Her Mozart is lyrical, lush, secure and dynamic, with a forceful top range and fluid technique that makes her vocality perfect for a role such as Donna Anna, which has challenged sopranos over the past two centuries. Yet soprano Vanessa Goikoetxea showed her versatility when she won immense kudos for her 2019 Seattle Opera debut in a much gentler role, that of Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen.
A native of West Palm Beach, Florida, Spanish-American Goikoetxea’s international cultural background serves her well in her chosen field. Among her awards are both the Deborah Voigt Foundation Prize and the Marcello Giordani competition. She is equally at home on the concert stage. This month, Goikoetxea takes on the role of Donna Anna in Seattle Opera’s Don Giovanni.
Erica Miner: Congratulations on being such an integral part of Seattle Opera’s production of Don Giovanni, Vanessa! First of all, could you please tell us how to pronounce your last name?
Vanessa Goikoetxea: Thank you very much!! It is always a pleasure to be part of this beautiful opera house as Seattle Opera is, which has an exceptional administrative and technical team. I have been twice in Seattle performing Micaëla and Donna Anna and from the first day they made me feel like I was at home…My surname, good question!!! Love when people ask me how to pronounce it because I recognize that it looks a little complicated but once you hear it, it’s much easier! Goikoe is the simple part and TXEA sounds a little bit as “chair” You just have to get rid of the final R!!
EM: Okay, I’ll work on it! SO lists your hometown as Durango (Bizkaia), Spain, but other biographies say you were born in West Palm Beach, Florida. Could you please enlighten us?
VG: I was indeed born in the USA, at that sunny and dreamful state as Florida is! My father was a professional athlete and played Jai alai for many years between Florida and State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations and that’s the reason of my American citizenship! I really do remember those years of my childhood in a very special and happy way.
EM: What was your journey to the opera stage?
VG: It is a path that has been given to me as if it was giving me a gift every day. However, this is not to say that I didn't have to stop fighting every day. Being an artist (generally speaking) requires sacrifice, tenacity, hope, inner tranquility and ambition. Since I was little, I have loved music, I have always been “in tune” with it. And opera for me is the discipline that combines music with text in a perfect way by adding theater with an imposing orchestra. I discovered my classical voice and was encouraged to pursue that musical avenue. I attended Escuela Superior de Canto in Madrid I graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and then earned my Master of Music-Opera Degree in distinction from Hochschule für Musik und Theater in München. And as I have talked about gifts before, while in Munich I received an email from the Semperoper Dresden to audition for them. Could you imagine my face at that moment?? I answered to that email and it was the key of my journey to the opera stage. From then I didn’t stop singing, meeting so talented colleagues, conductors, directors… and the most important for me being happy on stage every single time. Despite the uncertainty that art carries intrinsically I have never had the feeling of emptiness nor desolation.
EM: Being an opera singer these days must be more of a challenge than ever. Despite the difficult circumstances filming Don Giovanni—even getting to Seattle was challenging from what I’ve read—SO chorusmaster John Keene declared, “Your personal fortitude is inspiring!” How would you describe your experience filming the opera, with Covid protocols et al?
VG: Being an opera singer is challenging by itself, but nowadays more than ever. I must admit that I love flying abroad but in this pandemic situation we need to extreme our precautions because it is mandatory to present negative PCRs and even rapid antigen tests before flying. If you test positive there is no way for flying! The hardest and most painful aspect this time is that I had to travel without my family. I always travel with my husband Aitor and son Mark to all parts of the world. But we decided that they would stay in Spain because of the Covid virus, and we made the best decision since I had to be quarantined for 3 weeks for different reasons. The feeling of being locked in when you are far away from your family was the biggest challenge though.
EM: I can only imagine. You have performed a number of Mozart heroines: Fiordiligi, Vitellia, Donna Anna. But you’ve also sung Woglinde in Wagner’s Ring, as well as Verdi roles. Do you feel a particular affinity for certain composers and roles?
VG: And one more Mozartian role is joining the roster…Donna Elvira. I will make my debut next year! But I have to confess that Vitellia has stolen my heart, I think that La Clemenza di Tito comes out a bit from the typical Mozart style where his music goes further. Being one of Mozart's final compositions makes a difference.
EM: Yes, having played Clemenza at the Met, I totally agree.
VG: I think that we all have particular affinity for certain composers and music styles. Personally, I love verismo, and Germanic romanticism along with Czech romanticism. These last two styles are perhaps the ones that touch deeply my soul. Composers like Verdi, Strauss, Mahler, Dvorak, Janacek…Operas as: Rusalka, Jenufa, Rosenkavalier, Capriccio, Trovatore, Norma, Der Freischütz, Pagliacci… I love them and vocally they are also the ones that best suit my type of voice making me sing freely and fully. It is simply wonderful to be carried away by the magic of their music.
EM: You also sang the role of Jenny in Weill’s Mahagonny. Do you enjoy taking on some of the more contemporary repertoire?
VG: And what an incredible experience it was! I made my debut in Korea National Opera as Jenny Hill. Mahagonny was elaborated as a full-length opera, composed between 1927 and 1929: “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”. It is universally considered one of Weill's masterpiece, and his music showed a skillful synthesis of American popular music, from opera to cabaret incorporating elements of jazz, with which I can say that although being Kurt Weill cataloged as contemporary, I had no problem internalizing his music at any time. I enjoyed this music from the first bar to the last! It is a masterpiece!
EM: Again, I wholeheartedly agree. What is coming up for you next?
VG: I’m singing the Seven early Songs by Alban Berg and Mozart’s Requiem in March under the baton of Maestro Gianluca Guerrero. I’ll make my debut as Benamor, in the Zarzuela Benamor at Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid. After this I’ll be traveling to London and I’ll make my debut at the Royal Opera House as Donna Anna. One of my favorite roles is coming true, I’ll sing Nedda in Spain and I’ll make my debut in France also this year. Challenging and beautiful projects!
EM: Indeed they are. And a wonderful opportunity for great variety in your operatic experiences. Thank you so much, Vanessa, for your insights!
VG: Thank you for this interview!
Photo credit: Ken Christensen
Erica can be reached at: [email protected]