Pictured Above: Soprano Angle Blue. Photo Credit: Dario Acosta.

With Joy in Her Heart

By: Lori Goldstein

Arts News Now Features Writer, Lori Goldstein finds the joy within Opera Singer Angel Blue through her in-depth, personal interview.

I had the honor to have a conversation with soprano Angel Blue on the day she returned from a trip to Paris with her husband, Adam Mielke.  They had just picked up the couples’ two dogs and she was quite happy to be home.  What struck me immediately was how easy it was to talk to Angel.  When I watched a recent interview (via Youtube) with the renowned opera expert, Fred Plotkin–an event sponsored by Casa Italiana at NYU–he commented on her warm and generous spirit. Maestro Milanov of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, has expressed a similar impression.  That aspect of Angel Blue’s personality imbues all the roles she sings, and the way she speaks to everyone.  Angel made me feel at ease even though, as I told her, I felt I was speaking to opera royalty.

If you can believe it, Angel knew she wanted to be an opera singer when she was four years old, when her parents took her to see Turandot.  When she was eight years old, Angel and her older sister Heather would hold hands and “become Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman,” as they watched those two opera stars sing “He’s Got the World in His Hands” during the 1990 PBS special broadcast from Carnegie Hall, The Magic of Spirituals.

Angel’s first vocal teacher was her father, Sylvester Blue, a preacher and a classically trained gospel singer who studied at the Cleveland Conservatory, what is now the Cleveland Institute of Music. Growing up in California, Angel received her first opera training at the Los Angeles County High School of the Performing Arts, and she earned her Master’s of Music degree in opera performance at UCLA.

 

During our Zoom conversation, Angel gestured toward her massive record collection, telling me she especially loves such “older singers” as Lily Pons, Renata Tebaldi, and Maria Callas. She recalls that from childhood on, “I was listening to opera all of the time. My dad would clean up the kitchen, and as he was doing that, I’d hear [Angel imitates her father singing an aria] and she would ask, ‘Who’s that dad?’ My mom liked it too, she was a pianist and a violinist, so music was constantly in the house.”

“My father loved opera so much. I saw him have so much joy and excitement about singing, I don’t know that there was anything else that I was going to do with my life because I was so enamored of watching him, and how it excited it made him. My dad had a beautiful face, and his whole face would just light up, this grin from ear to ear, whenever he listened to opera.”

 

“What I loved about how my dad listened and heard music, especially classical music, he was never critical of it. I find that helps me today, because I’m not often critical of my colleagues and people say, ‘Oh, you say everything is beautiful and you say everything is good, everything is wonderful.’ Well, I’m looking for that, I’m looking for something wonderful, I’m not looking for something [bad]. I get that from him.”

When Angel is looking for “something wonderful,” Verdi and Puccini are always there for her.  “When I sang with the Princeton Symphony last year, it was a complete surprise. [She had been asked to appear when soprano Pretty Yende had to cancel due to a medical issue.] They had programmed the overture to La forza del destino, that’s one of my favorite overtures, and I’ve been listening to that since I was probably about ten years old. So I had the opportunity to listen to them play that, and I thought, Wow, if I had just been ready to sing ‘Pace, pace mio Dio,’ [from La forza del destino], then we could have had the overture and then the ‘Pace,’ but instead we did the overture and then “É strano! – Ah, forsè lui -Sempre libera,’ which was also fine.”

 

“But I was so inspired by how the orchestra played the overture, that when I was asked to program something [for the 2024 opening gala], I asked if we could program ‘Pace, pace mio Dio’ because Verdi is one of my favorite composers, and it definitely is a challenge to sing it. Of course, I was happy that Maestro Milanov was gracious enough to accept it, and I love the way the orchestra plays Verdi.  The attention to detail that they have in such a piece is wonderful and is incredibly helpful to the singer.”

Pictured Above: Angel Blue. Photo Credit: Dario Acosta.

