July 2018

Artist of the Month, July 2018

Anita Rachvelishvili was born in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. She became internationally known when on December 7th, 2009, the opening night of the La Scala season, she sang the title role in Carmen opposite Jonas Kaufmann as Don José, in a production staged by Emma Date and conducted by Daniel Barenboim. This performance, which was her first of any major role in the West and which was her debut in the role, was also televised all over the world. She has since debuted as Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, The Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Bayerische Staatsoper München, the Staatsoper Berlin, the Seattle Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Teatro Regio in Turin, with the Canadian Opera Company, Teatro all’Opera di Roma, and at the Arena di Verona, as well as making a return in the role to the Teatro alla Scala.

Anita Rachvelishvili made her Netherlands debut when she sang her first Dalila in a concert performance of Samson et Dalila at the Concertgebouw, debuted at Carnegie Hall alongside Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann as the Principessa di Bouillon in Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. She has also been heard Dulcinée in Massenet’s Don Quichotte at the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari. Other roles in her repertoire have also included Isabella in Rossinis L’Italiana in Algeri at the Scala, and the title role in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice and at the Festival de Peralada I.


Anita returned to the Staatsoper Berlin in as Lyubasha in the new production of Rimsky Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride, staged by Dmitry Cherniakov and conducted by Daniel Barenboim and appeared as the Konschakowna in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Borodin’s Prince Igor. She has also returned to the Arena di Verona as Amneris in Aida and to Teatro alla Scala for a new production of Aida led by Lorin Maazel. She has performed Verdi Requiem at the Salzburg Easter Festival.


This season she will return to Teatro alla Scala in performances of the Verdi Requiem, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in the title role of Carmen, the Dutch National Opera in the role of Marfa in Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina and her debut with the Paris Opera as Amneris in Aida. Engagements in future seasons include her Paris Opera debut as Amneris in “Aida”, “Samson et Dalila” in Berlin and Sao Paulo and at the Arena di Verona, and Azucena in “Il Trovatore” at Covent Garden and Opéra Bastille.

Discover more about this wonderful artist at: http://anitarachvelishvili.com/en/


Did you know… ?

Music activates certain regions in your brain which are involved in movement, planning, attention, learning and memory. It also releases dopamine, which improves your mood and reduces stress and anxiety and induces pleasure, joy and motivation. Music is also proven to bring memories back to an injured brain, which can help people with brain injuries, such as Alzheimer’s, recall personal memories. Music can enhance altruism in humans and just simply make us be nicer to one another! Learning to play an instrument, the human voice being one of the most complicated to master, activates the brain even more and in more complex ways, even increasing the size of the corpus callosum, which is the area of the brain that allows communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

The Kristin Lewis Foundation “Nightingale”


Each month talented Kristin Lewis Foundation scholarship award winners or finalists will be presented in La Fermata. They will be lovingly referred to as “Nightingales” and “Troubadours,” in homage to artists who have shared their gift of beautiful singing throughout history.

A “Nightingale” is derived from “night”, and the Old English galan, “to sing.” Its Old English form nihtgale, means “night and day songstress.” A “Troubadour” was a composer and performer of Old Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages. This word is etymologically masculine.

The Kristin Lewis Foundation, an organization that shines a spotlight on talented musicians, is extremely proud of all the wonderful singers who participate in its scholarship program. The fifteen finalists chosen from universities and colleges across the country each year are invited to Arkansas for a two-day audition process, in competition for financial awards.

Each participant is given an invaluable opportunity to work with esteemed professionals from leading, international opera houses during the scholarship auditions. These singers are among the next generation of great artists who intend to grace the world’s top opera stages.

The Kristin Lewis Foundation “Nightingale” for the month of July is

Naomi Brigell, mezzo- soprano.


