Ana María Martínez is a Grammy Award-winning opera superstar. Considered one of the foremost sopranos of her generation, she has played some of opera's most intriguing and diverse leading ladies in many of the great opera houses of the world. With twelve albums to her credit, she has also frequently partnered with superstar tenors Plácido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli. A Julliard graduate, Martínez comes from a diverse background herself, one that prized education and hard work. It was Stay Thirsty Magazine's great pleasure to visit with Ana María Martínez in advance of her upcoming Mostly Mozart appearance at Lincoln Center.
STAY THIRSTY: You come from a highly educated and accomplished family. Your mother, Evangelína Colón, is an opera singer with a doctorate and your father, Ángel Martínez, is a psychoanalyst. You have both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree from The Juilliard School. Why was education so prized in your family? What is it about a classical education that empowered you and gave you the confidence to follow your passion as a soprano?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: I recall my father telling me when I was young of the immense importance of obtaining an education, how that helps to form you, anchor you in life and by growing within and through a solid education, you can reach your highest levels of development as well as your goals in life. In the same way as a language holds the key to its culture, so too does education hold the key to unlocking the mind's potential.
There are many different ways in which we all learn and I think it is important to identify one's best method of learning: for some it is school, books, research, the classroom. For others, it's travel, living and working in a different culture. Those are just two examples and as long as your mind can expand in the process, all forms are valid.
I personally needed the structured format and strong disciplined environment of The Juilliard School, in order to build a strong foundation on which I could continue to grow. So, for me it was about the classroom environment first, and life experience, practical knowledge later.
STAY THIRSTY: Your roots are a combination of Puerto Rican, from your mother, and Cuban, from your father, and today you are an award-winning opera singer who happens to be a Latina. How has the Latin culture affected your interpretation of some of the great operatic roles that you have played?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: I love the cultures from which I come. They are rich, passionate, colorful, delicious, expressive and profound. In addition to the Puerto Rican and Cuban cultures, my grandparents and great-grandparents were a combination of French and Spanish. All of this makes for a beautiful heritage.
Many of the lovely ladies I have portrayed throughout my career and with whom I continue to share a strong connection are Spanish, French or Italian. Some hail from Asia, some are gentle and kind princesses and one is even a breathtaking water nymph named Rusalka.
What they all share in common is great inner strength, passion and love. Love for life, or love for another, love for one's country or love of self. In the case of Madama Butterfly, her deep sense of love and devotion exemplified through her tremendous sense of self-sacrifice as the only option in her story is beyond logical comprehension and an example of true nobility of spirit.
For a completely different perspective, take the case of Carmen. Her strength is shown through her fierce energy, defiance of authority that she perceives as standing in the way of her freedom, which she values above all else. As a gypsy, her life is always hanging in the balance and it is only the keen ability of her senses and her wild courage – a creature of the earth, if you will – that determine whether she may or may not survive the dangers of the world.
These characteristics inhabit all of us, regardless of our cultural backgrounds. They are universal traits and melt cultural boundaries, which is ultimately one of the purposes of art and artistic expression, and is available to all.
STAY THIRSTY: You have said on many occasions, "What is yours is yours." How important is the self-evaluation of one's talents and the tenacity to overcome in the face of rejection?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: I strongly believe that the ability to self-evaluate one's talents and gifts is a vital component on the path to self-actualization and fulfillment.
Not everyone has the self-awareness or the sufficiently strong self-esteem needed to have a clear vision of self. This is why it is so important to have mentors, teachers, family members that can help us to see what we ourselves might not see or believe we can see. The wise concept, "It takes a village," comes to mind!
Tenacity, now that is invaluable. Just contemplate for a moment that when we think of someone who is famous, successful, triumphant, they were not handed everything on a silver platter. In the majority of cases, those individuals, after years of hard work and sacrifice, striving towards perfection, faced rejection on many, many occasions, failed in some attempts and may have found themselves feeling hopeless. But, they always, always, always, got back up, dusted themselves off, learned from the experiences where the result may not have proven fruitful, learned from the momentary shortcomings, reassessed their approach, grew in further knowledge and the next time, or the time after that, their attempts took on a new life, a different, more empowered course and the doors began to open.
Vision, hard work, faith in one's self and in one's sense of purpose, and love for what one does are necessary and priceless.
STAY THIRSTY: How did your life change when you won Plácido Domingo International Voice Competition Operalia 1995 and what has working with Plácido Domingo taught you?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: One of the greatest honors in my life is to have been one of the winners of the Operalia Vocal Competition. Plácido Domingo created this competition to help in identifying, highlighting and nurturing new and developing opera singers and in so doing, helping to secure the well-being and thriving spirit of the art form for the future. The nobility of his heart is unparalleled.
I feel that having been a winner of this prestigious vocal competition was a consecration, if I may say so, into the opera world. The artistic opportunities presented to me as a result were great and I therefore had the chance many times over to be heard by conductors, general directors and casting directors of international opera houses, where I may not have otherwise.
I have been asked if I consider myself lucky in my career. My younger self thought: not really. I have worked hard and sacrificed a great deal to achieve what I have. My more mature self realizes now that indeed, I have been lucky. Now I understand what luck truly is: Preparedness meets opportunity, and you seize it. So then, yes, I have worked very hard and still do. I am to grow from the last performance. And, the opportunities I have been given have allowed me to offer what I have to give as an artist, and when what I have to offer is in line with what is needed, all parts fit together beautifully.