“The Puccini, I feel like I can’t get away from Puccini,” says Angel, and we both laugh. In April, she starred as Magda in Puccini’s La Rondine and as Liù in Turandot, both at the Metropolitan. “He’s everywhere I go and I love that. I’m very thankful for that, but when I get to have both of these great composers together, Verdi and Puccini, I’m happiest.” At the Festival gala, Angel will sing “Chi il bel sogno” from La Rondine and “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca. “As I said, I feel like I can’t get away from Puccini, which is a very good thing. I hope that I always have this problem!”

 

Angel also asked to program two zarzuelas–arias in the Spanish dramatic-genre–that will likely be new to the Princeton audience, unless they’ve listened to recordings by Victoria de los Ángeles and Monserrat Caballé, or Ana María Martínez, who currently sings with the Houston Grand Opera. She explained to me that zarzuela grew out of Spain’s long tradition of lyric theater, and is akin to American musical theater, Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas, French opéra comique, and Italian opera buffa.

“For me, zarzuela is very important, because it really was [at] the beginning of my professional opera career when I learned these pieces— Ruperto Chapi’s ‘Las Carceleras’ and Pablo Luna’s ‘De Espana a Veñgo.’ I was studying in Spain, and it was wonderful because Maestro Placido Domingo was, and I still consider him today to be, my mentor.  He’s always helped me in the right direction when it comes to singing.  He would never say to me, ‘Oh, you should sing this’ when the answer was really no. And I greatly appreciate him for that.  He introduced me to zarzuela, and I had to learn, I believe it was, two arias for the competition Operalia, his competition, the world opera competition.  And I had no idea what to sing.”

 

“It was actually Marta Domingo, his wife, who said, ‘Angel, you will learn ‘Las Carceleras,’ and she actually did this with her hand [Angel demonstrates Martino’s flamboyant hand gesture] when she said it. So I said okay, and it was just overwhelming and so difficult for me at the time because I didn’t speak Spanish, and of course I didn’t speak Castilian [a Spanish dialect], which has a different ‘th’ sound that we hear from Spain.” 

 

“So it was very interesting for me to learn all of it, and these pieces, [which] have been with me since 2009, are really a part of my repertoire. They have become a part of my life so deeply that when I’m asked to sing something that’s meaningful to me, it’s as meaningful to me to sing a spiritual as it is to sing zarzuela.  I hope the audience will enjoy it, it’s so much fun.”

“I mention the spirituals with zarzuela because in Spain, there was one time I was with my colleagues in the Young Artist Program, and I was singing ‘Las Carceleras.’ In the middle of this piece, the soprano sings [Angel sings a descending ornamental phrase on the syllable ‘aye,’ almost sounding like a matador]. In Spanish culture it’s very similar to what I grew up with in church, because if someone likes what you’re singing in church, someone will say ‘Amen!’ or ‘Hallelujah!’  In Spain, they’ll say ‘Olé!’ I was singing, and this woman cried out, ‘Olé!’ and I thought, Oh wow, this is similar to how I grew up. Even though it’s not my first language, it’s definitely the music–zarzuela, the Spanish culture–is very much in my blood.”

 

When Fred Plotkin asked Angel which were her favorite roles, she chose Violetta of La Traviata and Magda of La Rondine; she had just performed both at the Met in April. When I asked Angel to elaborate on her connection with these roles, she said, “When I think of the characters that I sing, I don’t know that I really truly have a favorite.  I enjoy La Traviata because I just enjoy the music so much, that’s a role that I’ve sung the most, and I feel that in my heart I understand Violetta, I understand who she is, the struggles that she has, the decisions she has to make.”

Pictured Above: Angel Blue performing with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. Photo Credit: Contributed.

