American mezzo-soprano Isola Jones is a highly acclaimed opera singer who sang at the Metropolitan Opera for 16 seasons (over 500 performances) and has sung with many opera companies throughout the U.S. and abroad. Isola was born in Chicago, and her striking looks reveal her ancestry—African American, Native American (Cherokee) and European.
Isola Jones is best known for her portrayal of Carmen, her signature role, however she also collaborated with James DeMars and wrote an aria for an opera written for her: “Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Roses.” She is an adjunct faculty member at South Mountain Community College, where she shares her gifts with her students. She has earned her Masters and is now pursuing her DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) from Arizona State University.
Isola recently participated in a recording for Watchfire Music—a collaboration with pianist/composer/arranger and WFM recording artist Deborah Offenhauser, in Deborah’s debut as an orchestra arranger and her first time recording with a vocalist. The album, “Child of God,” illustrates the Creator’s loving embrace for his children, and is the result of several years’ work by Deborah in writing the music and lyrics.
INTERVIEW by Amy Duncan, Guest Blogger — “Tending The Fire”
First of all, I know you’re working on your Doctorate Degree. I would love to hear about that and what made you decide to undertake this at this particular time in your life.
I don’t plan to retire anytime soon and I love the academic environment. Earning a terminal degree (Doctor of Musical Arts) provides me with the necessary credentials to control my future. I received an Honorary Doctorate twenty years ago from Providence College in Rhode Island, but an earned doctorate is the Holy Grail in education.
Second: Tell me a little about the new CD and your experience working with Deborah’s music.
I’ve known Debbie for over twenty years, and when she asked me to
record her music, I was happy to be a part of the project. She was gracious in allowing me to make some changes in the vocal line that better suited my style of singing.
How would you describe your style of singing?
In 1975, I auditioned for Leonard Bernstein who was casting his newest musical, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He was amazing and charming and I will quote exactly what he said to me: ” You belong in an opera house.”
Tell me about when you first started singing and when and how you realized it was your calling.
I suppose I’ve always known that I wanted to sing. It wasn’t until I heard Leontyne Price sing on “The Voice of Firestone” television program in the ’60’s that I decided that the opera was my passion (I was eleven years old). Leontyne Price possesses the most beautiful voice on earth!!
Fourteen years later, when I was the mezzo-soprano understudy with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Georg Solti who was conducting the Verdi Requiem (a major orchestral piece with orchestra, chorus and four soloists), I was called in to sing the final dress rehearsal because the guest artist (mezzo) was sick!
When I arrived at Orchestra Hall I was introduced to the other soloists and we began the rehearsal: on my right, Leontyne Price, on my left Luciano Pavarotti and on his left was Welsh bass, Gwynne Howell.
My career began that day! Solti offered me the role and the recording of the part of Mary in the Wagner opera “The Flying Dutchman.” Decca London Records contacted me about performances and a recording of the Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess” in Cleveland with Lorin Maazel conducting. “Porgy and Bess” won the Grammy that year for Best Opera Recording.
You’ve had a broad and varied career in opera. Has this been your only love, or have you sung (or wanted to sing) other genres?
I appreciate all kinds of music, regardless of genre, but I, however prefer to sing classical music because of its supreme beauty and its power to transform both performer and audience.
Are you happy with the way your career has developed, or is there something else you have wished for or still wish for?
I love my life and I’m doing what I love to do! I’m singing, teaching and will graduate on May 9, 2016 with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree.
How do you feel about the future of opera, considering the financial challenges many of the arts are facing today?
I believe the answer is in marketing the product (opera) correctly.
I teach in South Phoenix where the musical culture gravitates to hip-hop, rap and mariachi music. For the past eight years I have given classical recitals to raise money for South Mountain Community College’s annual Stars Concert: music scholarship fundraiser.
Five of those eight years, I’ve sung with my students: solo arias, duets and ensembles. In September we performed the opera “Carmen” to a packed house! We posted notices on social media websites and we had gorgeous posters to distribute.
This is all to say that those who work in public relations need to use their imagination and present a compelling reason for the public to come to the theater. If Madonna can be famous, anything is possible!
Do you have any advice for young opera singers just starting out?
Young singers need to simply sing well! And what does that mean? It means that they need to know and understand the science of singing in order to have excellence and longevity as the voice matures.