People are sometimes caught off guard when they discover that fellow Chappaqua resident and mother of two, Joanna Mongiardo, is a glamorous opera singer.
Describing her career, Mongiardo says, “there’s nothing that makes me happier than hearing the overture, getting ready and going out for my first entrance. Putting on the costume, the makeup, and the wig, I feel transformed. I’ve always felt some sort of visceral energy from the audience, and I try to connect into that to communicate to them. I just feel tremendous joy when I’m singing.”
The Making of an Opera Singer
Mongiardo is an American soprano of Italian, Greek, and Armenian heritage. From a young age, she loved to sing. Growing up in New Jersey and attending a performing arts-focused elementary school, she frequently went to musicals with her parents, who loved musical theatre. Performing in a community theatre production of the “Sound of Music” at age twelve, Mongiardo was approached and offered voice lessons by a classically trained vocalist and opera singer who recognized her potential. This teacher soon had 12-year old Mongiardo vocalizing up to high C’s. Suddenly she was hooked on opera and introduced to a whole new world.
After earning a Bachelor of Music from the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Music from Yale University, Mongiardo procured a manager who promptly started getting her work. In between roles, she took temp jobs at various banking firms in Manhattan. Coming home at the end of each long day, she diligently practiced singing and studied roles even if she did not have an upcoming engagement. Eventually, her career began to flourish.
Mongiardo has done a wide mix of both concert work and opera engagements. Recent concert performances include her NY solo recital debut at Opera America, Handel’s Messiah at David Geffen Hall with National Chorale and multiple concerts with Novus NY and conductor Julian Wachner.
Pressed to declare her favorite opera role, she chooses her performance as Sophie in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, which was the last role she sang when she was under a festival contract in Germany at Deutsche Oper am Rhein.
“I spent two years as a house ensemble singer in Düsseldorf and got to sing eight extraordinary roles and this was the culmination of that. Strauss’ music intimidated me at first but I ended up loving it. I loved the character and it was a traditional Viennese production with gilded walls and sets and beautiful ball gowns. It was the pinnacle of my time there and really magical,” reminisces Mongiardo.
Mongiardo has been engaged in over thirty performances of Blonde in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio with houses including Grande Théâtre de Genève, Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur, and Deutsche Oper am Rhein. Her Rosalina in Il Re with Teatro Grattacielo was named “Best Individual Performance of 2011” by Das Opernwelt Jahrbuch.
Mastering pronunciation in her first Russian opera as Brigitta in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta at the Dallas Opera was challenging. Performers are expected to arrive at rehearsals 100% memorized with proper diction. Not knowing the Russian language well, Mongiardo worked with a Russian diction specialist to learn the music and correct pronunciations before arriving on set.
Embarking on taking on new challenges, Mongiardo recently taught classes and voice lessons as guest faculty at the University of Kentucky.
“This was an eye-opening and humbling experience. Tapping into my 20 plus years of experience, I was able to share a lot. I got nervous with each new student that came in, but once they started singing, I always knew what to say, so that was exciting for me. Perhaps teaching could be a future path. We’ll see what the future holds,” ponders Mongiardo.
Balancing Career and Motherhood
Like many working moms, Mongiardo struggles to strike that delicate balance between committing enough time to her children and enough time to her career. “It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day to day with the kids but being a mom has helped me discipline myself because I’ve got to find 45 minutes a day or more to practice. I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband and extended family…who have traveled with me and helped with childcare while I work.”
Mongiardo’s son and husband love attending her shows and have traveled to her international engagements. Her daughter, whose playpen sits by the piano, will often hum along while she sings.
In between opera engagements, Mongiardo focuses on family life. She loves cooking, exercising, yoga, and spending time with her girlfriends.
On living in Chappaqua, she says, “It is such a beautiful and friendly community, and we’ve made such good friends. With all the travel that we do, we appreciate the chance to return to our home here.”
Always Perfecting her Craft
Mongiardo regularly takes voice lessons. “A classically trained voice never stops developing,” she explains. “A voice teacher once described it to me like a diamond that starts off rough and needs to be honed, cut and polished. The more you polish it and put the right cuts into it, the more brilliant it becomes. That’s the goal with vocal training–that you keep uncovering more color, more depth, and more richness to the voice. I’m able to do things now that I couldn’t do 15 years ago.”
To truly appreciate Mongiardo’s talent, check out clips of her past performances at www.joannamongiardo.com.