Chitchat with the Countess: Camille Zamora, soprano

When we last saw Rosina, Count Almaviva was whisking her away from the confines of Bartolo’s house. Now married to the Count, she resides in his palace and has a whole new set of obstacles and challenges that greet her! Soprano Camille Zamora (Pygmalion, 2014) returns to On Site Opera as the Countess in Marcos Portugal’s The Marriage of Figaro. We chatted with Camille about some of her own crazy operatic days and her take on the Countess in Mozart’s and Portugal’s Figaro. Don’t forget to check out the playlist to hear some of her favorite operatic moments!

Marc Molomot as Pygmalion, Justine Aronson as L’Amour, and Camille Zamora as La Statue in OSO’s Pygmalion.
Photo by Pavel Antonov.

• OSO: What is your first memory of opera?

CZ: I was 7 years old and, thanks to a terrific afterschool arts program called HITS, I got to sing in the children’s chorus of Houston Grand Opera’s La Bohème. Warbling “Vo’ la tromba, il cavallin!” in my little voice, and feeling that rush of sound from the orchestra and chorus and soloists, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. (When I made my “grownup” debut at HGO a few years ago in L’Incoronazione di Poppea, I got to puzzle my colleagues with the fact that I’d actually debuted there decades earlier!)

• OSO: Aria that most commonly gets stuck in your head? 

CZ: It’s whatever I’m working on at the moment, and right now, that’s Butterfly’s final scene; I’m doing the role for the first time next season, and trying to learn to sing it without crying every time. All those haunting pentatonic fragments are definitely stuck in my head these days so, yes, I am that crazy woman standing in line at the coffee shop with a glazed expression on my face because “Con onor muore” has taken over my mental soundtrack…

•OSO: Is the above aria your favorite or least favorite to sing?

CZ: Oh, my fave, definitely! My other favorite aria, and one that I am lucky enough to keep circling back to in my career, is the self-contained, through-composed, 50-minute “aria” for soprano that is La voix humaine. Both Voix and Butterfly are ostensibly tragedies, but there is something so triumphant and, ironically, life-affirming in the sheer magnitude of these two characters’ capacity for love.

•OSO: What’s your favorite Love duet?

CZ:  I can’t choose just one! I’ll narrow it down to a few: Poppea & Nero’s “Pur ti miro” (is anything in the world hotter than those harmonic seconds!?), Fiordiligi & Ferrando’s “Fra gli amplessi” (“no, no, no, no… well, yes”), Luisa Fernanda & Javier’s “Cállate, corazón” (if you don’t know Moreno-Torroba’s grand zarzuela Luisa Fernanda, check it out), and, of course, “O soave fanciulla” (such wit and humor in Rodolfo and Mimì’s first meeting, and what’s more seductive than that?)

•OSO: Diva/Divo?

CZ: Favorite Diva – Victoria de los Angeles, Favorite Divo – Fritz Wunderlich, Favorite Diva/Divo – Prince. I pray that they’re all resting in peace now, and finding time to meet up for celestial jam sessions…

• OSO: What’s your dream role?

CZ: Wotan

• OSO: Favorite cocktail?

CZ: Moscow mule. All that ginger and lime — it’s health food, really.

• OSO: Last book you read?

CZ: The House of Mirth. Wharton is such a freakishly astute observer of human behavior. A funny, devastating, perfect read.

•OSO: Is this your first time performing Marcos Portugal? 

CZThis is indeed my first time performing Maestro P’s music. And my first time hearing it. And my first time hearing of it. (Am I wrong to admit that? My music history classes at J’ard were great, but also very early in the morning… Did I doze through the Marcos Portugal lesson?)

• 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?

CZ: I’ve been lucky enough to sing Mozart’s Countess in several productions, and it is definitely one of my “desert island” operas. That musical moment that Mozart creates for his Countess when she forgives the Count — well, that moment, for me, is the perfect summation of how we, as humans, are so hopelessly lost, so fallen if you will, yet still so profoundly lovable and deserving of forgiveness. A perfect moment of spirit through the vehicle of art. I’m not sure it’s fair to compare any other score in the world to Mozart’s, but it is great fun to experience Portugal’s graceful, witty take on these characters. And wait until you hear his take on the Letter Duet — it’s amazing!

