We first meet Susanna on the morning of her wedding to Figaro. She’s young, in love, and getting ready for the most important day of her life! Unfortunately for Susanna, it’s not going to be smooth sailing, and she’s got a crazy day ahead of her! We talked with soprano Jeni Houser about some of her crazy musical memories and favorite operatic moments. Don’t forget to check out the playlist to hear some of the music Jeni mentions!
Photo of Jeni Houser by Michael Yeshion
JH: When I was about four, I watched a video we had of Don Giovanni (a Met production) over and over. My first live opera performance was a few years later: Elixir of Love at Indiana University, with live horses onstage.
• OSO: Aria that most commonly gets stuck in your head?
JH: Arias don’t get stuck in my head often, but you’d be shocked at how often “Just around the river bend” from Pocahantas is playing in my brain.
•OSO: Is the above aria your favorite or least favorite to sing?
JH: Only to myself.
•OSO: What’s your favorite Love duet?
JH: I’m partial to the beauty and silliness of the Frederic/Mabel duet from Pirates of Penzance.
JH: I have always loved Kiri Te Kanawa and Barbara Bonney.
• OSO: What’s your dream role?
JH: So many great ones. Someday I certainly hope to perform Lucia.
• OSO: Favorite cocktail?
JH: A Manhattan or a Moscow mule. Or a gin and tonic in the summertime!
• OSO: Last book you read?
JH: I’m currently reading Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. Highly recommended. Check out The New York Times review.
•OSO: Is this your first time performing Marcos Portugal?
JH: Yes. It has been a lot of fun to discover his melodic gems.
• OSO: Have you performed in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro? If so, what are the differences you note between the Mozart and Portugal Figaro?
JH: I haven’t ever sung any of it, although I did conduct the Act II Finale in undergrad (starting and finishing my conducting career with one of the most incredible, complex, and iconic portions of any opera). Luckily, the corresponding scene in the Portugal has some nice musical moments too.
• OSO: Have you ever performed in a site-specific or immersive performance before? What excites you most about performing at 632 on Hudson?
JH: This will be a first for me, and I’m very excited about it. 632 on Hudson is the perfect location to bring to life the interweaving stories of these characters; plus, the artsy and eclectic decor of the house really appeals to me.
• OSO: The actual title of Portugal’s opera is La pazza giornata, ovvero Il matrimonio di Figaro (The Crazy Day, or The Marriage of Figaro) — what’s the craziest day you’ve ever experienced? OR What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you in a performance?
JH: In a final dress rehearsal for Roméo et Juliette in grad school, the leading tenor, in the midst of dramatic death-throes, fell on my toe and broke it. So I did three performances with a broken big toe – ouch!
• OSO: What is the greatest music-related advice you’ve ever been given?
JH: You have to believe. In the character, in what you’re doing, in yourself, in music as a medium for interaction with the world. Some days are hard in this business, but I believe in the larger good of musical performance.
• OSO: Besides On Site’s Figaro, what projects are coming up next for you?
JH: Next up, I will be performing Johanna in Sweeney Todd with Mill City Summer Opera in Minneapolis, and then covering the Queen of the Night at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Check out the playlist below to hear some the music mentioned in Jeni’s interview!
Jeni Houser’s “extraordinary soprano” (The Capital Times) has been praised by Opera News as “commanding and duplicitous, yet also vulnerable. She has a bright future above the staff.” As a member of Minnesota Opera’s Resident Artist Program in 2015-2016, she performed Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, The Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, and Mrs. Grady in the world premiere of Paul Moravec’s The Shining. In 2016, Ms. Houser also returned to Madison Opera to perform Amy in Adamo’s Little Women and Olympia in Les contes d’Hoffmann. She has also recently appeared with the Glimmerglass Festival, Fort Worth Opera, Virginia Opera, and Opera Saratoga. In future seasons, Ms. Houser joins the roster of the Lyric Opera of Chicago for Die Zauberflöte and performs a leading role for her debut with Austin Opera. www.jenihouser.com