Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Meet Our OUR EARTH Singers: Alexa Jarvis, Salmon Girl & Raccoon

Earth Day is this weekend, and Seattle Opera is celebrating, with our friends and partners at The Nature Conservancy, Seattle Youth Symphony, Classic KING FM, and Seattle Center, by creating new work! Join all of us for a fun, free, family-friendly Earth Day Celebration on Saturday April 20 at Seattle Center's Fisher Pavilion--with performances of our two OUR EARTH operas by Seattle Opera's adult singers, Youth Chorus, and the Seattle Youth Symphony conducted by Stephen Rogers Radcliffe. Fisher Pavilion opens at noon; we'll hear the first opera, Heron and the Salmon Girl, at 1:30, and the sequel, Rushing Upriver, at 3 pm.

Joining the cast of OUR EARTH is soprano Alexa Jarvis (photo, left, by Michelle Moore), who plays Alitsa, the Salmon Girl, as well as an untrustworthy raccoon. (We checked in with our other soloists in February.) A Seattle native, Alexa shared with us a little about her background, the characters she plays, and her favorite approach to salmon.

Welcome to OUR EARTH, Alexa! This series of operas, created by Seattleites Eric Banks (composer) and Irene Keliher (librettist) is all about this area. And you've got deep roots here, no?
Yes, I was born and raised in Seattle on Queen Anne Hill, but moved to Magnolia in high school. My mom, sister, and I used to go down to the beach on Puget Sound and walk along the sand flats. Sometimes the flats stretch two or three miles deep on a low tide!

Puget Sound Beach

What do you like most about being a Seattleite? 

I love to ski, so having the access to a ski hill an hour away in the wintertime is SO wonderful. I also love the rain. Nothing beats the crispy air during a good rain.

How did you first become involved with music? 

My first musical experience was with the Northwest Girlchoir, and when I got older I joined Vocalpoint! Seattle. In Vocalpoint! we sang everything from Fleetwood Mac and Jackson 5, to works with the Seattle Symphony in their seasonal concerts and on Grammy-nominated recordings. Simultaneously, I was involved in The Onions, the advanced jazz choir at my high school (Seattle Academy), and took classical voice lessons on the side.

When did opera first become part of your world? 

In 2008 I moved to Chicago to attend DePaul University School of Music. It wasn’t until I was pursuing a music degree that I discovered my love for opera. I think the pinnacle of this discovery was when I was nineteen seeing Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde for the first time at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It is my favorite opera to this day.

What's a favorite experience you've had as a performer? 

A performing highlight for me was singing Francis Poulenc’s Gloria last year as the soprano soloist in Chicago. Poulenc is one of my favorite French composers. (I can’t wait to see La Voix Humaine at Seattle Opera in May!) I also had a ball singing the National Anthem at the Sonics vs. Lakers game in 2007. You don’t realize what a little breed of human you are until you stand next to a pro basketball player!

Alexa Jarvis in Seattle Opera's Turandot
Elise Bakketun, photo

Now, tell us about your previous experience with Seattle Opera. 

When I was a junior in college I wanted to learn what went on behind the scenes of an opera company, so I applied to Seattle Opera’s Education Department and was accepted as a summer intern in 2011. After I graduated college the following year, I moved back to Seattle and began singing in the chorus of Turandot, and again, in the chorus of La Bohéme this past March. I can now say that I have sung in 18 live performances on the McCaw Hall stage! As a soprano myself, watching the Turandots, Liùs, Mimìs, and Musettas sing was such a gratifying learning experience. I studied their process and watched their growth from the rehearsal studio onto the stage. I never took a moment for granted. Night after night, when Elizabeth Caballero sang the high C at the end of Bohéme’s Act 1, I was awestruck backstage every time, hungry someday to feel what she was feeling in that moment.

Alexa Jarvis backstage at Seattle Opera's La Bohéme
Alexa Jarvis, photo

Who is Alitsa, and how does she change over the course of the two operas you’ll be performing on April 20? 

Alitsa is not your normal fourteen-year-old: she is a salmon-girl! At the drop of a hat, she can transform from a human into a salmon. With this special power, she is a strong-willed adolescent girl who is eager to explore. However, if a salmon-person stays a human for too long, she grows ill. This is what happens to her salmon-brother, Parr, in the first opera, Heron and the Salmon Girl. Alitsa has to be the strong younger sister while she helps Parr get better in the city, but in Opera #2, Rushing Upriver, Alitsa begins to grow weak herself, for she has been walking as a human for too long. Now it is up to Parr to save her.

What is your favorite part in these operas to sing? 

I love Parr and Alitsa’s duet at the end of Heron and the Salmon Girl. She sings “My brother, my only brother, I’m sorry it has taken so long. I brought your medicine, will you please come home with me?” The way the parts overlap in the drifting 11/8 time-signature is brilliant and parallels with the raw emotions the siblings are feeling. In Rushing Upriver, my favorite part is when I get to play the Raccoon and jump around singing about scrounging for food in garbage cans and picnic sites.

What research have you done to play a raccoon?

I’ve sifted through many pictures to see the different ways Raccoons carry themselves--sometimes on two paws and other times on four. They often look very hungry and guilty. What I’ve tried to do is pick a personality that I want to portray and run with that. While my character Raccoon is a garbage scraps kind of gal, I still want her to come across as sassy and persistent.

Has playing a salmon onstage changed your attitude toward them?
No question. After playing a salmon on stage and watching how different predators (orcas, heron, raccoons, and coyotes) prey after my character, I recognize more than ever the stiff competition between predators and civilization for salmon. However, I’ve loved salmon since I could walk, and I don’t think I’ll stop eating it, but perhaps choose an alternative meal sometimes.

Juvenile salmon are known as "parr," as is the character in OUR EARTH
Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy © Bridget Besaw

What’s your favorite way to prepare salmon?
A close friend of mine turned me onto this fresh and yummy recipe:

Grilled sockeye salmon with lemon and dill

1 lb. wild Sockeye Salmon
1-2 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. lemon juice, plus wedges for serving
1 tsp. minced garlic or 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 - 1 tsp. dried dill
salt and pepper to taste
aluminum foil

Preheat grill.
-To make a pan out of foil, make aluminum sheet slightly larger than the piece of salmon. Take 1 inch on each side and fold over. Stand each side up and connect corners to form the shape of a pan. Place foil pan on a flat cookie sheet or pizza pan.
-Pat salmon dry and place in the foil pan. Poke holes all over the top with a fork. Squeeze on lemon juice, then pour on olive oil and then sprinkle with spices. Let marinate for 15-20 minutes.
-Slide the foil pan with salmon onto the grill. Grill on medium heat until done, usually 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Salmon should flake when done and separate easily from the skin.
-Serve with fresh lemon wedges.

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