Interview: Audra McDonald Lighting Up LA Opera Again

Broadway legend Audra McDonald returns to LA Opera backed by the LA Opera Orchestra & her 4-piece ensemble (led by musical director Andy Einhorn) December 2nd

By: Nov. 28, 2023
Interview: Audra McDonald Lighting Up LA Opera Again

Interview: Audra McDonald Lighting Up LA Opera Again

Broadway legend Audra McDonald returns to LA Opera backed by the LA Opera Orchestra and her four-piece ensemble (led by musical director Andy Einhorn) December 2, 2023. Be prepared to experience the stunning vocals of six-time Tony winner singing her expansive Broadway and opera repertoire filling the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The busy mom found some time between her touring engagements to chat with me on the phone.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Audra!

Did you have a filling Thanksgiving?

It was really lovely. It was nice just to be with my friends and family.

I believe this December 2nd concert will be your fourth time with LA Opera.

What?  Have I even counted? I'm going to trust your words over mine.

How set is your set list for this concert?

It tends to be a little more in stone when you're doing concerts with an orchestra because it's very difficult to let yourself throw a new chart out.

What originally brought you and your musical director Andy Einhorn together?

We first started working together many, many, many years ago when I was rehearsing to do two one-woman operas at Houston Grand Opera. He was hired to be the rehearsal pianist and the pianist in the orchestra. And we became really good friends, and he became an immediate not only just an incredible coach, but a friend and a confidant and all those things pretty, pretty quickly. We found that we had an artistic synergy and we got along really well, so we've been together ever since.

You are one of the few that can easily gravitate between opera, show tunes and jazz. When you graduated from Julliard in 1993, what was opera your career goal?

Oh, no, no, no, no, I wanted to do Broadway. I knew what I wanted to do. I've known since I was about nine. But my time at Juilliard confused me because I was studying only classical music. I came to learn that what I definitely wanted to do was Broadway and so there was no confusion for me when I left Juilliard.

You played the young voice student Sharon in Master Class in 1995. Any plans to tackle Maria Callas?

There are no plans as of now, but what a challenge that would be, right?

What an incredible opportunity! I know there have been a lot of amazing actresses that have played that role. I think the latest was Phylicia Rashad just played Callas somewhere. It's an incredible role Terrence wrote, the role of a lifetime and she was an incredible artist, so who knows maybe someday.

What do you remember of the night you won your first Tony for Master Class? A total blur? Waves of ecstasy?

I have really specific core memories in and around, what the rest was basically a blur. I have very specific memories of being brought backstage prior to perform our number and I ran into Sally Mayes. They had just performed their number. We’re both in the same category and our category hadn't been announced yet. And I just remember giving her the biggest hug. I remember seeing Carol Channing in the audience. I was gonna have to do a speech in front of Carol Channing and that kind of freaked me out and calmed me down all the same time. I remember just the joy with our cast when we won best revival. It's little moments like that, but then the rest of the evening is just a blur.

Interview: Audra McDonald Lighting Up LA Opera Again Do you have a special place where you keep your six Tonys, two Grammys, Emmy and National Medal of Arts?

Actually, now I do. I didn't for a long time. They were just sort of in and around the house. But now we my husband did this. He thought it would be fun to put them all on top of this very innocuous big, built-in bookshelf. He's put them all up there but none of them are standing up right. He's got them all knocked down as if they've all been blown over. So, it looks like an art installation. I love it.

Just your theatrical career alone, we’d be on the phone for hours if I could ask you about all your shows, all your co-stars, all your wonderful experiences. So how about I name a show or person and you give me one word or one sentence about each?

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogonny with LA Opera: sexy costumes onstage, fun with Patti LuPone.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill: A role of a lifetime

Carousel: The beginning

Ragtime: My heart

A Raisin in the Sun: Felicia, Felicia, Felicia

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess: Real life moments happened for me during that show, some big life moments

Receiving the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2015: Doing my best not to give birth at the White House.

You were pregnant at the time?

I was HUGEly pregnant at the time. I gave birth two weeks later.

Which do you prefer: singing as Audra McDonald in concert or performing in a scripted role?

I love them both for different reasons. And if I've been doing one for too long, I find the desire to want to do the other to come up in my soul a little bit more. So I need to make sure I have sort of a steady diet of both.

Do you find it more challenging to portray a real-life person (i.e., Lady Day) as opposed to a fictional (i.e., Porgy & Bess’ Bess)?

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. There's a challenge because everybody has an idea of who the person is and how they should be portrayed. Everybody has their own personal idea either in their head or they're people that consider themselves experts on certain people.

What type of music do you chill to?

Let's see, probably soul and R&B, especially from the 70s and 80s.

What’s in the near future for Audra McDonald?

Well, this has been a pretty long, extensive tour. I'm not even sure how many cities I will have hit by the time this tour concludes in June of next year. So, after that I want to be able to unpack my bag and not have to go to the airport for a minute.

Thank you again, Audra! It’s been a true pleasure talking to you.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

For tickets to this one-nighter December 2nd; click on the button below: