‘Opera isn’t just for the wealthy,’ says soprano Sarah Shafer

“Elixir of Love” is very relevant to these times when it’s so easy to swipe right and find somebody these days,” says Sarah Shafer with a laugh. “It would appeal to modern audiences because this subject matter is on a lot of people’s minds. What’s the advantage of a lasting relationship or being committed as opposed to being free and not giving your heart to anyone?”

The Philadelphia-based singer is quickly becoming one of opera’s most sought-after sopranos. Since graduating from the Curtis Institute of Music, she’s performed multiple roles with the San Francisco Opera, taken the stage at Carnegie Hall as a soloist and is a part of the Emerging Artist program with Opera Philadelphia.

Tonight, she takes the stage as Adina in “Elixir of Love,” which runs through May 8 at the Academy of Music. We got the chance to chat with Shafer backstage about modern love, living in Philly, and why opera isn’t just for seniors and the wealthy.

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How does it feel to be back in Philadelphia?
It’s fantastic to be able to walk to work!

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I live near Rittenhouse Square so I’m always there meeting friends in the park. I love Old City. I love the River Walk on the Schuylkill. Caribou and Parc are two of my favorite restaurants. The Barnes is my favorite museum!

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What is your routine the day of a performance?
I try to warm up early in the day so there’s not a panic to do it in the evening. I do some cardio to get the blood flowing. And then, of course, eat well. I actually clean a lot on performance days. (laughs) I come into the dressing room as early as I can to go over my staging. I try to have goals for myself at every performance so it’s not just “oh try to do the best you can every time.” I give myself little missions to do.

That’s such a good idea! Does it keep you from getting nervous?
My teacher came up with that to not put the pressure on myself. Every performance is an opportunity to get better. Setting goals helps me focus on the task at hand and enables me to be generous with the audience rather than self-focused.

When did you first realize you wanted to be an opera singer?
Quite late actually! I didn’t like opera when I was growing up and went to my first opera when I was 14. I went to the Met, loved it and started taking voice lessons. I was also a serious pianist at the time. I auditioned for college in both voice and on piano and ended up getting into Curtis for Voice which is why I ended up being a singer. But I still wasn’t sure even after I got in if opera was the thing for me. Thankfully at Curtis, you do five operas a year so you get a lot of experience early on and I began to see what it was all about and started enjoying it.

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There’s this notion that going to the opera is strictly for seniors or for people with money. How do you respond to that idea?
I totally reject that idea. I think opera, like any art, is made for everyone. A big deterrent for people is that it’s in a foreign language but they put subtitles right above the stage! The productions are made to be understood by people of all ages, including children and teenagers. Especially this piece, “Elixir of Love.” It’s a relatable story – it’s funny, it’s charming. The melodies are just gorgeous. It’s tuneful. You’ll be humming to the songs leaving the theater.

Who do you look up to as an opera singer?
A big mentor of mine is Benita Valente. She has a beautiful career and has done many things that I aspire to. Renee Fleming is another fantastic singer, musician, and person I look up to.

What’s on your professional bucket list?
There’s this opera called the “Der Rosenkavalier” by Strauss and it’s the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. I hope one day I get to sing the role of Sophie. I’d also love to perform Susanna in “The Marriage of Figaro.”

“The Elixir of Love” opens tonight at The Academy of Music. Tickets are available here.

Follow Jennifer Logue on Twitter @jenniferlogue

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