Opera singer returns to her musical roots to guest star with La Jolla Country Day’s Madrigals
By Kirby Brooks
Chorus class was mandatory when Stephanie Weiss was in fifth grade at La Jolla Country Day School, but the opera singer didn’t just follow the motions, she “fell in love with the chorus.”
Despite singing throughout her years at LJCD School, where she also played piano and flute as a member of the class of 1992, when Weiss crossed the country to study at Tufts University and the New England Conservatory, she didn’t commit to singing. Weiss kept her options open by studying biology as a voice major.
She eventually embraced her vocal abilities and is now a soprano with the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Next month, Weiss will perform with the San Diego Opera, but before then, the former LJCD Madrigal joined the current Madrigals for a special performance. The day before their March 11 concert in the school’s Four Flowers Theater, Weiss rehearsed “Habanera” from the opera “Carmen” by Georges Bizet with current members of the choir.
Weiss was right at home at Four Flowers despite having been there only once — for its opening. Retired choral director Keith Heldman arrived to welcome her back along with current choral director Carrie Rose.
Heldman and Rose coached the Madrigals as they sang the famous aria with Weiss who, when not showcasing her signature pipes, joked with the students about pronunciation and translation of the song. Encouraging them to bring out the theatrics of “Habanera,” Weiss elicited peels of laughter when she exclaimed, “It’s opera! Think of the big, loud fat people that you associate with the opera!”
The importance of music in schools is not lost on Weiss, who served as a teacher in New York City before beginning her career as an opera singer. She said many singers begin their careers later now, and a background in music is critical.
“Playing the piano taught me how to learn roles, which is important in opera,” Weiss said. “Learning different languages is also important.”
After her performance with the Madrigals, Weiss will make her San Diego Opera debut as Marianne in “Der Rosenkavalier,” Richard Strauss’s comedy of love and loss, on Sunday, April 3. The performance comes just weeks after the 100th anniversary of the opera’s world premiere in Dresden in 1911.
San Diego Opera last performed “Der Rosenkavalier” in 1992 with German with English translations above the stage. This year’s four performances will be 2 p.m. April 3; 7 p.m. April 6 and 12; and 6 p.m. April 9 at the Civic Theatre, Third Avenue and B Street in downtown San Diego.
Weiss’s return to San Diego is a happy coincidence. She said Ian Campbell, artistic director of San Diego Opera, caught her performing in Berlin and didn’t know she was from San Diego. Three years later, she is making her debut here, and is excited to call San Diego home again during her six-week stay.
Weiss has called Berlin home for the past seven years. Her roles with Deutsche Oper Berlin are varied and include stints as Frasquita in “Carmen,” Musetta in “La Bohème,” The First Lady and The Second Lady in “The Magic Flute,” The Landlady in “Der Traumgorge,” The Overseer in “Elektra,” The Second Servant in “Die Ägyptische Helena,” Grimgerde in “Die Walküre,” and many more.
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