence in your decision in wanting to become an opera singer?
I have known that I wanted to sing since I was six years old, when I sang in my hometown’s production of Annie. I was very fortunate to have a mother who always encouraged me to explore my creative side and helped me stay on the path. She arranged for me to begin voice lessons when I was seven years old. Over the years, I had two teachers who influenced my decision to pursue opera. Anna Gabrieli, my first influential teacher, started working with me when I was around 10 years old. She suggested that I attend The Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, a performing arts high school, where I met my second influential voice teacher, Angela Gooch.
How would you describe the process of learning, training, and becoming the “ingenious… square-shouldered beauty with a maple-flavored mezzo” as described by Opera News?
Haha! While I was certainly not trained in the maple-flavored technique, I was grateful that my performance in Cavalli’s La Calisto was well received.
Training a voice is a very long process that requires a great deal of training, time, and dedication. To make it even more difficult, every singer’s experience is completely unique to the singer and every audience member’s perception of that sound is different. Some singers learn scientifically, while others think in colors or flavors. One teacher even encouraged us to use “wine terms” when describing the voices we heard.
There really is no one size fits all model to the training process, but I have found that, ultimately, you must train until you learn to trust that your instrument knows what it is doing. If that instrument is “maple-flavored,” then all the better!
You sang the title role in Handel’s Agrippina, Varvara in Janacek’s Katya Kabanova, You have appeared as Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, Miss Todd in The Old and the Thief, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte among other roles in renowned operatic repertoire. What are your some of the most challenging and exciting roles you love singing for the audiences?
I love working through and performing characters that have strong and complex personalities that need discovery. Taking the audience through that journey is what interests me most as a performer. Agrippina is one of the most deeply complex and exciting roles I’ve performed thus far, especially given all of the history surrounding who she was. Performing the opera is very challenging because it demands that she be emotionless and conniving in her political machinations, yet still touching and very human in her private and personal moments. Without question, she has been one of my favorite roles.
How do you see the role of the opera scene in today’s cultural and entertainment offerings for people of all ages? I think that opera still plays a very relevant role in today’s world! At its core, the best operas tell stories of complex people in challenging situations. Whether the work is set in period with elaborate costumes or is a modern take with minimal set and no fancy costumes, the stories of opera are of real people who mirror our world. I think that is what can speak most to people in today’s cultural and entertainment offerings because they are connecting to these characters in real time and in person. Obviously, the mediums in which people are experiencing opera are changing (and that is good thing), but there is something very special and unique about experiencing a live performance. Because we aren’t electronically amplified, there is something uniquely human about experiencing a live performance and many of the nuances in the voice can be lost in the move to the big screen.
What is a regular day for Samantha Hankey and how many of these days does it take to prepare for a major performance such singing at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, for example? During a regular day, I will spend it working my upcoming projects. Sometimes that means I am translating, researching, and listening to one opera, only to have to switch to coachings and rehearsals on another. There is always a lot of work to do at a computer (or on a phone) such as responding to emails, updating social media, planning out to-do lists and calendars, and all of the other “business” tasks. I usually try to take care of those over my morning coffee, so that I can focus on the music during the day. I also like to set aside some time each day to go to the gym or take a walk, something physical to stay in shape between productions and take my mind off of opera for a few hours! Usually I’ll sing for 1 to 3 hours per day, sometimes more, depending on what is coming up, and if I have a recital I will try to meet with my pianist as often as possible during the week leading up to the concert. During production, schedules can be intense with up to 6 hours or more of staging rehearsals each day. Depending on the production and the role, this preparation can sometimes take months!
What are the most thrilling projects you were part of this summer? How about your schedule for the upcoming fall season? This summer, I performed with the Merola Opera Program in San Francisco and sang the title role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola. I am very excited for the opportunity as this has been a dream role for some time now. Rossini's music brings such sweetness, humor, and grace to her.
This fall will bring a number of exciting operatic debuts! In October, I will be appearing at Den Norske Opera in Oslo, Norway as Rosina in another Rossini masterpiece - Il barbiere di Siviglia. In December, I will return to Carnegie Hall in the US to sing my first Handel Messiah, as well as returning to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for a concert with Voices of Hope. In February, I will fly to Switzerland to perform Siebel in Gounod's Faust at Le Grand Théâtre de Genève.