Emalie Savoy a young soprano on the cusp of a brilliant career
By Joseph Dalton,
Times Union, Sunday, March 7, 2010
Because Emalie Savoy remains a graduate student at Juilliard through the spring, it’s fair to say her professional career has yet to begin. But during a three-day span in December, the 24-year-old Schenectady native had two auditions that are about as high-pressure as any singer — young or old — could imagine. Both sessions were for James Levine, the music director of the Metropolitan Opera and Boston Symphony Orchestra.
First, Savoy tried for a coveted spot in the Met’s young-artists development program. From the edge of the company’s vast stage, she sang arias with piano accompaniment into the 3,800-seat house, which was empty except for Levine and a few colleagues seated somewhere in the darkness. Two days later, she was in a small space inside Carnegie Hall, singing again for the maestro, who was choosing singers for this summer’s program at Tanglewood.
On both occasions, Savoy nailed it.
Come August at Tanglewood, she performs the lead role in a fully staged production of Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos.” Then it’s back to Manhattan in the fall, where she’ll begin a three-year residency at the Met.
Before those prestigious bookings, Savoy has plenty of other performances on her calendar, including two appearances this week at the University at Albany. On Thursday evening in a free public forum, she’ll be interviewed about her budding career in the manner of the TV show “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” The following night she’ll perform a song recital.
During a recent conversation, the quest of an Olympic athlete quickly came up as an apt comparison for the trials and endurance of being an opera singer.
“Training the classical voice is really an athletic feat,” says Savoy. “It includes trying to sing over orchestras in a healthy way, singing for three hours at a time, taking care of your mind, body and soul. And there’s plenty of sacrifices in your personal life.
“Like horseback riding or running and so many other things, talent only gets you so far. It also takes application and dedication,” continues Savoy. “I really found that out when I came to New York. It was run with the big dogs or stay on the porch.”
Savoy has been ensconced at The Juilliard School since early in her undergraduate days, after having spent one year enrolled in Schenectady County Community College. She says she’s never experienced the kind of pressure-cooker atmosphere the conservatory is known for.
“Being together 14 hours a day in classes and rehearsal, you become close,” she says, regarding her peers. “I’ve not had any catty experiences. I’m sure people are jealous of my accomplishments, but they’ve never let that get in the way of our friendship.”
According to Savoy’s parents, who are both professional musicians, Emalie showed a good-natured personality as well as extraordinary musical gifts from a young age.
“All parents brag about their kids, but we knew she was special from very early on,” says Deborah Savoy, a soprano and private voice instructor. She recalls that when Emalie was still in elementary school, she’d pick up the fundamentals of the singing lessons overheard in the family home.
“She had a knack for hearing what was going on and absorbing it,” says Deborah Savoy. “She developed a proper vocal technique at a young enough age that it was just a matter of directing and nurturing.”
Attending Emalie’s performances at Juilliard has kept her folks (who live in Duanesburg) on the road to New York City regularly, but Thomas Savoy still finds a bit of wonder in it all. Most recently, he heard her sing with a chamber orchestra Samuel Barber’s lush and romantic “Knoxville, Summer 1915.”
“There was such tonal command in the piece that you detach yourself from this being your daughter and instead see a real professional in the making,” says Thomas Savoy, who’s a composer. “We know the musical world and the vagaries of it. It’s one thing to have talent and something else to be around the right people and get the opportunities.”
Speaking of opportunities, Emalie has reached a point where she can give some to her dad by performing his music. Perhaps it’s just keeping things in the family, but maybe it’s also proper payback, since most of Emalie’s first public performances as a soloist were in the Capital Region with the New York Catholic Chorale, which her father founded and directed for 10 years.
She’ll include his three recent song settings of Shakespeare in a program on March 18 at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, as part of a Juilliard honors presentation. The occasion will be Emalie’s New York City recital debut, as well as the first time one of Thomas Savoy’s works has been performed in concert in Manhattan. (“I have some other things that I’m going to send her way,” adds the hopeful composer/dad.)
Typical of her generation and recent trends at Juilliard, Emalie Savoy has been getting plenty of other experience with modern and contemporary works. Lately that’s also meant portraying figures of recent history. Last season she sang the lead role of Susan B. Anthony in “The Mother of Us All,” the 1947 opera by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein. And in February, she played the American poet Anne Sexton in “Transformations,” an experimental 1973 opera by Conrad Susa.
“Singing all these different roles and knowing enough of yourself to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a psychological process I’m learning every day,” she says. “But playing a real person ups the ante. Anne Sexton was such a troubled woman. Her life was dark, she was abused and committed suicide. And with Susan B. Anthony, I had to be everything that she fought for and believed and dedicated her life to.”
It’s almost enough to give the impression that singing is the easy part. But apart from studying history, literature and a host of languages, vocal technique still has to come first, especially as the prominence of Emalie Savoy continues to grow.
Yet another high-pressure moment came in October when she was included in a master class by the superstar soprano Renee Fleming. A master class, by the way, is essentially a lesson conducted in front of an audience, which on this occasion numbered about 1,000 people.
“I’ve never had trouble with stage fright before, but everything from my waist down felt like it was glued to the floor. Than I heard her call my name and it was time to go on,” recalls Savoy.
Just to add to the tension, Savoy sang one of Fleming’s signature arias, “Il est doux, il est bon” from Massenet’s “Herodiade.”
“We have similar voices. She has a large voice and I have a large voice and after listening to me she knew my technical hang-ups,” recalls Savoy. “She was so wonderful. Some give master classes and mostly talk about their experiences as a star. But hers was about the craft of singing, which is the most important thing. It’s all about how we prepare works, we breathe and make sound and then be an artist.”