Soprano Jessica E. Jones was just 15 years old when she landed her first opera role. It was less than a year after she had started voice lessons. Her teacher encouraged her to audition for a small role in The Marriage of Figaro at a local opera company. "So, I went and sang for them and they hired me," Jones tells us. The role was Barbarina, a peasant girl who gets caught in an amorous situation with a young man. "I got paid a little cash and it was the most unbelievable thing to me to get paid to sing! It was great.
"Not only that, I was amazed at what was happening on stage. I had done musical theater but I had never seen anyone really sing opera live. I remember being mesmerized by the soprano. I just couldn't believe how wonderful it was. I remember watching the adults interact and it was a really wonderful environment to be in. All of it was just unreal. I immediately thought, 'I really want to do this for a living.'"
First she had to continue her training and for that she came to Texas. Jones got both a bachelor's and master's degrees in performance from the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston. Two years ago she was a finalist in the Northwest region Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
What She Does: "I enjoy other types of singing, too, but I consider opera the main focus of my work. When I tell people I'm an opera singer they usually say, 'But you're not fat.' And no, I'm not. Once they get over the fact that I'm not a 300-pound woman [wearing a helmet with horns on it], then they say, 'Oh great, sing something for us.' I don't think they mean any harm by it. It's just people don't always understand the commitment and training this career requires. Yes, I'm a real opera singer. And maybe if I'm in a really good, generous mood, I'll sing for you but probably not."
Why She Likes It: "I always feel I am most myself when I'm on stage and singing. My most honest version of myself is when I'm singing. If I'm not in an opera production, I tend to find myself songwriting or doing other musical things. That energy just gets bottled up inside me and it has to find a way out."
During a production, Jones most enjoys the final rehearsals and the first few performances. "There's a real excitement in the air then. The moment that I step on stage in a costume, that's when it really changes for me. That's when I feel that I start to lose myself and find the character. I learn music pretty quickly but it takes a little while for me to feel that everything is converging, everything is coming together. When it does, that's a pivotal moment."What Inspires Her:
"I consider myself a singing actress. I try to let the music and the composer speak to me. I work through the score and find the emotion that's there for a guide. Luckily, I'm in a technical place now where I'm able to do much more with my voice."
Jones admits working from a score with zero chance for improvisation might seem a bit daunting, but in actuality, she finds lots of freedom to make a role her own. "As long as you are reflecting what the composer has written on the page, you have a lot of liberty about how you move from point a to point b. Performing is more than just hitting the right note at the right time in the same exact way that everybody before you did. You have to find a way to make the role your own. You have to find those little places in the score where you can bring something new to your particular portrayal. That's what makes opera so exciting. Even though it's the same score, each singer is going to do it just a little bit differently; each singer brings something new to the role.
If Not This, Then What: "There are so many things that I would love to do. I would love to be a [fashion] designer. I would love to be a chef. I would love to travel around the country in an RV and be like a traveling minstrel. I would love to do all those things as hobbies, but if I couldn't sing, I would those something like that. I don't know that there's a lot of money in those career choices, but those are the things I'd like to do."
If Not Here, Then Where: "I would really love to spend some time in Germany or Italy. To be abroad and be surrounded by all of that art and culture, in the places where it originated, I think that would be a great experience. If I were to stay in the United States, I would love to live in California."
What's Next: Jones is currently appearing in the title role of the Opera in the Heights production of Lucia di Lammermoor. She shares the role with friend Amanda Kingston. In May, she performs as a young artist with Opera Saratoga. "I'll be workshopping a new opera that a composer has just finished with them. I sing a lot of belcanto opera but I also sing a lot of American opera. I'll be singing in The Magic Flute with them. I'm not sure what happens after that. Hopefully something will pop up for the fall."
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Jones has some long term goals, especially in the area of roles. "I would love to eventually play Violetta in La Traviata. That's probably my top role choice. And I would also like to sing Mimi from Bohème one day. I don't know if my career will take me down that path, but if I could sing a Mimi in my life, I would be very, very happy."
Opera in the Heights presents Lucia di Lammermoor at 7:30 p.m. March 28 and 29, April 3, 4 and 5, 2 p.m. March 30 and April 6. Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights. For information, call 713-861-5303 or visit operaintheheights.org. $10 to $55.
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