Friday, October 02, 2009

LT's Jazzy Radio Loft & Lounge 'Follow Your Dreams' Guest # 9: Soprano Chinwe Enu


Joining me today in LT's Jazzy Radio Loft & Lounge for my ongoing "Follow Your Dreams, Listen To Your Heart" series which I started here in August 2006 is Soprano Chinwe Enu. Chinwe took time out of her busy schedule to talk to us here in the Lounge!

LT: Hello, Chinwe! Thank you for swinging by The Lounge! I have read so many good things about you, it's an honor to speak with you. Where are originally from?

CE: I am originally from Nigeria. My home town is Enugu, but I lived in Lagos, Nigeria till I was 15. I then emigrated to the US, straight to boarding school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. My family is in New York, and that was where I would go for summers.

LT: When did you first become interested in Classical music?

CE: I grew up listening to jazz and Classical music, my dad played the organ and piano when he was younger. I became interested in classical singing and opera at Exeter when I began to take voice lessons. My voice teacher at the time, Mary Ann Valaitis told me I had a good voice for opera and encouraged me to audition for the Young Artists Vocal Program at Boston University Tanglewood Institute. It was at Tanglewood, in the summer of 1996, that I really fell in love with opera and classical singing.

LT: How old were you when you first started singing?

CE: At age 16.

LT: Were you always drawn to Classical music?

CE: Hmmm. When I was really younger, I wouldn't say I was particularly drawn to Classical music, I really liked it, but I really liked other music as well. It really was when I started singing at age 16, and after I did the Tanglewood Program that my love for Classical Music, particularly classical vocal music, really came out.

LT: Who were/are some of your musical influences?

CE: I consider my current voice teacher and mentor, Carmen Balthrop to be my strongest musical influence because she has been crucial in helping me shape my vocal and artistic technique. Another person I have been influenced by is my former voice teacher Charles Williams. We are still close and I consider him one of my mentors.

As I mentioned earlier, when I was 16 and saw Jessye Norman sing at Tanglewood, I decided that I wanted to sing like her, so she definitely was one of my very first musical influences. I have also been influenced by Grace Bumbry, whom I worked with in Salzburg, Austria. Singers I absolutely admire and love to listen to include Leontyne Price...I love Ms. Price, she is absolutely amazing. She is the true DIVA!
Renee Fleming, Kathleen Battle, Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi and Cecilia Bartoli.

LT: I would have to say that my mother was the first person to turn me on to Classical Music by playing it in the house all the time. In 1981 she tooks us to see the movie 'Diva' starring Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez. That was the first time I saw someone who looked like us singing Classical music and Opera though I found out later in my life through my Mom that there were many more African and African American Classical singers, composers, artists, etc. Did you ever see the movie Diva? If so, what did you think of it?

CE: I love that movie, not really because of the plot but because of the MUSIC. I cry every time I watch it because of the way she sings the aria "Ebben ne andro lontana" from the opera "La Wally" by Alfredo Catalani. That aria means a lot, it was the final trigger for me when I decided that I must pursue singing, I was listening to Renee Fleming sing it, and in that moment, I knew that I just HAD to pursue singing (again with the drama)! I will be singing that aria in my recital in November, so come on out and hear it!

LT: How is Classical music received in Nigeria and in Africa abroad?

CE: It is well received. Classical music has a small but loyal and growing audience.

LT: What made you take that leap of faith and decide to really start following your dream of singing professionally full time?

CE: I reached a point in my life when I finally came to realize that it was up to ME to pursue my dream, and no one else. I could not keep blaming external forces and factors for where I was in my life. This was in 2005. I was absolutely miserable on the track I was on (that of being an attorney) and I saw that if I did not make the leap, and at least try, I would be miserable for the rest of my life. Sounds dramatic I know, but hey, I am an opera singer! ;-) I officially began to "go for it" on June 20th, 2005, the day after my 26th birthday.

LT: What are some of the challenges of being a Classical singer in the 21st Century as composed to years past?

CE: Getting exposure! Things have gotten easier because of the Internet and social networking sites, but that issue still remains true. Also classical music is nowhere as popular as other kinds of music, sometimes there is a perception that it is "boring" or "serious" music, so we draw less crowds. This is so different from the Western world in the 16th, 17th and 18th century when classical music was the entertainment! But we keep on trucking, because Classical music fans tend to be die hard and loyal, and are less flighty than popular music fans.

LT: How would you classify or rate America's taste today for Classical music and Opera Singers, etc. compared to other countries in the world?

CE: European countries still worship classical music and opera. It is not as popular in the United States, but there are quite a few die hard fans. In Africa, classical music has been around, but opera is slowly gaining ground. It was such a thrill to perform in my home country of Nigeria, my recital was very well received and there is a small but loyal following of opera and classical music buffs in Nigeria. As for Asia, opera seems to be popular there, I would love to perform in Asia one day.

LT: Have you been approached or are you pursuing any of the Classical labels to do your own album?

CE: No not yet, but it will happen soon!

LT: What are some of the countries you have traveled to to perform?

CE: I have performed in Italy, several cities in Austria, Nigeria and in various states in the U.S.

LT: Where are some of the places in the DC/MD/VA area where you have performed your recitals?

CE: I have performed at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Georgetown University Law Center, the Historical Society of Washington DC, National City Christian Church, the Metropolitan African Methodist Church and several other churches in the area.

LT: Where can we see you next?

CE: Come to my November recital of art songs and arias at St. Luke's Parish in Bladensburg MD. Saturday, November 14th, 2009 at 7.30pm. I will also be performing in Tampa, Florida, at the Asaba Memorial International Symposium at the University of South Florida on October 9th and 10th, 2009.

LT: What are your future plans? I have one year left in my second Bachelors degree in Music at the University of Maryland School of Music. I am scheduled to finish in December 2010. After that I plan to audition, perform and participate in vocal competitions.

LT: What advice would you give to young people interested in the arts and pursuing a career in classical music?

CE: In the end, persistence is what wins out, no matter how little or how much talent you have. If you are persistent, no matter what other people say, if you trust yourself and keep taking little steps, day by day, you will eventually succeed.

LT: Thanks again for swinging by The Lounge. All the best with your upcoming performances. Looking forward to seeing you perform! Come through again anytime!

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