Thursday, June 24, 2021

Meet the Artist: Alexandra LoBianco

Alexandra LoBianco (Tosca) with stage manager Yasmine Kiss. Philp Newton photo
On the first day of rehearsal for Seattle Opera’s streaming Tosca, soprano Alexandra LoBianco was thrilled to post her first “rehearsal selfie” in months. “My gratitude is immense and it feels so good to be in the room, watching my beautiful colleagues work,” she wrote on Instagram. “Soaking in every moment; my soul and artistic heart are being refilled.”

A thrilling dramatic-soprano-voice has predestined her for the spotlight. But LoBianco reflects this shine back on others: her friends, cast members, students, costume/hair/and makeup artists, administrative staff, to name a few. “Lexi” doesn't take herself too seriously (just wait ‘til you read the Q&A below!). But she’s serious about opera, and the collective wisdom, energy, teamwork, and love required to make this art form great. Not just a leading lady—Lexi is a teacher, a mentor, and a leader.

Read on to hear more about this dramatic soprano, star of our upcoming Tosca.

What was the most exciting thing about this Tosca for you?
Honestly, being able to sing with the orchestra right now. Being in a space with a mask off has been so special. Also, getting to work with my friends, including Dan Wallace Miller (director), Yasmine Kiss (stage manager), Dominick Chenes (Cavaradossi), Adam Lau (Angelotti) and new-but-fast-friend Michael Chioldi. Oh, who am I kidding? This cast became very close very quickly. And with a cast like this, who wouldn’t want to be friends?

From left: Dominick Chenes (Cavaradossi), Michael Chioldi (Scarpia), Alexandra LoBianco (Tosca) and Aren Der Hacopian, Director of Artistic Administration & Planning. Philip Newton photo

What have you been up to during the pandemic?

Despite everything that’s been going on in the world, I’ve been very lucky to be able to work consistently.

In June 2020, my partner and I started our media company: Valhalla Media. Partnering with Classical Music Organizations such as Chicago Opera Theater and producing our own live streaming opera performances, audio, visual, all of it. We also enjoy being able to work with young artists to produce videos for auditions (I have more than 40 students!).

On top of being in Seattle for Cavalleria rusticana last fall, I also had the opportunity to sing in Portland Opera’s Gala, I covered Brünnhilde for the incredible brain child of Yuval Sharon, Twilight Gods (yes, it was the opera staged in a parking garage), and did a Wagner-themed recital with the Triangle Wagner Society in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Of course, I’ve also been helping my partner home school his amazing 9 year-old daughter, a.k.a. my munchkin. I’ve been teaching my vocal students online. We were very cautious and took COVID safety to heart. It was such a challenging time for many of us in the arts—not being sure if we could pay our bills. Everything was completely out of our hands. Being in a business built on people being in close proximity to one another, questions come up like, “Am I putting myself at risk?” “Am I putting my colleagues at risk?” That’s a heavy burden to carry in the context of a global pandemic and global affliction.

LoBianco with her partner, Nik Wenzel. Photos courtesy of Valhalla Media. 

You co-founded a media company during the pandemic? (In addition to maintaining work as an opera singer?) Wow!
It's been very scary, but incredible to see our company come to fruition. We jumped in, and invested our own capital in this labor of love. During the pandemic, we had the opportunity to work with Will Liverman to showcase a program of works by African American composers, including the world premiere of Two Black Churches by Shawn Okpebholo; as well as a concert of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, and a recital of Love Letters with David Portillo and Yasuko Oura on-site at the Glessner House in Chicago.

My partner is a full-time chorus member (we like to joke he made his Lyric debut before I did), as well as a web designer. He’s also always had a passion for recording. And as for me, I’ve always been a mentor, a teacher, and someone with a desire to learn every aspect of the business. I actually started in theater where I worked as an actor and believe it or not, a stagehand. I’ve worked the 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. load-ins and load-outs. I’ve pulled cable with the best of ‘em! I’ve also directed and stage managed, not at a super high level, but I know what it takes to put a production together.

I also believe in young artists and wanted to give them an opportunity to have high-quality recordings for their recitals and auditions—there’s beautiful collegiate work happening in Chicago. Ideally, we’d like our company to be solvent enough to record young artist auditions for free.

What excites you about Dan Wallace Miller’s vision for Tosca?
It’s nice to be in a production where the story is actually about Floria Tosca. This is an area where Dan and I have talked a lot. He really listened to me, and specifically, he paid attention to how I talk about Tosca; how I see her being such a brilliant one. This is a woman who knows exactly what she’s doing. The opera is called Tosca. It’s not called Scarpia, or Political Drama.

A still from Seattle Opera's Tosca by director/video editor Ken Christensen. 

You first recorded the audio for this Tosca at Benaroya Hall, and then filmed the visuals at St. James Cathedral. For the “lip syncing” portion, did you sing out, or did you just mark?
When I sing out, I have like 40,000 chins. But when I’m on screen, I do strive for pretty faces. However, we know that we are supposed to look like we are singing. This is such a hard thing to gauge. Was I singing the entire time we filmed? Actually, yes, even if the body engagement didn’t appear to be as full as it might appear on stage or our perception of engagement. I was singing the entire time to my own lip-sync. However, the challenging part was the short time frame. While we would’ve loved to receive our recordings ahead of time, to turn around an edited recording for us to work with prior to filming was almost impossible. So, we were on the fly figuring out what was happening and getting sometimes one take of a scene. Tosca is a lot to stage in a theater, no less trying to make it work on a reduced film schedule.

You can’t kiss your man or stab Scarpia in the same way you usually would for the film production. What was it like creating intimacy through shadow play?
This is one of the reasons I love working with brilliant friends like Dan Wallace Miller. I love his use of the old film noir style, as well as 70s Italian giallo films. When we filmed the shadow play, I totally understood what Dan wanted immediately. I’ve been around kids enough to know a thing or two about creating shadow puppets!

Do you play Tosca somewhat the same every time, or is she always different?
This is my seventh Tosca. Aspects of the production that influence my performance are who is conducting, what I’m wearing, and where I physically am. My Tosca now is different from when I sang her at 35 or 36. She’s much more self-assured now. She doesn't care what people think. She’s here to make sure that things happen. I have to be fully present in every moment. I’m not thinking about the next note, or the next scene. I’m listening. Because I am in the moment, my Tosca is always different.

You look like Puccini royalty in that red dress. Tell me about the costume that Liesl Alice Gatcheco created for you.

I have two costumes: the red, and then the teal and gold. I have been coming to Seattle Opera since I was a cover in Suor Angelica (‘13). Having worked with Liesl for so many years to then come in and see this costume that she had designed—I was over the moon. She’s phenomenal, and my dress is amazing. Liesl understands what my insecurities are, and how to make my body look fantastic. I don’t look good in the traditional Tosca empire waist dress, and she took my figure into consideration. She was able to say, “Let’s make this work for Lexi, and not for another soprano.” It’s so humbling to have something brand-new created for you.

Any other thoughts?
Ultimately, the arts are going to survive. We’re going to come back stronger than ever before. Remember: last time we experienced a pandemic, the bubonic plague birthed the renaissance. I believe we are coming into a time of creativity we haven’t seen in our lifetimes, and that it will include new ideas of how operas can be staged and the stories we can tell.

Tosca, directed by Dan Wallace Miller, streams on Seattle Opera’s website June 25–27 for $35. Subscriber Early Access Days begin June 4. Learn more and get tickets at

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