Operagasm Exclusive Interview: Othalie Graham Could Punch You in the Face if She Wanted To, But She is a Nice Person So She Won’t
by Melissa Wimbish
Canadian American soprano Othalie Graham is receiving critical acclaim across the world … and Operagasm luuuurrves to talk to sopranos like that! Through determination and dedication, she lost a significant amount of weight for her vocal career-slash-health and continues to develop and maintain her strong body and strong instrument. Go. girl.
Othalie is well-known for both her commitment to Wagnerian repertoire and for her interpretation of Turandot having sung the title role everywhere from Opera Carolina, to the Orquesta Filhamónica de la UNAM, Arizona Opera, Opera Delaware, Utah Festival Opera, and Boston’s Chorus Pro Musica. She is a jet-setter to say the least, and we were lucky to catch her along the way for a quick chat …
MW: What is your go-to Aida recording and why? What do you love about it that sets it apart from other recordings?
OG: When I first started working with my coach Jeffrey Miller on Aida, we took some time to really listen to several complete recordings of Aida going as far back as the 1928 recording with Dusolina Giannini. I love Leontyne Price, Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi and Montserrat Caballe which are all SUPREME. However, the Aida recording that I have always gone back to is Birgit Nilsson. I love how clear and high-placed her voice is with the low support. It’s very easily produced and it is a sound that I have always easily identified with. At this point in my career I have sung Turandot more than I have sung any other opera, followed by Aida and Wagner in concert. Birgit sang 52 Met Turandots and 21 Met Aidas. She was always able to keep her voice lean and beautiful with shimmery high notes and I aspire to that. My voice teacher Bill Schuman makes sure that I never “alter” my voice in any way for the repertoire that I am singing and makes sure that I sing in a very healthy and natural way.
MW: Welcome back from Mexico! How do you physically and mentally prepare yourself for travel? What do you wear on the plane? How were the margaritas????
I am always excited to travel! It’s hard to leave my family behind but I am always grateful that this career allows me to see different parts of the world. Whenever I fly, I always wear a dress. ALWAYS! I find dresses are very comfortable and you arrive looking chic. If it’s a long flight I will wear a humidiflyer and drink more water than usual on the days leading up to the flight. I don’t drink on the plane because it dehydrates me but I did enjoy a margarita (or three) in Mexico and they were delicious.
MW: Who is your favorite superhero?
OG: The Incredible Hulk is my favorite. I think the ability to smash things must be very gratifying.
MW: You probably don’t have to do much auditioning anymore because you’re ALL THAT (and we mean it). Looking back on that time of intense auditions, what do you think made your presentation so memorable?
OG: Thank you for thinking “I’m all that!!” Actually, I still audition! There are very few people who don’t! We do get many jobs without auditions, but there are some houses that want to hear you live. Also, instead of a formal audition you can have a “work session” with a conductor and I REALLY enjoy those. I think that it’s hard to sing auditions for all of us. Those small audition rooms for a big voice can be problematic but I always enjoy running into friends in New York City during audition season.
MW: I’m told that you have an incredible weight loss story and believe that a strong and healthy body is key to great singing. What inspired this change in your life? What are the specific physical and technical advantages you have gained? Any advice on rehearsal snacks? That’s usually where I lose my willpower …
OG: I used to tip the scales at almost 400 pounds and I wore a size 28/30 dress. I knew that I had to lose weight to be able to do anything that I or a director wanted on stage. Now I can run and I am strong. I don’t have to be thin but I have to be in good physical shape. I lost weight but like most people I regained weight a few times, especially after I got married. Now, I am 45 pounds from my goal weight. I am being supported to get to my goal weight by using the Quick Weight Loss system and my mentor Christopher Schuman. I find that I have to always pack food for rehearsals so I don’t make bad choices.
MW: Who is a character you would love to portray in an opera that has not already been created? Who would you want to compose the piece (living or dead)?
OG: Helen of Troy! Her beauty inspired artists and wars that lasted over 10 years were fought for her. I would like Verdi to compose it so there will be high Cs to sing!
MW: What composer’s music has had the most impact on your technique?
OG: Verdi has had a big impact on me technically. There is nowhere to hide in his music so it forces you to address many issues. For me, Verdi forced me to learn to sing pianissimo and it keeps my voice buoyant and flexible the way Mozart does for many sopranos.
MW: Name your top 5 snow day TV shows.
1. House of Cards
2. How to Get Away with Murder
3. Orange Is the New Black
5. Any Showtime or HBO documentary
MW: Have you ever punched someone in the face?
OG: HA! You must have heard about my LOVE of boxing. One of my first childhood memories is watching a live fight with my father. I have never missed a fight since then but no, I have never punched someone in the face … but I have CERTAINLY wanted to.
Learn more about Othalie Graham here.
Learn more about Melissa Wimbish here.