This week, we’re featuring opera singer Olga Perez Flora. Cuban-American mezzo-soprano, Olga Perez Flora, has been lauded by Opera News for her “smoky tones” and “firm, pleasant voice and lively poise.” She has most recently made her debut with both Opera Columbus as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly and the role of Olga in Eugene Onegin with Opera Company Middlebury to wide acclaim. Known for her sultry Carmen, Ms. Perez Flora has performed this signature role numerous times, including her debut with Amarillo Opera. Recent solo orchestral performances include Handel’s Messiah with the Mississippi Symphony Chorus, Bach’s Cantata 147 with the St. Vincent Cammerata, Hayden’s Lord Nelson Mass with the Idyllwild Festival of the Arts, and Viva Verdi with the Amhurst Orchestra. Ms. Perez Flora has performed with opera companies across the country and internationally including Zita/Gianni Schicchi and Zita/Buoso’s Ghost in the east coast premiere with Opera New Jersey, Marcellina/Le nozze di Figaro with Operafestival di Roma, and Zerlina/Don Giovanni with Opera in the Heights. Notable roles include Komponist/Ariadne auf Naxos, Charlotte/Werther, Luisa/Luisa Fernanda, Dorabella/Cosí fan Tutte, Hansel/Hansel and Gretel, Elvira/Don Giovanni, and Mistress Quickly/Falstaff. As an alumnus of the Pullin Opera Studio Program at Arizona Opera she sang under the batons of such conductors as Richard Buckley, Cal Stewart Kellogg and Joel Revzen. While there she sang in over twenty productions, including Third Lady/Die Zauberflöte, Pitti-Sing/The Mikado, Mercedes/Carmen, Annina/La Traviata, Tisbe/La Cenerentola, and Ida/Die Fledermaus. Also known as a recitalist, Ms. Perez Flora has enjoyed being a soloist for such companies and symphonies such as Pittsburgh Opera, Pittsburgh Song Collaborative, Newark Granville Symphony Orchestra, Mississippi Symphony Chorus, St. Vincent Cammerata, Music in a Great Space, and the Idyllwild Arts Festival. Competition wins include being a finalist at the American-Berlin Competition at The Metropolitan Opera and a NATS regional winner. Ms. Perez Flora’s education includes a Doctorate of Musical Arts from The Ohio State University, a Master of Music in Opera Theater from Arizona State University, as well as a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Northern Arizona University.
Could you explain what your art is like?
I am a classical singer and voice teacher. I say “classical” singer because I specialize in classical repertoire such as opera, oratorio and concert work. I have been singing professionally for 20-ish years and teaching voice for 23 + years. I currently have an agent who represents me for auditions which are mostly held in NYC. I spend most of my fall, winter and spring teaching applied voice and song literature at the University of Nevada. I travel 2-3 times per semester to sing an opera or concert. This can be as close as California or as far as Pittsburgh. Occasionally I travel to Europe to sing as well, but I try to do that mostly in the summer.
My art is all encompassing. I learn music, foreign language texts, movements, and dramatic intention in order to fully comprehend a character. As an opera singer, you are expected to learn your role on your own and to be memorized once you arrive to the first rehearsal. Therefore, I spend much of my time between teaching learning my music and coaching it with a pianist as well as having a lesson or two with my own voice teacher via Skype.
What are important motherhood contexts people should know about you?
My daughters are ages 7 (she would say “almost 8”) and 3. I came to motherhood later in life. Partly because there was so much I wanted to do: sing professionally, travel, get my Doctorate of Musical Arts (DMA), have health insurance and a decent paycheck. But it all came at a price, and our price was fertility. We had trouble conceiving for about four years and it was difficult on an emotional level. I was torn; I wanted to be a mother and I wanted to pursue the DMA, and keep singing as well. The universe told us we could not have children, so I auditioned for DMA programs and accepted the presidential fellowship at the Ohio State University.
Then…I found out I was pregnant at the age of 36! No fertility, because we couldn’t afford it, so we were blindsided. “What are you going to do?” my mother asked with trepidation. “I am going to have a baby and get my doctorate,” was my response. But I knew I would have to finish as fast as possible in order to be a present mother, so my goal was to finish before she started walking. And I almost did that, but daughter number one walked at nine months…geez, give me a break, did she have to be over achieving too?! (Side note: daughter no. two walked at seven months, which was also annoying.)