“Magda reminds me of myself when I was in my early twenties: she’s decisive and a little bit frivolous, and not always reliable.  I was very much like this when I was younger and you know, she’s looking for a party essentially, she’s looking for a good time.  And when she finds a man who genuinely loves her, much like Bess [of Porgy and Bess], she actually doesn’t feel worthy of him. Like Magda, whoever could give me the best at that time was the person that I dated. A lot of…opera [heroines have] that kind of naiveté, and at some point in their life they have to grow up.”

 

“With that in mind, I find myself very similar to Violetta, to Magda, even to Tosca, I think.  All of these wonderful women–I appreciate their stories and hopefully I’m telling their stories well, in honesty and in truth.  So I don’t know that my two favorite roles are Violetta and Magda, but if you were to ask me tomorrow, I would probably say yes!”

 

“That could change as you are assigned a new role, couldn’t it?” I asked. “I couldn’t believe it when Fred said he wanted to hear you in Wagner. Did that blow you away?”

“It’s interesting,” Angel replied. “I was actually invited to a company in Germany to audition to sing my first—I’ve sung Wagner before in Germany, I was the third Norn in Götterdämerrung at the Frankfurt Opera back in 2011, and it was a great experience. But I have to be completely honest, I knew that that was about as far as I could go with Wagner at the time. Now, I’m being asked to come and sing…[roles] like Ava in Die Meistersinger. It’s the same exact thing: I just have to mature just a little bit before I step into that.”

 

“That leads me to another question I had in mind,” I said. “Is there another milestone you would like to attain? You’ve achieved so much in so many different countries around the world. Are you just enjoying living in the moment, or is there something more that you need to reach for?”

“I think both, for sure,” says Angel. “I definitely am living in the moment, and I know that there is something else that I’m reaching for, but I’ll be completely honest when I say I don’t believe it’s an operatic goal. I think it’s more of a personal goal in terms of being content and happy.  I feel sometimes that in my job, there’s this idea that you have to keep moving, you have to keep going constantly.  By moving, I don’t mean moving forward in getting better by learning. We should always be learning.”

 

“I think there’s something very special about being happy just to be at home with family, and just being Angel–not being Angel Blue.  Being Adam’s wife and Dean’s stepmom, and a dogmom [we laugh]—there’s something very special about that. I feel that is more important than saying, I’m singing here and then I’m going there, I’m doing this and I’m doing that. But of course, one has to truly feel that in their heart, that’s more of what I mean when I say a personal goal, it’s to be content.  There’s a beautiful quote in my favorite book [she means the Bible]: ‘godliness with contentment is great gain,’ and I do really mean that.”

“Even as a little girl, do you remember something that your father taught you, that you hold dear today?” I asked.

 

“Yes, actually just that, being content,” replied Angel. “There’s a difference between happiness and joy in my opinion. Happiness is conditional. It’s predicated upon what’s happening in the moment. I’m happy because I just got home from Paris and love being in my home with my family. Happiness is—there’s a performance of La Traviata I get to sing in the opera again—that’s a happiness. But joy—I don’t believe it’s conditional. One can be sad or having something around them that’s not the greatest experience, but still have joy in their heart– and I saw that in my dad.” 

“He was such a strong believer that the things he was supposed to be doing he would be doing, so I never really saw him—when I say never, I do really mean that—I don’t remember a time ever seeing my dad be pushy, and really just, I’m so ambitious, I have to have this, and I need this, I’ve gotta sing there. I don’t remember ever seeing my dad be that way, because he would always say, and I’m not trying to sound over-religious but it is how I live my life—my dad would always say, ‘Angel, you don’t have to worry about anything because whatever God has for you, you’re going to get anyway.’”

 

“That’s the most important thing for me in this day and age where we have social media, where we try our hardest not to compare our lives to others’ lives, or what we see of their lives.”  We live in this world where the medium of opera has gained so much fame that one can try to become successful just for the sake of success, and not because they truly love the art form.”

It is clear that whenever Angel Blue sings, she does so with joy in her heart.

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