Naomi is quickly gaining recognition as an “expressive, athletic and strong-voiced” presence on the operatic stage and “lights up every scene she’s in” (Naples Daily News). A native of Belmont, MA, she is currently an apprentice artist at Des Moines Opera. In addition Naomi is presently singing the role of Third Wood Sprite in the mainstage production of Rusalka. Earlier in the year she joined Opera Naples as a resident artist, where she performed the roles of Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro and Giannetta in L’elisir d’amore under the baton of Ramón Tebar.


Other recent operatic roles in which she has sung include – Dritte Dame in Die Zauberflöte with Opera in the Heights, Sesto in La clemenza di Tito with Chicago Summer Opera, and Zulma in L’Italiana in Algeri with Operativo Houston, where she covered the role of Isabella. Further operatic highlights have included Nancy in Albert Herring and Rebecca Nurse in The Crucible. Equally at home on the concert stage, Naomi has appeared as an oratorio soloist with Palm Beach Symphony, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, Houston Lutheran Choral, and Boston University Concert Choir.


In 2017, Brigell was awarded the Kristin Lewis Foundation Vocal Scholarship Competition’s grand prize: a short residency in Vienna to study with coaches and stage directors at the Wiener Staatsoper. In 2018, she was first runner-up in the Madame Rose Competition at Mobile Opera. During her formal academic studies, Naomi was awarded titled scholarships, including the Winifred and Maurice Hirsch Memorial Scholarship at the University of Houston and the prestigious, Ellalou Dimmock Vocal Honors Award at Boston University.

Naomi Brigell with German vocal coach, Werner Lemberg.
Naomi Brigell with German vocal coach, Werner Lemberg.

The Vienna Stipendium awarded to Naomi was granted on September 19-27, 2017. Her Stipendium included an all expense paid, round trip airfare, housing and daily stipend. She also received daily voice lessons from dramatic soprano Carol Byers, Italian diction and voice coaching from the Vienna State Opera pianist Luisella Germano, German diction and vocal coaching Werner Lemberg and acting lessons from noted Stage Director, Peter Pawlik. Cultural excursions within the city of Vienna were also granted. Here is a reflection of Naomi’s trip to Vienna in her own words:

Naomi Brigell with operatic dramatic soprano and voice teacher, Carol Byers.
Naomi Brigell with operatic dramatic soprano and voice teacher, Carol Byers.
Naomi Brigell with European Stage Director, Peter Pawlik.
Naomi Brigell with European Stage Director, Peter Pawlik.

“My lessons with Carol Byers were really helpful for reminding me about certain aspects of my technique that I have neglected recently, and also for helping me find my fullest and most mature sound throughout my entire range. I loved the fact that she never let me get away with even one tone that was less than my best– that helped me make sure that I was singing as well as I possibly could throughout an entire piece! She also helped me get more into my body when I sing, which is something that I have struggled with in the past.

All of my coachings were also incredibly beneficial. I worked very closely on language skills with native speakers (German with Werner Lemberg and Italian with Luisella Germano). I worked on phrasing, musicality, and the “big picture” of each aria with David Aronson. Also, Peter Pawlik helped me to theatrically work through my characters in a completely natural way, where I was using the way I act in everyday life to help motivate my characters and their movements. He was especially helpful for physicalizing my pants role characters, which is, of course, always a challenge.
It’s safe to say I completely fell in love with Vienna. Not only is it beautiful, but it has such a rich arts and musical presence that is around every corner. Being able to participate in so many cultural activities and go to so many performances was such a delightful and immersive experience that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. I also must thank the foundation for supporting me financially, allowing me to enjoy the city and all it had to offer without worrying about financial burdens.

Overall, I feel like I grew as an artist and a person during my week in Vienna. I left feeling motivated– I know I have a lot of work to do, but this trip and everyone involved gave me tools and encouragement to do that work and continue to pursue this career.“

Where in the World Is Kristin Lewis…?

