The Florida Grand Opera (FGO) presents Giacomo Puccini's Tosca March 29th – April 12th at the Arsht Center and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Veteran Kara Shay Thomson plays the lead role of Floria Tosca; however, newcomer and FGO Young Artist in Resident—Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste—will fill the lead role on March 30th, April 2nd and 5th. I had the opportunity to interview Jean-Baptiste as she prepares for the role of Floria.
Neil de la Flor: Can you talk about the (big and small) ways the FGO Young Artist Residency Program has impacted your personal and professional life?
Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste: For starters, being able to continue my training, as someone who doesn't come from a conservatory background, has been vital. Though I've bee a musician for most of my life, I went into opera a bit late, so on-the-job training has been key for my advancement and continued improvement as a singing actress. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I'm working in my hometown, which means I can see my voice teacher Oscar Diaz, Jr. regularly and apply what I've learned in program to my lessons, and vice verse.
ND: How has the program specifically informed your role in Tosca?
JJB: The first time I performed the role, it was my debut in it, and a different level of program than FGO. Plus it was the first time everyone in my cast was performing their roles as well. Now, with this production, every one of us in the cast has sung their roles previously, so we're very comfortable in that. Also, keeping my voice in shape with my teacher is vital for such a big sing as Tosca is, so I'm definitely singing it with even stronger technique than before.
ND: What are the biggest challenges being a young artist resident?
JJB: With me being the oldest there, at 34, and a bit more main stage experience, I have to have a bit of patience to not want to rush things and know what to take from all of the guidance and advice we get here. The older you are, the harder it is to remain completely open-minded, but I've gotten much better at it.
ND: Where do you envision yourself in 10 years?
JJB: In no particular order, singing at the great opera houses of the world, being a mom and wife, living close to my family and friends, mastering cooking techniques, visiting the less-traveled places of the world, introducing opera to the children and teenagers of black and Caribbean communities, and still cheering for my favorite soccer team, Manchester United.
ND: When did you first realize that opera would be your future?
JJB: When I started with my current voice teacher. While taking voice lessons and studying prior to him, I wanted to become an opera singer, but the way I was singing wasn't healthy, and I was suffering from a serious lack of confidence and unsure if I'd be able to sustain a major career. After a month with him, I felt more secure about my operatic future, and from then on, never looked back.
ND: How do you contain the butterflies before you step onto the stage? Or do you keep them at home?
JJB: I like to call my butterflies "The Butterflies of Awesome." I get so excited about 20 minutes before I step onto the stage, and it bubbles over to a point where I have to do something to calm them down a bit. I play fun music in my dressing room (especially '80s New Wave and 1960s British Invasion), sing along and dance around. I also like to chat with folks, get my energy focused for the performance.
ND: What's been your most memorable professional moment to date? Most embarrassing?
JJB: My dad getting emotional during and after a performance of La Traviata that I did when I was in San Jose. He's not prone to emotional outbursts or losing control of his feelings, so it was especially poignant to me to see how moved he was by my performance, especially in the scenes where Violetta is dying. Everyone wants a rave review by critics, but the best review I ever got was his reaction to the productions. I haven't had any really embarrassing moments on stage, but I'm certain they'll come!
ND: Favorite meal?
JJB: Well, the best meal is yet to come, though I've had some outstanding ones. But the best dish I've had thus far was at MC Kitchen in the Design District, a first course of pan-seared diver scallops, cooked in black truffle butter, over a bed of organic arugula, shaved Florida mango, and hearts of Palm. I swear, it literally melted in my mouth!
ND: If you could do anything, what would you do?
JJB: Well, if reality were not in play, I'd be a companion to the Doctor (from the British TV show Doctor Who) because who needs to work when you're traveling all of space and time on the TARDIS? But, in the real world, I'd love to study and become a professional chef, and eventually open my own 25-seat bistro. Cooking is my stress relief and getaway after a long day of singing and rehearsing.
Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste performs the role of Floria Tosca on March 30, April 2, 5. Tosca runs March 29 – April 12. Miami performances are at the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Ft. Lauderdale performances are at the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. 5th Ave., Ft. Lauderdale. Cost: $21 - $250. Buy tickets online at http://tickets.fgo.org/Tickets/EventDetails.aspx?id=1091.