Angel Blue is an American soprano singer, Miss Hollywood 2005, and BBC presenter of the BBC Proms and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. Blue knew she would be a soprano from the age of five. She was captivated by opera the moment she saw her first opera. She paid her way through her music degree, and a master's in opera performance at the University of California, Los Angeles, with prize money from beauty pageants. After her first meeting with Placido Domingo, Blue landed a place on Domingo - Thornton Young Artist Program at the Los Angeles Opera and embarked on her operatic career. Lan Anh Vu sat down with Blue to learn more about her journey from beauty queen to soprano star, among other topics.
As told to Lan Anh Vu
Why I Pursued a Career in Music
I grew up in classical music because of my father. My father was a gospel singer. He was my greatest inspiration. I sang a lot of different styles growing up. I also play bass guitar, alto sax, and classical piano. When I was about five, I saw my first opera and I loved it. That was when I decided to pursue a career as an opera singer.
I have three older sisters; they all went through college, so by the time it got to me, there was no money from my parents to really help me through college. My mother told me, "You need to think of something to get you through college. You should do beauty pageants or modelling." I entered one beauty contest and won. I won the title of Miss Hollywood 2005. The beauty pageant gave me the money I needed to pay my way through the first semester of college. Some people said I wasn't serious about opera because I was doing beauty pageants. Others asked whether I was having singing lessons. I told myself they were just jealous or plain ignorant.
I was asked by the BBC to help with their Choir Competition of the Year Final in 2014. I was only a guest judge. I met some people from the BBC, and they asked if I was interested in presenting. And so I gave it a try. At first, I was nervous over the fact that it was something different, reading and memorizing things quickly and presenting in front of camera. I am very grateful to the BBC giving me this job.
I have had moments when I felt tired and wanted to take a break. But to be completely out of the field and give up--I don't know that I ever truly felt that way. When I sing, I have to feel good. I was sick a couple of days ago; I started to feel a little bit of stress in my throat. The last night I performed in Dresden, after Act 1, I just felt I was not singing well. As I was on stage singing, I wondered if anybody else in the opera could come on stage and do it for me, and I thought about whether I could go back to my dressing room. But that was just a passing thought. I love singing and I would never give up on it. Singing is the love of my life.
When I was still in the Young Artist Program, so many people from the program told me that everything had to be perfect, that I needed to have an intense look while I sang. I think it is important for aspiring singers to know that singing is serious, but it is not that serious.
A couple of days ago, I was flying from Berlin to London Heathrow. We went into horrible turbulence and the flight was rocky. I fly all the time, but I was nervous then. I think my job as a singer is something to take seriously, but in comparison, a pilot's job is much more important than my job. These two pilots had hundreds of passengers' lives in their hands. To me, that is incredibly serious and something I consider intense.
The main thing I've learned is that when you enjoy what you do, just enjoy it and try not to make it stressful. I tell myself and will continue to tell myself that my work is serious but not that serious. So it is important to take a break sometimes.
I like talking a lot. Talking in the morning usually helps me for my evening performance. I also do a lot of buzzing, which helps my breath. When it comes to warming up, the most important thing for me is to keep my mind clear. If I think about too many things, I won't sing well.
Singers at the beginning of their careers need money and experience, so it is really hard to say no to roles. But I find it easy to say no to things that I know will be hurtful for my voice. Especially because we'll have seven to fourteen performances in some opera houses. So seven to fourteen performances of Tosca or Madama Butterfly. For me right now, that would be taxing, difficult to do. So what I do instead is say yes to roles I know I can do, like Mimi, since I know I can sing them for fourteen shows.
For the role of Mimi, it took me about two weeks to get into the voice. It was quick for me to understand the character. Musetta, on the other hand, I first learned in 2007, and I don't think I really understood the character or was able to sing it comfortably until 2014. I think it's also a question of temperament. If I understand the character of the woman who I am playing, then I think it is easier to fit into my voice.
Future of Classical Music
I hope that the objective of classical music and more specifically opera continues to be about the music, about singing, and less about appearance. I guess it's part of human nature, that people care how the people they watch on stage look, but opera is music first and foremost, and I think the most important thing should be the voice. In opera specifically, the main thing that must stay is important the art of singing. The voice is what matters, and that's what I hope to see in the classical music, specifically in opera.
My Advice for Aspiring Opera Singers
I would tell aspiring opera singers to take their time and not to compare themselves to anybody else--that's the worst thing to do in opera. We all have our own pace, and it's important to stay in your own lane, I think. Listen to other people, of course--I listen to other singers to get inspiration and ideas.
How do I handle criticism? I think it's important to have people around whose opinions are honest and trustworthy. For me, that's my family or my voice teacher. It is important to find a team of people who are honest with you and who have good intentions. I try to avoid reading reviews.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
This post is part of "How I Got There" series, which features people around the world speaking about their journeys. What is the path to success? What challenges did people face and how did they overcome them? Lan Anh and her guests answer all these questions and much more. To view the entire series, visit here.