Julie Adams had dreams of being a Broadway star. The big bright lights of the Great White Way were her destiny, singing the show-stopping power ballad while flying through the air. And when she landed back on the stage, she would start dancing and….
Well, that’s kind of where that dream ends. Adams admits she’s not an incredible dancer.
“There’s no dancing in opera.”
But what she can do is sing. And sing hella good.
The soprano Adams, a native of Burbank and a resident of San Francisco, is presently using those powerful singing chops for Opera San Jose, where she and resident artist Sylvia Lee are sharing the iconic role of Mimi in Giacomo Puccini’s classic “La Boheme.” The story, often associated with its more contemporary counterpart “Rent,” follows the struggles within an arts community, and the devastation of a disease believed to be tuberculosis within that community. The opera, which premiered in 1896, runs in San Jose through April 30th.
Adams had taken singing lessons since the seventh grade, and attended a comprehensive high school for her first two years, but transferred to Los Angeles County High School for the Arts at the start of her junior year.
It was there that some things started pointing her in the opera direction. For starters, she befriended Dominic Domingo, a young man who has sang opera since he was a small boy, the grandson of opera legend Placido Domingo. She also saw her first opera, Puccini’s “Tosca,” and was blown away by the singing. The affinity for the storyline was not there yet though. But a director who had her sing before pulled her aside for a chat.
“He had told me, ‘You know, I know this isn’t your focus, and rarely do I say this, but you really have a voice for this,’” said Adams. “But the more I got into singing, I realized it fit my voice like a glove.
“I use this cheesy line – you don’t choose opera, opera chooses you. The more I sang it, I began to realize this was my calling.”
That calling led her to San Francisco, where she pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, graduating with the latter in 2013. It was then she decided to stay in the City and work with San Francisco Opera as an Adler fellow.
She has sung various roles throughout her career, including roles such as Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and has also sung Mimi before. For her, Puccini’s compositions and challenges are specific and special.
“His operas are my favorite, and people always say things like, ‘ah, of course,’ but it’s so true,” said Adams. “The story of ‘La Boheme’ is so beautiful and heartbreaking. It’s lush and rich with gorgeous melodies. It’s so iconic.
“Puccini gives you so much musical notations, and to me, the challenge is really to do it justice. And because it’s so popular, you really have to find your own voice.”
The warm and ebullient Adams is still searching to find her own voice. She admits that she is hard on herself, constantly striving for growth and perfection, as all great artists do. And in her career, there was one pivotal moment in 2014 during “Streetcar” where she took a pause and allowed satisfaction to seep in.
“It was extremely difficult musicality wise, the hardest thing I ever had to learn,” said Adams. “So many times I wanted to throw the score across the room, but once I had it, after all the work I put it in, it was so satisfying. I’ve never worked on a role that challenged me more musically, physically, stamina wise, and I was so lucky to receive great reviews.
“I critique myself all the time, but after that I told myself, ‘I’m proud of myself, and I did that.’ I’m so thankful I had that experience; It was so rewarding and satisfying, and it helped me grow as an artist so much.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Opera San Jose presents “La Boheme”
Writen by Giacomo Puccini
Sung in Italian with English supertitles
Through April 30th
The California Theatre
345 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113
Tickets range from $55 – $175
For tickets, call (408) 437-4450 or visit www.operasj.org