We caught up virtually with soprano Esther Tonea who was one of the soloists in our March 2018 performances of MOZART REQUIEM. While Tonea shelters-in-place in San Francisco, we reminisce on meeting Rita Moreno and what she’s been up to since her California Symphony debut.
You made your California Symphony debut on our March 2018 Mozart Requiem program. Can you give us a few highlights of what you’ve been doing since then?
First of all, it’s so nice to touch base with everyone in and following the California Symphony! Performing with and getting to know the people of the California Symphony was a wonderful experience, and one for which I am very grateful!
Since the Mozart Requiem performances, I’ve graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with an MM Voice degree, finished my first-ever university residency, made my Burbank Philharmonic debut, performed another Mozart Requiem at Tennessee Wesleyan University, and performed the Haydn Nelson Mass with the Athens Choral Society. I’ve also been a finalist at the Chicago Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center Auditions and won and placed in several competitions across the United States.
I continued my studies as a Studio Artist with Wolf Trap Opera, where I performed with the National Orchestral Institute and National Symphony Orchestras, and at the Bay Area’s own Merola Opera Program, where I premiered the role of Diana in Jake Heggie’s newest opera If I Were You. (Has it really only been two years?!)
Now I’m an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera. I still have to pinch myself from time to time!
What do you remember about those performances?
I was in the middle of my graduate studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). I remember jumping at the opportunity when it was announced that SFCM students could audition to perform with the California Symphony.
I also remember coaching through the music with Maestro Cabrera during the audition. So many vocal auditions consist of a quick five-minute “showcase” of what you’re able to sing, which puts singers under so much pressure. I enjoyed the audition process because I felt that, even as a student, I was treated like a professional musician right off the bat. Thank you, Donato!
One of the challenges of being a musician is learning how to adapt to your performance hall or rehearsal space. Our first dress rehearsal for the performance was at SFCM, in Osher Salon. For those of you that don’t know, it’s our black box performance space. It was a very cozy first rehearsal! One of the great things about that space is the aerial view you get of the musicians when ascending down the stairs.
Our last dress rehearsal was, of course, at the beautiful Lesher Center for the Arts. I think the challenge of adapting to a space’s acoustics can yield a wonderful tool. As musicians, we have to think about a building’s architecture, the fabrics inside, and material of the walls, floors, and even seats, as they all affect how sound travels. Through awareness of and experience working with these components, we’re able to use our energy efficiently while bringing music to the ears of an audience. It’s a difficult tool to master, but I’m glad to have gotten this experience while still a student!
Last but not least, I got to meet Rita Moreno! That’s right – the original Anita from the first film adaptation of West Side Story! It turns out she’s good friends with Maestro Cabrera. Go figure! We had no idea she was even at the performance until California Symphony Director of Marketing and Patron Loyalty Theresa Madeira came backstage to tell the soloists she’d like to meet us. We were delightfully surprised!
What projects, collaborations and performances lie ahead for you?
Unfortunately I, like many other colleagues, have had performance cancellations. Some of those have included my Schwabacher Debut Recital with some of my wonderful Adler colleagues Tim Murray and Vic Starsky alongside pianist extraordinaire Warren Jones; Jennifer Higdon’s “Love Sweet” as part of a performance celebrating 100 years of the 19th Amendment at the University of Georgia, and Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass with Stanford University Orchestra and Chorus. The latter, at least, made it to the first dress rehearsal! It was wonderful to put together my first ever piece in Czech with this talented (and massive!) ensemble.
As far as upcoming performances, I’m still currently (knock on wood!) slated to make my San Francisco Opera debut as Giovanna in Verdi’s Ernani and cover Chrisann in Mason Bate’s The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs – among other exciting upcoming assignments at SF Opera I can’t share with the public quite yet!
It’s a hard time for everyone right now, and my hope is that we stay home and stay safe in fighting COVID-19. I pray that we all come out of this stronger, more prepared, and more eco-friendly than before.
Where are you now and how are you spending your time?
I am currently in San Francisco, and I am most definitely self-isolating! The Adler Fellows have been extremely fortunate in that we are continuing our language classes, lessons, coachings, meetings, and newly created musical social media projects online. It’s not the same as working in person, but it’s amazing how much progress we’re still able to make through Zoom! Everyone at SF Opera has been incredible during this entire process, and I feel so blessed to be part of this team.