Q&A: Sandra Piques Eddy

American mezzo soprano Sandra Piques Eddy will be singing the part of Rosina in NZ Opera’s 2019 season of The Barber of Seville. She tells What’s Hot New Zealand how she got the opera bug, what she does to relax, and how much she is looking forward to performing for a New Zealand audience.

You have an extensive career in the world of opera. If there was one performance that has been your favourite, what was it and why? It would be difficult to choose only one. My favourite moments on stage and in rehearsals are the moments that feel completely connected, acting and singing-wise. I’m most excited about the operas where the music and drama are equally matched. Optimal performances feel prepared and spontaneous at the same time. A few years ago, I was in a production of The Coronation of Poppea at Opera North in England and that was riveting, charming, sexy, and intense. This was an extraordinary team and production. It was a fulfilling collaboration – I learned so much and I still miss everyone. Touring Japan (in 2017 and 2019) as Carmen with the Seiji Ozawa Music Academy is also a career highlight for me and holds a very special place in my heart. This was an exquisite production both visually and musically. I’m in awe of Maestro Ozawa’s tireless enthusiasm towards music and teaching and his playful and peaceful outlook on life.

What piqued your interest in a career in opera? I was a full-time elementary and middle school general music and chorus teacher for three years before I pursued my master’s degree in vocal performance from Boston University. I caught the opera bug around then, when I made the voice switch from soprano to mezzo soprano. I was encouraged by teachers, directors and coaches, friends and family. After I was a Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions semi-finalist and landed Young Artist contracts at Glimmerglass Opera, my confidence started to grow and I became more and more inspired by the incredible artists I had the honour to listen to and learn from on a daily basis. It was such an exciting time, sort of an “on the job training” learning experience. It definitely lit a fire in me. I like to encourage young singers by telling them that sometimes it just takes one or two people giving you a shot and believing in you, even if you don’t quite see what they see yet. Sometimes that little boost can really kickstart your confidence and motivation into high gear and once you believe in yourself – well, that’s when the real magic happens! I’ve been performing now for 20 years and I still feel as thankful as ever to have these incredible opportunities to make music and tell a story. As Luciano Pavarotti said, “I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent.”

The Barber of Seville sees you making your New Zealand debut. Do you think you’ll do a bit of sightseeing? Absolutely! No doubt. My nine-year-old daughter is joining me here once school is finished and we are both giddy! Any suggestions? We are planning some day trips and also hope to just wander around and have as many adventures as possible. This will be a very special time for the two of us.

What are your pre- and post-performance rituals? I try to get enough rest, especially in this very physical show. I drink a ton of water, eat a late lunch, eat pineapple in the dressing room, review text and choreography (in some cases) and have an easy slow vocal warm-up. After the show it’s sometimes a challenge to wind down and get to sleep right away. So I will use the time difference to my advantage and FaceTime my family and friends at home.

You’ve had a busy operatic season, including performances with the Metropolitan Opera, Florentine Opera and Japan’s Hyogo Performing Arts Centre. Is there any downtime for you? I’ve been able to get a good balance of work and downtime in the last two years. I find it so important to make time to recharge and reconnect with loved ones. I have about four weeks off after this engagement and then on to the next engagement.

What’s your go-to method to relax and unwind? Lately on free nights off, it’s yoga pants, a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc on the comfy couch and either catching up with friends and family (FaceTime or Messenger) and bingeing on shows like Netflix’s Dead to Me. On mornings off, I usually grab a takeaway coffee and just walk around and take an embarrassing amount of Instagram pictures of beautiful places, pretty flowers, unexpected findings, impressive latte art, silly signs etc.

What can audiences expect from The Barber of Seville performance?The audiences are in for a big treat. It’s such a fun show. Our director, Lindy Hume, is phenomenal! I love how she takes cues from the music as well as the text. I also love her ability to flesh out the characters and the relationships between them. Yes it’s a comedy but it’s also about a young couple falling in love. It’s an operatic romcom. I appreciate that we are playing Rosina as a resilient woman who refuses to be a victim or “damsel in distress”. Our cast is top notch. Impressive voices, fantastic singing, hilarious acting, committed performers! I consider The Barber of Seville to be an ensemble opera with showcase moments for each member. The large chorus finales are hysterical and energised. The Act Two finale will leave the audience wanting more (no spoilers here though). And of course, there is a reason why this opera has been popular for over 200 years and it’s the music! Rossini certainly knew how to infuse happiness into his music. We are led by our extraordinary conductor, Wyn Davies. I believe the audience will sense Maestro’s joy and effervescent spirit as he breathes with the singers and leads the ensemble, chorus and orchestra. New Zealand Opera has certainly assembled a wonderful team and I’m truly grateful to be making my debut here with such a beautiful group of artists and human beings. There’s so much to love about this production. Please come to our show and see/hear for yourself!

What is your favourite opera? Too many to name and it all depends on my mood. Ask again tomorrow and there will be another list. Today, it’s Barber all the way!

NZ Opera: The Barber of Seville, 2019

June 29, July 2/4/6  – The Opera House, Wellington
August 1/3/5/7 2019 – Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch