Soprano Liv Redpath may have her sights set on a singing career, but opera isn’t her only passion. This member of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program is keen on maintaining a myriad of interests beyond the stage, most notably her love of literature.
It’s no coincidence that Redpath looks for inspiration in the humanities as she navigates the interpretation of roles she’s learning. She has a busy start to the new year with the company — her next assignments with LA Opera include covering (understudying) Cunegonde in Candide, singing L’Amour in Orpheus and Eurydice and Countess Ceprano in Rigoletto, while also covering Gilda in the latter. Her plate may be full, but she welcomes the challenge by bringing her relationship with the written word to her craft.
“I remember reading a study that books are the only way for the human mind to practice empathy. Otherwise, we practice on real people and make more mistakes,” she said. “But when we read, it’s like your mind is rehearsing these interactions.”
Born in Edina, Minnesota, Liv Redpath started singing around age four in children’s choir in both her church and school, picking up instruments like piano and trumpet along the way. In sixth grade, she auditioned for Project Opera, a youth training program affiliated with Minnesota Opera. With her early sights set to be a musical theater performer, she initially dismissed the thought of a career in opera at the ripe age of 12. After a year in the program, however, she caught the bug. She sang with Project Opera through her teen years, singing roles like Gretel in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, and even the card trio from Carmen, which came full circle earlier this season when she performed Frasquita in LA Opera’s production. She credits Project Opera for instilling the drive to become an opera singer.
“After that I thought, ‘I think I can do this. Maybe.’”
When it eventually came time to apply for college, she intended to enroll in a conservatory for her undergraduate degree, but also applied to a few traditional universities. She states that her parents initially questioned this move, but only for reasons regarding her true passion.
“My parents sat me down and asked if I was sure I wanted this [a more traditional education], not because they didn’t believe in my abilities, but because it seemed to them that I really wanted to be a singer,” she said.
Redpath eventually matriculated to Harvard University in pursuit of an English degree, appearing in operas extracurricularly throughout her time there. She sang numerous principal roles, including Tytania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the title role in Lakmé, Cunegonde in Candide, and Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro (conducted by her classmate Matthew Aucoin, now LA Opera’s Artist in Residence). Redpath realized — “in hindsight” — that these were the type of experiences she wouldn’t have had at a music school at the undergraduate level. She indicated that because she’s let these roles season for some time, she feels more prepared to perform them in the future.
“That’s what we’re always trying to do in this young artist program — learn these roles early and have them under your belt, so when you do get hired for it later, they’re old friends.”
Following her four years at Harvard, Redpath finally went to music school and completed her Master of Music at The Juilliard School as a Kovner Fellow. Upon graduating, she immediately entered the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, which seemed daunting at the time. Having grown up in the Midwest and studied on the East Coast, she never expected herself to end up a Californian. However, she’s grateful to be in LA, as she’s able to “get a much more diverse and open experience.”
Though her extensive musical training has prepared her for a performance career, she credits her liberal arts education with keeping her grounded. Writers like Virginia Woolf, Zadie Smith, Cormac McCarthy and Samuel Beckett may have impacted her character, but it was her time spent with the adept minds at Harvard that has proven to be her biggest asset.
“In the trajectory of human life and maturity, I’m so glad that I went to school with people who were pursuing different interests. I really loved the chance to just live life with a wider sample size of peers,” Redpath said. “I find that to be very helpful in looking at my characters, because we get tunnel-vision when we spend too much time with the same people.”
The same can be said for staying in the same place for too long. In the coming weeks, Redpath sings with Musica Angelica as the soprano soloist in Bach’s Magnificat, along with performances in New York City with Voices of Ascension Chorus & Orchestra in its “Candlelight Christmas.” In the new year, she’ll have her debut with the Seattle Symphony in Vivaldi’s Gloria, and following LA Opera’s spring season, she will return to Santa Fe Opera to sing Naiade in Ariadne auf Naxos.
Through traveling and singing, Liv Redpath strives to gain greater understanding and empathy for the world around her. Nonetheless, she feels forever grateful for the written world of storytelling that has always allowed her to travel great emotional distances, helping her to better articulate her characters, both onstage and off.
“You can live more lives than your own through books,” she states. “You can experience more than if you just learn your music and walk on stage.”LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.