STAY THIRSTY: You have performed on many occasions with Plácido Domingo and with Andrea Bocelli, two of the greatest tenors of our time. How do the dynamics and the chemistry of each of them differ for you? Do they treat you as an equal?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: I feel deeply blessed to be in a position to collaborate extensively with some of the greatest artists and people of our time.
Plácido Domingo is a walking institution, an artist and humanitarian of exquisite depth, compassion and creative expansiveness which has made an indelible mark on the fabric of the world. His great generosity and kindness are matched by his gracious disposition towards all in his presence.
Andrea Bocelli possesses a combination of traits that inspires and warms the heart. He is one of the most gentle beings I have ever met, sustained by an inner strength that translates into a calming dignity. Intelligent, driven, joyful and ever creative.
Both Plácido and Andrea have always treated me as their musical and artistic equal. Each being unique and offering everything they have inside of them as they share their art with the world is one of the greatest inspirations I feel whenever we work together.
We three recorded a CD of the Puccini opera, Manon Lescaut, where Plácido conducted the Coro de la Comunitat Valenciana and Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Andrea sang the role of des Grieux and I sang the title role of Manon Lescaut. For me, that will forever remain one of the artistic highlights of my career and personal highlights of my life.
STAY THIRSTY: Are there more projects like this in the works?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: We are in regular contact and always open to finding artistic projects to do together. I am looking forward to concert tours with Plácido in North and South America and the Middle East this year, and tours with Andrea in the United States later this year.
STAY THIRSTY: In 2011, you sang a duet of "Time To Say Goodbye" with Andrea Bocelli at the Concerto: One Night in Central Park in New York. Since he is blind, how did you and he communicate during the performance?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: Andrea is a very astute and elegant human being and highly intuitive. We understand each other very well musically and that allows us to simply feel where we both are at any given moment we are on stage and within a performance. That is the goal all musicians have when working together: an ideal harmony of mind and spirit when making music.
STAY THIRSTY: This past March, you sang "Ave María" and the "Pie Jesu" requiem at the funeral of Nancy Reagan. How did this come about?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: To have been invited to sing at the funeral of our former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, was a tremendous honor. A close friend of the Reagan family, Lynn Wyatt, is a friend of mine. She was asked by the Reagan family to find the person to sing the "Ave Maria" at Nancy Reagan's funeral and she asked me if I would. I am deeply grateful to Lynn for having entrusted me to lead prayer through song for all gathered in grief and loss as the nation mourned the passing of this most elegant and strong woman.
STAY THIRSTY: How relevant is opera in the 21st century? Can it compete with other forms of entertainment in today's digital, short attention span age?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: That's a great question. Yes, opera is ever relevant. The stories have to do with real emotion, real relationships, pain, tragedy, love, passion, insanity, divine bliss, the entire spectrum of life. It is the only art form that unites all of the art forms: the visual, audio, language, lighting, set design, costume design, dance/ movement, and the singers are not amplified in an opera house. Just shear and raw ability, much like an Olympic athlete. It is beautiful, it is powerful, it will blow you away and it will make time stand still. Nothing in the world can compare to the experience of attending a live operatic performance. I encourage all to try it…once you do, trust me, you will be hooked!
STAY THIRSTY: What is the impact of classical music on the developing brains of young children and will early exposure to Mozart help to breed a new generation of opera fans?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: Many clinical studies exist to support the theory that listening to music, playing a musical instrument and being connected to music in some capacity helps to develop and stimulate all areas of the brain and helps to develop and improve cognitive thinking. The same area of the brain that processes math, for example, processes music. If you sing a song, you are stimulating both hemispheres of the brain as the text of a song are processed by one side and the other handles music. To be quite frank, I feel most alive and organized in my thinking when I am singing. Try it! Mozart and Bach, in particular, I find to be wonderful in organizing the mind of the listener and performer.
While listening to Mozart at a young age can certainly help to cultivate a new generation of opera fans, I think everyone's musical taste is unique and there is an enormous wealth of composers everyone should get to know by listening to their music, live and in recording.
STAY THIRSTY: How does the Divine Proportion, the ratio of 1.618, affect how you analyze the music of an opera and does it impact your interpretation of how you build the arc of your character in that opera?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: I first learned about the existence of the Golden Ratio, in a class I had during my studies at Juilliard. It was a Bach seminar and our teacher was brilliant to incorporate it in our course study. This number and ratio exists in nature – in a leaf, in visual art, the Da Vinci Man, for example, in much of classical music as well. The climax (in music) or in a visual context, where your eye gravitates naturally when it identifies the main focal point of a painting, is usually 1.618. You as the audience or the interpreter can feel where this number is in the piece and organically you rise with it, and then you relax as you leave where that number is (in the music, or in a painting). It impacts you and me because we feel it inside of ourselves as well.
STAY THIRSTY: What advice do you have for young, aspiring opera sopranos who dream of having the truly global career that you have achieved?
ANA MARÍA MARTÍNEZ: Once you identify your gift and you truly feel that the only career you can imagine for yourself is that of an international opera singer, I say: This is a vocation, a calling and giving yourself to this calling will require everything you have inside of you to give, and, this same calling has the ability to fulfill your being in ways you could never imagine. You must stay the course as far as discipline, always striving towards your highest ability in technique and in honest expression and storytelling. You are a communicator, a connector, and you offer your gift in service to the music, the expression, to the audience and to the greatness that unites us all.