Modesto based soprano Liisa Davila is joining us for the second time this season after a stellar role debut of Rosina in The Barber of Seville. She made her Company debut in 2012 as Micaela (Carmen) and has since returned as Kitty Hart (Dead Man Walking) and as Violetta (La Traviata). Read on to learn more about Liisa, how she got her start in music, how she formed her program for her recital, and some fun facts about Liisa you may not have known!
See Liisa Davila this this Friday, November 17th at the Mistlin Gallery as she performs her recital program: In Sleep the World is Yours.
We opened this season with The Barber of Seville and it was your role debut of Rosina. How did you prepare for this new role and what do you enjoy about the process?
I love to learn new roles and dedicate months into the process. First, I start with the big picture, listening to the whole opera and finding out who the character is and how they relate to other characters. Sometimes the composer makes choices for their vocal line based on their character or mood and I do my best to get a sense of the character as a whole. Then I start learning the role by focusing on the arias or solo parts. Next, I then choose to work on other challenging ensembles or difficult vocal passages. Once the entire work is memorized (or mostly memorized) I go to work with a vocal coach who adds any additional insights about the character, opera, or stylistic ideas from the time period.
Much of the work of learning an opera comes from years of experience learning how to read music, how to sing in other languages, and how to sing with proper technique. Then the time comes to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and prepare the role in context of a show. Meeting with the conductor, director, stage director, set designer enhance all the work put into learning an opera role and bring it to a level ready to show to an audience. It’s all so exciting!
Do you have any unique or interesting rituals the day of a performance?
I am not too particular in my preparation. I make sure to drink enough water the day before and the morning of a performance. I make sure to stay active and keep my body energized and ready to sing. I don’t vocalize too much the day of the show. I trust that my sound will be there through many days of practicing beforehand. I guess being a singer is another way of life. I take care of my body and my voice on a regular basis by eating sensibly, always staying active, using my voice sensibly (I don’t ever scream and rarely shout), and staying positive. Preparing for a performance is a natural extension of how I am already living my day.
What was your first exposure to classical music? Do you have a musical background in your family?
I grew up in a very musical family where music was like water to us. There was music everywhere and especially at the dinner table where the singing/tapping/whooping of musical references became such an interruption to dinner time and there was eventual rule: No Singing At The Table!!
From a young age I studied piano, singing, violin, viola, played duets with my sister on recorder, sang in the Stockton Chorale, performed in the Stockton Opera’s children’s chorus, sang solos in church, and performed in singing and dancing musical theater group. I know that I am truly lucky and blessed to have such a supportive base of musical experiences from my family who were equally supported in their musical endeavors. My mother has her bachelors in Music Education and Master’s degree in Vocal Performance. I have an aunt who is an international opera singer. Grandparents on each side of my family had such a love for music and shared that love through the generations.
When did you first start singing and how did you know you wanted to be an opera singer?
I have always been singing. My family says that I was born singing so it has always been a part of me in some way. I was also a born performer; always giving “shows” on our raised, brick fireplace hearth. I was fortunate to have a family that nurtured that and gave me opportunities to pursue and explore these talents.
My moment when I knew that I wanted to be an opera singer is very clear. When I was 10 years old, singing in the children’s chorus of Stockton Opera’s La Boheme my mother who was also singing the chorus brought me and my sister to the side of the stage to see my aunt sing the leading role of Mimi. While I was watching her sing I had the most amazing feeling wash over me from head to toe that I must have this in my life and this was what I was meant to do. The same thrilling feeling comes to me each time I perform and helps me reach out and pursue this part of my life, even through challenges.
Your recital this Friday features music from Mozart and Schumann as well as two more modern pieces by Lori Laitman and Gary Schocker. How did you come to put such a versatile program together?
I truly feel that this program was a bit guided in the way it was built. I started out with the song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben by Robert Schumann, a piece I have always admired and wanted to sing. I continued looking for things that I would like to work on, like singing with one of my favorite instruments, the oboe (I find the oboe to be so hauntingly beautiful) and found other pieces that work together in the theme of celebrating the highs and lows of every-day life.
Which piece on your program was the most fun to learn?
Definitely the final piece, Diary of an Urban Maiden by Gary Schocker, was the most fun. It’s all about a single woman living in the city and her misadventures in navigating through the urban world and finding love.
Which was the most challenging?
The title piece of the program, In Sleep the World is Yours by Lori Laitman, was the most challenging. This piece was premiered in 2014 and is a beautiful piece of 21st century music. It is very accessible to listen to but does come with some interesting timings and some surprise changes in the chords that takes time for the ear to get used to.
As a Modesto based artist, what are some of your favorite aspects of the cultural arts available in Modesto?
Modesto has so much variety for musical events to offer. There are folk music festivals that are just as present as the classical music opportunities. There is always some kind of exciting performance to go and enjoy. And, of course, the Gallo Center is an amazing asset to this area, bringing in world-class art from around the nation right to our neighborhood.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love to crochet in my free time. I always have a project or two going like sweaters for dogs, scarves, or an afghan. I also love to play Sudoku.
Though I love to read and have had many books that I enjoy, I am still searching for one that is my favorite.
It is a bit silly, but I really enjoy watching Nacho Libre. The movie is so light-hearted and it’s something my whole family can watch together and enjoy.
Favorite TV Show
Right now I am watching Stranger Things on Netflix. I don’t normally watch spooky things and am not interested in thrillers, but I like the combination of suspense and Sci-fi that this show brings into my life. A bit of escape from the the normal day.
I love Japanese food. I also love lemon bars.