I’m opera singer Greer Grimsley. I’ve performed all around the world including at the New York Met, Berlin, Tokyo, and dozens more. This weekend, I’ll be performing in San Diego Opera’s Tosca. AMA!
Hi Reddit! Excited for my first AMA.
For those of you not yet familiar with opera, I got a relatively late start myself. When I was 17, the New Orleans Opera called my high school’s drama club offering $10 for extras. Though it was the $10 that drew me in, it was the historic production of Halevy’s “La Juive” starring Richard Tucker that made me fall in love. I also love history and likely would have studied archaeology had it not been for music.
I'll be playing Scarpia in San Diego Opera's production of Tosca March 25-April 2. Click here if you'd like to learn more.
Edit: Thanks everyone for the great questions, it's been great getting to spend the morning with you. Hope to see some of you at this weekend's performances!
That's incredibly kind, thank you. I would go Sherlock Holmes, Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, and Maria Callas. I would be serving a dinner of New Orleans cuisine a shrimp remoulade, red beans and rice, crawfish bisque jambalaya boiled crawfish with a dessert being New Orleans style bread pudding oh, and what would be playing on the stereo would be Rachmaninoff piano Concerto No. 2
I have an Opera singer in my family. they're an amazing singer, and totally kill it at karaoke when we go. however, one thing that bothers me, is they just can't ever 'turn it off'.
Like, if we're just singing happy birthday or singing along to a song at a party, they have to go all 'opera-y' on it. I feel like a jerk asking her to stop, but it's silly and uncalled for. Nobody needs a super high pitch Happy Birthday.
so... my question is... do you think they're showing off? or do you have the same problem, and it's the training and can't ever turn it off?
Don't get me wrong - my family member is one of the best, most amazing, and nicest people in the world. which is why I haven't ever brought this up, because it's more of a mild annoyance or quirk they seem to have than anything else.
I like to think that the training that goes into being an opera singer is much like anything else; you have to find a way to use it for good😊
Is there an opera you like to perform in most?
I was in Tosca as a kid in the boys choir and it was so incredible to be on stage in front of so many people. Still remember it clearly 45 years later.
I would say Tosca and Wagner's Ring Cycle. Oh my gosh, where was that Tosca that you were in the boys choir?
Wow, what an icon! My wife and I saw you a few years back in the Ring Cycle at the Met, and your Wotan in Das Rheingold was a huge highlight of the experience. You have a unique gravitas and bearing that combines your voice and physicality that really made that opera "epic" from the start. Thank you for bringing it alive for us!
My question is, what was it like to work on the rotating plank stage piece designed by Lepage? Those technical effects, for me, really helped elevate the production to that mythical level and status. What stories do you have about navigating that machine while still being attentive to your voice and stagecraft?
Thank you for your incredibly kind words. The set was both challenging and inspiring. Any story connected with the set would be about conquering my own fear or anxiety about being on the side and trusting the stage hands and the stage managers who were monitoring the different levels and movements of the set. I did find the more time we had to use the set, the more comfortable we were...
Who is the teacher or music professional who’s had the greatest influence on your personal development and why?
Great question! Because an opera career is a culmination of years of work, I can’t just say it’s one. First would be my voice teacher of many years Dr. Robert White. Also my family.
Are there any major pop artists who you think could make good opera singers?
Tom Jones would have been one hell of a Heldentenor.
Damn! What incredible control you have over your voice. I love the emotions you put into your performances.
My question is: What is or has been the most difficult part of being an opera singer for you?
Thank you so much. I think the the most difficult part of being an opera singer is being away from your loved ones, your family and your partners, your children, and having to miss some big events.
As an opera singer, you have to be able to produce the sounds of multiple languages convincingly. Would you say that you have a comfortable knowledge of the languages that you have to sing in, and was learning how to speak/write/read them part of your education? And do you have any familiarity with non-Western languages that operas are now composed in, like Japanese?
I would say I have a comfortable knowledge of the languages that I sing in. Yes, it was part of my education but also I learned a great deal more being in the countries where they were spoken. I’m not familiar with any opera that was composed in Japanese, but I would be hugely fascinated in learning about them.
I've always been so impressed by the VOLUME opera singers can produce sheerly with their own bodies, no microphones, but I've also always wondered what it must be like when opera singers are singing a love duet directly to each other, often right in each other's faces, up close and personal. How do you manage the volume being projected at you when you're doing a love duet/how do you manage your volume when singing to a costar?
There is I guess what you would call a courtesy code with opera singers when singing to each other. You try not to sing into each other’s ears. That’s something that we work out while we’re rehearsing.
Do you have any rituals you do before you sing?
I try to keep performance days as normal as possible. For example, if there’s laundry to be done, I’ll do it. I also might exercise and do a short meditation.
Hello! What's your favorite note to sing?
An E flat above the staff
Is it true that a lot of people in showbusiness use betablockers to reduce anxiety before big performances?
I’ve known a few people that use beta blockers as a tool to block those nervous voices but I don’t know how widespread it would be.
If you had to pick one opera company to sing in for the rest of your life which one would it be?
Would have to be The Metropolitan Opera.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I think it would have to be learning and performing Wagner's Ring Cycle.
Haruki Murakami's books often make opera sound interesting but... How the heck do I "get into" opera? What's a good starting... Album, I guess? Do you listen to opera as albums?
I do listen to operas. My advice about getting into opera would be to find something that you are naturally interested in a story or a subject that resonates with you. There are many different operas on a great variety of subjects. As far as a good starting point, Puccini's Tosca really is a great first opera to investigate.
What are your thoughts on the song "Opera Singer" by Cake? Also (or alternatively, if you prefer) from your perspective as a professional opera singer, what other professions or occupations do you find fascinating or inspiring? What sort of things do you think about from time to time that are very much NOT opera, but grab you in nearly the same way?
I don’t know that song but thanks for making me aware of it. I’ll give it a listen. I’m hugely interested in archaeology, carpentry, and roasting coffee beans.
Saw you at the Walküre live in HD a frew years back and though you were great!
Who's your favourite composer to sing to and you favourite one to listen to?
Much appreciated, thank you. To pick a favorite composer would be like picking a favorite kid. Top three would be Wagner, Verdi, Puccini and my favorite composer to listen to would be Beethoven.
At what age did you start singing well? At what age did you think “this is what I want to do with my life?”
I was about 20 years old when I started really feeling as if I was singing well and probably that was the same age where I decided I wanted to be an opera singer.
Can you please recommend some books/authors on vocal pedagogy, for aspiring singers?
If you’re already taking voice lessons, there is an excellent book written by Lamperti or if you’re just beginning, I would say it’s participation through voice lessons. That’s where you really learn things.
Do you need to learn to sight read to become an Opera singer? Or did you already know? I've always been curious about that
I don’t think you have to be an excellent sight I reader, to be to be an opera singer. I was self-taught until I started studying in college.
Do you have a favorite opera house? What makes it special to you?
I'd say the Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth because of the acoustics.
Favorite obscure opera?
I’m not sure it would qualify for obscure opera, but Bartok's Blue Beard isn’t performed all that much. It’s one of my favorites.
I have never "gotten" opera, not in the visceral, emotional way that fans of it describe.
If there is a single recording out there that could change that, what do you think it would be?
I think in order to really be hooked by it, you have to go to one. A recording won’t do it; it’s a live event and I think what people respond to the most is that it is not amplified. The singing and the orchestra are creating the sound waves, which are personally touching each member of the of the audience. Puccini's Tosca is a great first opera.
Who does/did your favourite version of e lucevan le stelle, if you have one?
(Assuming you don't have to diplomatically say the singer in your current production 😂)
Are classical operas too long? What are some great recent operas?
No, I don’t think classical operas are too long. Some great recent operas would be champion by Terence Blanchard, the Steve Jobs opera, and Dead Man Walking. There are so many new operas now that are really excellent.
Who are THE opera singers working today worth traveling for? My vote is Lawrence Brownlee and Anna Netrebko... but looking to diversify.
Larry and Anna are great singers, but that’s the beauty of opera. Everyone brings something original to the roles that they perform.
What's your personal routine for warming up your voice, and what would you say the most important concept to understand is, regarding a vocal warmup?
I think the most important thing to remember while warming up your voice, is it’s just that - warming up your voice. I found the most successful thing for me is to think of it as a vocal massage.
Do you have a favorite aria?
Macbeth’s aria Pieta Rispetto, Amore
What movie or book that’s not yet been adapted into an opera do you think would make for the best opera?
The Green Mile, written by Stephen King
The Tom Hanks character
Where did your first name come from? I’ve heard it as a family name but not commonly as first name.
It is a family name. In the south, it’s common to use family names as first names.
In your opinion, what is an appropriate age to start training to be an opera singer? I have heard it is not something to be started very young as it can damage the vocal cords (not sure if that is actually true). Also, did you have any other vocal training before starting training for opera?
Thank you for the AMA!
I think serious training shouldn’t start before 17, if not later. Your body is changing and growing so fast when you’re younger. Puberty dumps so many hormones into your system you really shouldn’t do heavy training before 17. That said, learning the basics of breath and support is a good thing with a careful, knowledgeable teacher.
Any plans to duet with the Go Compare dude?
...seriously he actually seems like a nice bloke and a good singer.
Don't know the gentleman but I will research😊
Do you like any pop songs? If yes, please name a few.
Anything by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Sting, Pink, Allison Krauss...
What's one thing you think young artists think too much about, and what's one thing you think young artists should focus on instead?
I think young artists should concentrate on their own artistry. I know from my own experience, that when I was a young artist, I was being told how to interpret things. It took me a while to figure out that I had to really figure out what I had to say.
I saw you in Seattle as Wotan years ago. You were awesome. My question - You're having a dinner party. What 4 guests are you inviting (real or fictional, living or dead)? More importantly, what are you serving and what's on the stereo?
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