An interview with Amerie Jones

Kristin Lewis is not only the Founder and Board President of the Kristin Lewis Foundation, but she is also a world-renowned opera singer, who continues to travel around the world! Ms. Lewis credits a lot of her travel to the opera Aïda, one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most beloved operas.
Ms. Lewis is currently jet setting in Verona, Italy until the middle of July. Let’s get the scoop on what she has been up to!

Amerie: It’s been really hard trying to pin you down to get this interview done. You must be really busy. How’s Italy…?

Kristin: Yes, I’ve been extremely busy, balancing performance life with foundation work. It’s all very exciting! Italy – well what can I say…? It’s beautiful and very hot here. Very similar to… Arkansas summer heat! (giggle) However, the people of Verona, similar to Arkansans, seem to take it all in stride and do what’s needed to get through the summer heat.

Amerie: Well, I pray to get through the heat in Arkansas.

Kristin: Ha – ha! Prayer is always good. And air conditioning is God’s gift to the world.

Amerie: (giggle) True. True. So, what’s going on in Verona, Italy these days that has you so busy…?

Kristin: Well, I am performing in the Arena di Verona Opera Festival. One of the interesting literary points about this city is that it is the setting of two of Shakespeare’s plays, one in particular is the familiar tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet. Legend says that the feud between the Capulets and Montagues in the story is based upon an actual rivalry between the Capuleti and Montecchi families in the 14th century. Both family homes do exist near the center of Verona, and it is plausible that there could have actually been a love story amidst the conflict of these families.
I’ve gone to look at Juliet’s house several times over the years. My first impression was that the house was nothing like what has been presented in Hollywood movies…
In the movies the home of Juliet’s family is usually depicted as a grand mansion. The actual home is far less ostentatious, yet one does instantly feel the romanticism and mystery that linger when viewing it.

Amerie: OK, now that you’ve given us some historical trivia about Verona, tell us more about the Summer Opera Festival that you’re performing in.

Kristin: Well, before I do that, I have to tell you a little history about the actual structure where the performances will take place. First of all it is a distinct privilege to perform in this outdoor arena that was built in 30 AD and originally sat 30,000 people. The arena was devastated by an earthquake in 1117, which destroyed its outer limestone facade; yet, the inner structure is still sound. The Arena di Verona, which comfortably still seats 22,000 when the stage is erected, is the third largest existing arena in Italy, following Rome and Capua.

Amerie: Yeah, you’re right, while you were talking, I just looked up the seating capacity of Verizon Arena here in Little Rock. The seating there is just 18,000.

Kristin: The Arena di Verona is a huge tourist attraction, as is the Arena in Rome. The difference is that the one in Verona is the only one that is still functional. Because the seating of the Arena here in Verona is made of marble, it creates the most amazing acoustics! One does not need a microphone when singing on the stage! It’s similar to the feeling of singing in your bathroom, only better! The voice never gets lost. The natural amplification is nearly perfect.

Amerie: Really… !

Kristin: Yes. What is very sad however, about the history of the Arena is how it was used during ancient Roman times. Back then, it was also a place of entertainment, but this included the deaths of many innocent people. For example, people from miles around would come to Verona to see the gladiators fight….

Amerie: Yes! They came to watch Spartacus and the gods of the Arena! I wonder if Spartacus really looked like Andy Whitfield…?

Kristin: Ha – ha! I don’t know about that, but yes, the public did come and watch the gladiators fight, but the really sad part was that people came here to be amused by the death of others…
People stolen into captivity, including Christians, were forced to face savage beasts for base entertainment. Thousands of people died in this place…

Amerie: Man, what a way to be a Debbie Downer….

Kristin: I wasn’t trying to be, but part of the original purpose of the Arena is sad. In addition it was illegal to be a Christian until the 4th century AD, when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Before then, there was no love for Christians….

Amerie: No, love, Kris….? Not a smidge…?

