After bringing “rich, burnished tone and fearsome low notes” (Opera News) to NYFOS’s 2017 performances of Bernstein’s Songfest, mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford returns this November in our Merkin Hall season opener: W.C. Handy and the Birth of the Blues. This October she is our Artist of the Month!
You are a Brooklyn native. Did growing up in the city impact what art and music you were exposed to as a child?
Yes and no. Not in my younger years. Honestly, I was pretty sheltered as a child. I grew up in the church and my father was strict about what music we listened. It was gospel or nothing at all. However, when I went to LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts, my friends and the curriculum changed all of that! I was exposed to rap, r&b, jazz, classical music and opera.
When did you first know that you wanted to be an opera singer?
Junior year in college is when I seriously considered it and my teacher confirmed it for me. I sang gospel all through high school and I wanted to be a gospel singer—but not your typical gospel singer. I loved classical music and opera and it was reflected in my singing even at an early age. As I approached my junior year in high school, learning and developing a technique was very important to me. That is why I wanted to go to a college for music. I loved singing in different languages and I wanted to learn more. Westminster was just right for me. It had the perfect balance for a young, eager singer like myself. As I developed my technique, I auditioned for summer programs and for the opera at school and I had great experiences through those opportunities. Junior year came and my teacher stopped me in a lesson and said “Lucia, you know if you want to be an opera singer you can be”. That was a game changer for me. Up until that point I was amazed and inspired by the great singers that came before me, living legends and the upcoming aspiring ones I found myself with at school and summer programs.
I couldn’t believe it. I was excited and shocked at the same time. That was the moment I started to seriously dive into this beautiful and mesmerizing world of opera.
You have also worked as a teacher in the New York public school system. How does working as a music educator inform your work as a performer and vice versa?
Everyone’s path is so different. Teaching gets very tiring and time consuming. However, it has taught me how to organize and manage my time. It has also taught me stamina and how to pace myself as a working musician. When I first started teaching I would be so exhausted at the end of the day. It was painful to even think about practicing after a full day of teaching. But it taught me how to push myself for what I really wanted. It has also forced me to be more diligent and more focused during my practice time so I can explain to a student how to over come vocal challenges that arise.
You will be featured in NYFOS’s upcoming concert W. C. Handy and the Birth of the Blues (November 14 at Merkin Hall, in NYC). Have you sung any of his music before? How do you approach this kind of repertoire?
I have never sung any of these pieces before. That makes me even more excited for this project. I love learning new music! I will listen to recordings that I feel are helpful to me. Recordings that are authentic. Even with a gospel background I realize that gospel, jazz and blues are three totally different genres (although they was born out of the same tradition) and should be dealt with respectfully. Immersing myself is very important. Then I will figure out, on my own, how I would like my interpretation to be. Finally, I will collaborate with Steven and my colleagues and that’s when the real magic happens!
Besides the W. C. Handy concert (of course), do you have any projects on your calendar that you are particularly excited about?
In February 2019 I will be singing de Falla’s El Amor Bruho Ballet Suite with the Greenwich Symphony Orchestra. It is such a unique and earthy piece that sits well in my voice. This is new for me so I can’t wait to sing it!
If you could sing with any musician from the past, whom would you choose? What would you sing?
I would ask Beethoven to write me a song cycle. I know he is not an ideal composer for the voice, but he is one of my favorite composers.
What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?
A new artist — Jordan Rakei
When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?
Being by the water. It’s therapeutic and relaxing.
NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?
That’s why I love NYFOS and I’m so proud to be a part of this wonderful project. The art of “Song” is special to me because even if you’re singing to 20,000 people, it can be so intimate. And although others have sung that particular song in that particular key, you still have the opportunity to make it brand new again because YOUR interpretation has never been heard.