• OSO: Have you ever performed in a site-specific or immersive performance before? What excites you most about performing at 632 on Hudson?

CZ: I was fortunate enough to sing the role of La Statue in On Site’s 2014 production of Rameau’s Pygmalion set at Madame Tussaud’s (nothing like playing a living statue alongside a life-size wax Kim Kardashian!) Immersive performance is such a surprising, absorbing way to experience opera, for artists and audiences alike. I do want to say, though, that while OSO has certainly blazed this trail in many ways, the real “special sauce” in the OSO recipe is simply Eric Einhorn and Geoff McDonald’s dedication to process, to musical integrity, and to character, independent of any surprising setting. They both just really know you to pull great performances out of their artists. That, in addition to the site-specific setting, allows for an incredibly authentic, visceral performance experience.

• 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?

CZ: Onstage, my favorite crazy moment was when my beloved mutt Sophie got to make her operatic debut by my side in the role of Donna Elvira’s dog. The director Francisco Negrin wanted Elvira’s first entrance, “Ah, chi mi dice mai,” to be accompanied by a lunging dog seemingly on the hunt for the errant Giovanni. We accomplished this by placing a big pile of cold cuts (Sophie’s favorite) in the Stage Left wings, so that when we entered from Stage Right, Sophie was madly drooling and pulling to get to the cold cuts (which she was happily rewarded with post-aria). Needless to say, she stole the show. As for craziest offstage moments, I will take crazy to mean miraculous here, and say that working with Sing for Hope has been an astonishing journey and education. And in a crazy miracle category all its own is the experience of having my son. Nothing in life prepares you for joyful craziness of parenting!

• OSO: What is the greatest music-related advice you’ve ever been given?

CZ: Just breathe. Actually, that’s the greatest music-related and life-related advice!

• OSO: Besides On Site’s Figaro, what projects are coming up next for you?

CZ: This week, I’m at The Kennedy Center for performances and panels as part of The Kennedy Center Arts Summit, and next week, I’m heading to Florida Orchestra with the fabulous GRAMMY Award winning pops conductor Jeff Tyzik for a program of classic Tangos. Spanish vocal repertoire — from early Baroque zarzuela to nueva canción and beyond — is the music I grew up with, and continues to be my artistic North Star. Singing these tangos with Jeff’s fabulous orchestrations is a total joy. And lucky me, I get to fly home from channeling Argentina via Florida on Sunday, and head into rehearsals in Marcos Portugal’s Seville via the West Village the next morning. Can’t wait!

Check out the playlist below to hear some the music mentioned in Camille’s interview! 

In repertoire ranging from Mozart to tango, and in collaboration with artists ranging from Plácido Domingo to Sting, soprano Camille Zamora has been heralded for her “dignity and glowing sound” (The New York Times) in “luminous, transcendently lyrical” performances (Opera News) that “combine gentility and emotional fire” (Houston Chronicle). Highlights of Camille’s current season include performances at the US Capitol with Yo-Yo Ma; concerts of classic tangos with Fort Worth Symphony and Florida Orchestra; and five new operatic productions, including a tour de force double-bill of La Voix Humaine and I Pagliacci with Opera Columbus, and the principal soprano in Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner with American Symphony Orchestra, the live recording of which was named one of Opera News‘ Best Albums of 2015. Other highlights include Twin Spirits: Clara & Robert Schumann with Sting at Lincoln Center; Mozart heroines with Boston Lyric Opera, Anchorage Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, and Virginia Opera; La Voix Humaine with Auckland Opera, Opera Columbus, Phoenicia Festival, and Bay Chamber; performances with Orchestra of St. Luke’s, London Symphony Orchestra, and Guadalajara Symphony; and live recital broadcasts on NPR, BBC Radio, Deutsche Radio, and Sirius XM. Hailed by NBC Latino and Congressional Hispanic Caucus as a leading interpreter of Spanish repertoire, she has performed and recorded principal roles in La Verbena de la Paloma, La Revoltosa, La Tabernera del Puerto, and Luisa Fernanda. The Co-Founder of the arts non-profit Sing for Hope and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Camille is a graduate of The Juilliard School.

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