When arriving for her interview a few weeks ago on an unusually rainy day in Los Angeles, mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson is all smiles. She’s just happy to be in the city, regardless of the weather.
“The apartment that I’m staying at has a rooftop and I can see the Hollywood sign,” said Costa-Jackson. “On my days off, I’ve been laying out and tanning, but I guess not today.”
Costa-Jackson recently made her LA Opera debut as the feisty Maddalena in Verdi’s Rigoletto. The role itself may only have a few scenes, but she’s already garnered praise for her striking performance as the assassin Sparafucile’s sister and partner-in-crime. The LA Times wrote that Costa-Jackson “had all the sultry qualities she has displayed in ‘Carmen.’” Broadway World noted that she was a “devil-may-care Maddalena” with “burnished low notes.”
Though she may be new to LA Opera, Costa-Jackson is hardly green — she was born into a family of performers. She’s the oldest of three sisters, all of whom have pursued careers as opera singers. She was convinced to give voice lessons a try after her youngest sister, Miriam, discovered the art as a young child. But Costa-Jackson is very much her own artist. For one, she’s the only mezzo out of the three. When she first expressed that she wanted to be an opera singer, her mother was blunt.
In her best Italian accent, Costa-Jackson mimicked what her mother told her when she first expressed wanting to explore opera. “You know Ginger, the Lord has given you so many talents. I don’t know if singing is one of them.” She’s able to laugh about it now, but at the time it gave Costa-Jackson the drive to succeed.
Costa-Jackson didn’t take a typical path to the opera stage, either. Most students studying music will note that the usual track to a professional career begins with obtaining an undergraduate and graduate degree, followed by a young artist program or apprenticeship of some kind. At 17, she enrolled in the Conservatorio di Vincenzo Bellini in Palermo. She spent much of her time in Italy not only studying the craft but doing competitions as well.
It was through a competition in Italy that a Metropolitan Opera official asked her to audition for the company’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. She was accepted, and went on to sing roles for the company during her tenure. Since graduating, Costa-Jackson has cultivated a career across the globe, having appeared on stages in Hong Kong, Barcelona and Paris. However, she’s brand new to LA.
Her appearance in Rigoletto is not just a house debut for Costa-Jackson, but a role debut as well. Apart from learning the Act III trio as a student, this is her first time exploring Maddalena.
“Maddalena is a survivor,” said Costa-Jackson. “She’s a ‘wench,’ a rather old profession, and she and her brother are a tag team duo.”
Costa-Jackson has a myriad of roles under her belt, but she has a proclivity for playing strong-willed characters, such as the title role in Bizet’s Carmen or Rosina in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. In the case of Maddalena, she feels that society hasn’t given her any other options for growth, and thus was forced into the position she’s in.
“I think it’s an unfortunate thing, kind of like Carmen … [Maddalena] probably didn’t have any other options. Chances are, if her brother was older, he forced her to do this. So it’s hardened her, and jaded her.”
Maddalena isn’t the type that is easily fooled, which is why it’s so interesting that she ends up falling for the Duke’s advances. Costa-Jackson thinks that because Maddalena has been mistreated her entire life, his words were a breath of fresh air.
Costa-Jackson explained: “In the quartet, when the Duke is flowering her with compliments, she knows he’s joking. She knows he is saying these things just to seduce her. Unlike Gilda, she doesn’t take his words of love seriously. She knows his game and can play it too. But then she falls for him. She has pity on him. She feels moved enough by his words to convince her brother to let him live. Knowing the context of her background, she’s probably very mistreated by her brother.”
Still, she feels that these characters represent a more realistic treatment of women at the time. As a result, these characters have a different outlook on life.
“What I love most about these kinds of characters are their depth. What is cool about these women is that from that place of being abused, they’ve had to really harden themselves. They see the world very logically and realistically. Their heads aren’t in the clouds.”
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