BWW Interview: Julie Makerov and the Fine Art of Balancing Music and Life
How does a busy soprano balance career, family, motherhood, and art? If that soprano is Julie Makerov, it's all about scheduling and planning ahead of time. Makerov, who will be appearing as one of four soloists with LA's Verdi Chorus this weekend at First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica, says that's the key to managing all of her commitments.
In a nutshell, "It's about not saying yes to too much. I recently started my first year teaching two classes at Orange County School of the Arts. I also have seven private voice students and I'm on the board of directors at OperaWorks. It is a juggle but it's worth it."
With an impressive international career to her credit, Makerov admits she loves to travel but says the current phase of her personal and professional evolution means she is entering a period of less time on the road and more time spent closer to home. "I slowly decided that's what I wanted. I have my hands in a lot of things but I wanted to make sure that my family life was taking priority. That's hard for me to do when I'm traveling a lot. Plus, I felt really strongly that this was the next phase of my artistry; to take what I've learned and help other people."
Which brings it back to her students. Makerov is often asked how she takes care of her voice and her advice is the same as that which she observes herself. At the top of the list are the big three: "I make sure that I'm hydrated systemically, so lots of water, good nutrition, and lots of sleep. You have to get a lot of sleep and that's very difficult to do when you're trying to balance being a busy mom, a busy teacher, and having a busy life with taking care of the instrument enough to perform well. I remind my students to use their air when they speak and cultivate those really good habits throughout the day so that when they go to sing the voice is there for them already."
As for who helps her get dinner on the table, a forthright Makerov laughs and says, "It's called a crockpot! Ask me who does the laundry too - I do."
Over the course of her lengthy career, Makerov has played a wide range of characters. On the upcoming program with Verdi Chorus, she will be portraying a queen, a courtesan, a simple girl who poisons her mother and drowns her child, and a woman who leaves home rather than marry a man she doesn't love and eventually throws herself off a cliff. Dramatic? Yes. It's the stuff opera is made of. And, although she has not lived the same experiences as these particular characters, Makerov says creating them is all about making an emotional connection. It's a thoughtful approach, one she says is required of every singer.
"None of the characters I've played have much to do with my day to day life. I can, however, draw upon their emotion. For example, I've sung Butterfly [from Puccini's Madame Butterfly] several times and, at the time, I was in my late twenties/early thirties, Caucasian, and 5'9" - not necessarily what one would think of as Butterfly, right?
Two things: first of all, the music does an incredible amount of the work for you. So, if you sit back and let the composer do what he intended to do, that takes a lot of the weight off of you. The second thing is that if a singer goes through and ingests the words, if you really digest what you're singing and find a way to relate to it personally, it is very possible to connect with the emotions rather than the specific story.
Take the scene in which Butterfly is waiting for Pinkerton to come back. She's holding a picture with two hands and she says, 'He with heart swollen/to hide from me the suffering/smiling he answered/tiny little wife/I'll return with the roses in the season serene/I'll make the nest says the robin/he'll return/he'll return/say it with me/he'll return.'
Now, does that have anything to do with my life? No. Can one relate with a girl standing there waiting for somebody to return to her who she has basically given everything for and is convincing herself, and everybody around her, that he's going to come back and love her? Yes. That's very easily relatable, but the singer has to delve into the music and the words. When they do, it doesn't take long before a person begins to feel for these characters.
Our job is to take the audience on an emotional journey, and if we are not specific about guiding the audience through that journey they won't be guided. If we're not thinking about what we're saying, if we're not familiar with it, we can't actually move our audience at all. Any career takes discipline. We all have deadlines. We all have things we have to do. We have to discipline ourselves for that. But, beyond that, very specifically, in our business our job is to move an audience."
So, can she tell in performance when that happens? "A hundred per cent. Because the energy of the collective audience shifts. You know when they get it, when they are invested in what you're saying, and, when they're not, a hundred per cent of the time it's because the singer is not thinking about where they are, what they're doing, who the character is, what the show is. They're not in it. They're thinking about their voice and themselves."
All of the pieces she will be singing this weekend on the program for Verdi Chorus' Passione! Opera! Concert are ones she loves but she has a special affection for two of the arias. "L'altra note in fondo al mare [from Mefistofele] was one of the pieces I sang that got me to the top ten in the Met competition in 2003, so it's dear to me and I love it. And I sang Ebben? Ne andrò lontana [from La Wally] in a production in Frankfurt and it is just beautiful."
Rest assured there will be no shortage of gorgeous music on November 10 & 11th as Makerov and her fellow artists join Anne Marie Ketchum and the Verdi Chorus for an evening of red hot passion, the kind only opera can do best.
For a look at the rest of the program, tickets, and more information, visit www.verdichorus.org. Parking is free and a reception follows each concert where you can meet the artists.
THE VERDI CHORUS: Passione! Opera!
November 10 (7:30 pm) and November 11 (2:00 pm)
First United Methodist Church
1008 11th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90403
Tickets: $10 - $40 (800) 838-3006 or www.verdichorus.org
Founding Artistis Director: Anne Marie Ketchum
Guest soloists: Julie Makerov, Janelle DeStefano, Todd Wilander, and Gabriel Manro
Accompanist: Laraine Ann Madden
Production photos courtesy of the artist