Nine Female Opera Singers to Know

Last week, the United States mourned the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Known for her indelible commitments to women’s rights and gender equality, Justice Ginsburg made endless strides forward in our nation’s history over her 27 years on the Supreme Court. In addition to her countless accomplishments during her tenure as a Justice, she was also a fierce patron of the arts and a devout lover of opera — she even performed on stage in featured roles over the years. Her relationship with Justice Antonin Scalia was further documented in a recently-debuted opera, Ginsburg/Scalia.

Perhaps her most famous quote is:

People ask me sometimes, when — when do you think it will it be enough? When will there be enough women on the court? And my answer is when there are nine.

In honor of Justice Ginsburg, we’re highlighting the work of nine operatic singers who have made history in a variety of ways, and whose work transcends the stage into their own work as activists.

Denyce Graves

Denyce Graves is a world-class mezzo-soprano, who you may have seen honoring Justice Ginsburg at the Capitol ceremony last week with the spiritual “Deep River” and Gene Scheer’s “American Anthem.”Her work spans performances at many leading opera institutions, including working opposite Andrea Bocelli in his first staged operatic performances at Michigan Opera Theatre.

Christine Goerke

Christine Goerke is a performer known for her powerful soprano and her performances of Wagner. She took to Instagram to express her gratitude for Justice Ginsburg in saying, “Thank you, Ruth. You fought your entire life. For your family, for our daughters, for their futures, for justice in this nation… you were a beacon for all of us. You were a champion for the arts.”

J’nai Bridges 

Bridges’ work in her field spans beyond the stage, as she has been working hard as an organizer to draw attention to issues of racial discrimination in the opera field at large. In addition to speaking with the New York Times about her experiences, she recently served as the host on a panel discussion with fellow Black singers about inequalities in opera, which can be viewed on Facebook Live.

Lisette Oropesa

Oropesa is an acclaimed Cuban-American soprano who began her career as Susanna in Le Nozze Di Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera at the age of 22. In mourning Justice Ginsburg, she said, “I’ll never forget how much she meant to me and to so many, how she contributed not only to the country but to the arts, how she inspired us all and uplifted us all when she was around us. She was our champion. I’m remembering what she stood for. We sent in our absentee ballots yesterday. That is how I’m honoring her memory.” During the pandemic, she has been hosting opera masterclasses, which you can find out more about here.

Jamie Barton

Jamie Barton has gained accolades for her performances as a mezzo-soprano (including for her 2017 performance with Celebrity Series here in Boston), but also for her work as an activist within the world of opera. She has proudly spoken up about representation and justice for LGBTQ+ individuals, as well as issues of size discrimination that exist within the field and beyond. With so much passion for what she does, we know that “Opera’s nose-studded rockstar” will continue to make an impact for a long time.

Joyce DiDonato

This American mezzo-soprano is a multi-Grammy-winning artist, who has also brought her passions for education and refugee rights to the forefront of her work.  “Music heals,” she has said, “and it can fire people up with purpose and courage to change the world.” DiDonato has also worked with incarcerated individuals at a maximum-security prison in New York, which she reflected on by saying, “I want everyone to understand how transformative this stuff – opera – can be.”

Breanna Sinclairé

Sinclairé is shining in her career after graduating from San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In June 2015, Sinclairé made history by becoming the first transgender woman to sing The Star-Spangled Banner at a Major League Baseball Game at Oakland Athletics Stadium to a crowd of 30,000. She was also featured in a documentary film, Mezzo, which screened at the 2016 San Francisco Transgender Film Festival.

Ayleen Jovita Romero

Soprano Ayleen Jovita Romero made news in 2019 when a video went viral after she performed the Chilean protest anthem “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz,” or “The Right to Live in Peace” during a period of mass protest against inequalities in the country. When asked about her choice to perform the song out of her window, she said, “We are demonstrating in a peaceful manner during this curfew, all of the neighbors here are supporting the cause, singing and playing their beautiful instrument[s]. I invite other artists to do the same. It’s necessary.”.

Mary Beth Nelson

Last but not least, Nelson appeared as Justice Ginsburg herself in the comedic opera Scalia/Ginsburg at The Glimmerglass Festival in 2017. In reflecting on her experience meeting Ginsburg while working on the piece, she said: “She speaks very slowly and with thought with each word. She absorbed everything. She had so much intelligence behind those glasses. I knew she was the biggest fan and supporter of opera, specifically young artists. She doesn’t crave the spotlight, it finds her.”

Header photo: Scott Suchman/WNO via AP

Elena Morris (she/her/hers) is ArtsBoston’s Community Outreach and Marketing Manager. She is a dramaturg and arts administrator passionate about forward thinking in the arts. Elena holds a BFA in Theatre Arts from Boston University, focusing her studies on dramatic literature and movement.  @elena_pearl
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