Kristin: (giggle) Nothing… Nada… But now the Arena is the home of a magnificent opera festival. It began in 1913, and the first opera produced was Aïda, as a way of celebrating the centennial birth of the composer, Verdi. The festival subsequently grew each year, and is now a world- famous tourist attraction.

Amerie: So how long is the festival?

Kristin: It began at the end of June and will end at the beginning of September. During this period, five operatic productions and one concert will be performed.

Amerie: So it’s safe to say that you’re performing Aïda at this year’s festival….? I noticed on the Arena‘s webpage that the season will be opened with Bizet‘s Carmen, followed by Aïda.

Kristin: Correct. The other productions being presented are The Barber of Seville, Turandot and Nabucco.

Amerie: So is this your first time participating in the festival here?

Kristin: No. This is the second time I’ve had the privilege to perform in the festival. The first time was relatively early in my career. I have come to realize that the difference between the first time I performed here and this time is that I am approaching my performances with an inner security that I didn’t have before. In a way it affirms for me that I’m truly at home in this role.
The authenticity needed to capture the essence of Aïda never waivers; therefore, the bar is constantly being set very high. In this production, the conductor, Maestro Jordi Bernàcer, is fantastic! He seems to truly understand how to bring out the beauty of every phrase. He equally understands the necessity of allowing singers the time to breathe calmly, which aids significantly toward our ability to sing beautiful phrases.

Amerie: OMG! Aida starts and ends the festival this year! From the description of the festival on its homepage, it truly is a spectacle… but not in a bad way….

Kristin: I knew what you meant…. Yes! The set was designed by one of the best in the world, Franco Zeffirelli! The costumes and back drops are also very beautiful.

Amerie: So what’s the difference between doing the production in an indoor, smaller venue versus an outdoor, larger one?

Kristin: The most obvious difference is being at the mercy of the weather. One must acclimate and be flexible in dealing with the heat, rain and wind. Moreover, in theatres, movements onstage can be more intricate because the audience is not far away from the stage. However, in an outdoor arena like this one, detailed movements can get lost. This means that it becomes necessary to move one‘s body in a more grandiose fashion.

Amerie: I feel you…. So, Ms. Lewis, what are your final words for us?

Kristin: For those who will have an opportunity to come to a performance in Verona, you are promised an evening of dramatic excitement and beautiful music…

Amerie: Thank you, Ms. Lewis. There you have it folks, Kristin has turned up all the way from Verona, Italy! Turned up for what?! We’re so proud of you!

Kristin: (giggle) Thank you. I truly love singing opera.

And now a word from the other good book…

Philosophical ruminations can be extremely important to consider when embarking upon a career in performance. Divine guidance, natural talent, dedication and humility are among the fundamental tools needed for success. Further, I invite aspiring artists to read the thoughts of seasoned artistic professionals, or Opera Apostles, as they share their most meaningful words of wisdom in a new blog entitled,

The Good Book of Ruminations:
A Musician’s Guide To Survival.

The Good Book of Ruminations 2:1-5
A Word from Living Opera Legend and Apostles, Jessye Norman

Chapter 2

1Before thou standeth before others, seek ye first a teacher with good knowledge. 2Be ye not afraid to search high and low. 3For thine preparation will show forth like pure gold whilst standing in the place where the spotlight shineth most brightly. 4When thou singeth, danceth or playeth, be ye ever steadfast, 5for laud shall be bestowed upon thee who hath first taken heed to find joy preparing in their room.


Jessey Norman
Jessey Norman

I tend to say to my younger colleagues, you know, that we’re not oracles just because we happen to have been in the business longer than they. But I would encourage anyone – a singer, a violinist, a pianist, a dancer – that the one thing that we must all do is to work and prepare…and to be willing to enjoy the preparation process, because we spend much more time in rehearsal than we actually do onstage. And we have to make ourselves comfortable with the idea of preparation and the time that that takes, and the time that that simply needs. Working hard is it’s own reward. ~ Jessye Norman.