Latinx Voices: Adriana Zabala
It’s Latinx Heritage Month! All month, we’ll be highlighting the incredible artistry of the Latinx singers and directors in our community as well as uplifting local Latinx organizations that need your support. Recently, we sat down with several Latinx members of the MN Opera family to talk about how their Latinx identities have impacted their opera careers and what they would like to see change in the opera industry with regard to Latinx representation.
First up is incomparable Cuban-American mezzo-soprano, Adriana Zabala. Ms. Zabala is a favorite of MN Opera audiences after scene-stealing turns as Sister James in 2013’s Doubt, Cherubino in 2017’s The Marriage of Figaro, Mary Johnson in 2018’s Fellow Travelers, and so many more. An alum of MN Opera’s Resident Artist Program, Ms. Zabala is also currently an Associate Professor of Voice at the Yale School of Music.
In what ways has your Latinx identity impacted your career journey in opera?
In the last few years especially, it has been very meaningful for me to be a part of several productions of Florencia en al Amazonas by Daniel Catan. The casts I have been a part of have mostly identified as Latinx, and the camaraderie, linguistic ease and expression, and pride in this beautiful lyrical work in Spanish is deeply nourishing and affirming- it’s been a joy to be a part of it, and of course to share it with audiences and company communities! In my early days, I had the chance to do some significant recital programming of Spanish and Latin American song repertoire and got to do some memorable and work with Steve Blier and the New York Festival of Song on repertoire in Spanish. These experiences continue to resonate in my programming and in my teaching.
Did you have any Latinx role models or mentors when you were starting your career? What qualities did you admire about them?
Growing up, the most salient examples were the Spanish singers on the international scene, in opera, concert, and recording. It was not like the unbelievable pool of professionals we now have from the Latinx community, with heritage from Cuba, Mexico, Central and South America and beyond. I listened to Victoria de los Angeles (whom I continue to love) and Montserrat Caballé, and I will admit that the global popularity of The Three Tenors struck a chord of pride with two of the three being Spanish. As a teenager, I thought that was cool. I wish I had had more personal mentorship and experience with Latinx artists in my formative years—hopefully that chance is more abundant for developing singers in the U.S. today.
What changes would you like to see in the opera industry, specifically in relation to the Latinx community?
More operas in the Spanish language, for one, and more contemporary story treatments and themes. Florencia is an exception in that it has become a part of the North American repertoire, but thankfully there are initiatives to support more new work from Latinx artists (composers, librettists), and I would love to see another handful of works join Florencia in regular rotation. The language is too beautiful and expressive, the stories too important for all of us, historically as well as right now, for us to miss the chance to lead in this development of seeing, hearing, and understanding Latinx and Latinx influenced culture in opera.
Adriana Zabala as Mary Johnson singing the aria “I Worry” from 2018’s Fellow Travelers