So we got through it. I finished my doctorate in two years and a summer by pushing myself and my family pretty hard on a daily basis (another price). But I did it. When our eldest was a little more than 2 years old, we decided to try for another and got pregnant rather quickly this time. We were so excited and I was feeling great ,but then about 8 weeks in something felt wrong. We went in for an ultrasound and the doctor said the heartbeat was weak. I ended up miscarrying about a week later. We were shattered. Many tears later, we put it behind us and tried again, and about 8 months later we were able to conceive. This time I felt scared. Could I miscarry again? I wasn’t sure and then 9 weeks into this pregnancy, I lost it. I elected to do a D&C (dilation & curettage procedure) because I had a gig I could not get out and I also just wanted to be done with the miscarriage. So, I did, and my doctor and my husband were wonderful with me but the repercussions from the surgery were hard on my voice and I felt like I really sucked on that gig.
A year later, age 41 I get pregnant again. For someone with fertility issues, I sure do get pregnant a lot! This time, I was TERRIFIED! I tell no one. And then my beloved grandfather dies, so we fly to New Orleans, and my Ob/Gyn uncle tells me to come straight to his office when we land. They did an ultra sound, he looked at it and said, “yep, this baby is coming into the world!” And so, she is here with us, too, and I am so DONE with pregnancy and the heartache that comes with it all.
How has the practice of your creative life changed since motherhood? What were your routines like before and after?
Well, here it is. The question of all creative working mom questions! I feel like a bomb is going off in my head every time I think about answering this because this is the truth…it’s so hard! I really struggle with balancing being a mom, a professor and a performer. Sometimes I do it well and sometimes I suck ass at it.
Before: I was a workaholic and always on the go. I could workout, run errands, teach, practice and read a score everyday. I had time for coffee dates and wine dinners with friends. I could have long conversations with a director about a character or research the latest audition postings and make a spread sheet of where and when I wanted to audition.
Now: a shower is my first priority and then I need to keep the kids alive, fed, clothed, to school on time, etc. Then I need to make sure that I am on top of my teaching duties and staying on task with my students while trying to keep some sense of a performing career going. Lately, I have been texting daily with a dear friend about what we practiced each day. This has been great for me and keeps me singing daily and working on my next project.
What has been most challenging about sustaining a creative life in motherhood?
Consistency! It’s challenging to be consistent about practicing and honing my craft while making sure everyone is alive and thriving.
What’s been the best surprise about having a creative life in motherhood?
The best surprise has been the lack of selfishness that comes with being a mother. Taking the focus off myself has made me less neurotic, which singers can be, about my own well being when it comes to singing. I used to be all tied up in “Did I get enough rest,” “Am I hydrated?” “I need to stay quiet today!” and now it’s all, “Do I have any clean underwear?” and then I just go!
What are the particular issues that come up for you as an artist in your field with children?
This one is a doozy. I belong to some groups for moms who are creative, especially opera singers, and the list of issues is long. The singing industry is not necessarily conducive to people who parent. It’s a later at night industry, which often keeps me from putting my girls to bed. I travel quite a bit for work and this can be hard on all of us, but mostly our children. Some opera companies are wonderful to us about our kids and some just do not appear to want to deal with issues like housing for the whole family. And I can totally see that point, but it makes it financially prohibitive for me to take some of the gigs that come my way.
What’s been your source of inspiration for having a creative life as a mother?
The thing that keeps ringing in my ears as a creative mother is that I am the example for my girls. If I want them to grow up to be creative and to have a bountiful life, then I am the beginning of that for them. I have to show them that I can do it and so can they. Some of my favorite moments in life are when I am directing my own children in a concert or teaching a lesson and they are peering in from the kitchen and humming along. They are watching or, as Stephen Sondheim says, “Children will listen!”
Who are other artist mothers in your field that inspire you?
One of my closest friends, Desiree Lavertu, is a creative working mother. We have been friends for about 15 years and her own children are currently 16 and 19, so I have watched her negotiate motherhood and a career as a Choral professor on the collegiate level. She is my sounding board and my inspiration as a creative mother! I am inspired by some famous opera singer moms like Christine Goerke and Renee Fleming. I love that they are out there blazing the trail and kicking ass while being great Moms. I have had a few young female singers tell me that they love that I am a working singer, professor, and mom. Hopefully I am inspiring some of them, too.
Find out more about Olga and her singing here: