Sera Goesch is a natural opera singer. Not that she hasn’t put a lot of time, work, or effort into becoming a soprano with the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. I’m not saying that at all. I’m simply repeating exactly what she told me, and what others told her, she was born with a gift. A gift so many people would kill for (me, I’m talking about me). So it was especially funny when she admitted to me, she didn’t even like opera growing up. She didn’t want to study it. She wanted to be an actress.
Yet, here she is. Touring around the world, dressed in historical costume, singing some of Mozart’s most famous arias. Sera was nice enough to skype me so we could chat before her upcoming performance at the Strathmore on March 7th about what finally made her fall in love with opera, our favorite arias, and (of course) Dario Argento’s giallo horror film Opera. I really couldn’t let her go without bringing that one up.
How did you get into singing?
So this story is a little bit… kitschy. I was ten, or something like that, and I was singing opera because my aunt and my uncle loved opera and I was always with them so I was always imitating it. My voice was – I don’t know how – but it was so natural for me to imitate. When I was around 16-17 they said, “You have to become an opera singer, you have to do this,” but I wasn’t interested at all. I wanted to become an actress. I loved acting, but they said, “No you should sing, you should sing,” So they pushed me.
How did you go from studying music to touring the world with the Vienna Mozart Orchestra?
I was a student in Istanbul and there was an audition at the opera house and they took me to Vienna for the production, and I thought, “Oh my god Vienna is amazing, Vienna is beautiful.” I was like, “I have to come here.” So I went, as a student, to the Vienna Conservatory and I studied there. Then I got the engagement from the Vienna Volksoper and I auditioned for the Vienna Mozart Orchestra… and so they took me. Now I am traveling all the time and I’m so glad that it’s like this.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Oh, everything! Pop, rock, but not opera. I have to be honest. It’s so funny to say, but I was so natural and then when I got to the conservatory they said I had a natural voice for the opera, but I wasn’t interested in opera. I thought it was old fashioned… I didn’t think it was cool. I wanted to becoming an actress. Now, it’s not just about singing, it’s about singing and acting. We are actresses that are singing too. The audience expects much more, they want to see some emotion, they want to see something. Not just a voice. So that’s why I really love it. It’s a pleasure for me, to earn money for something I love to do.
Was there an opera that changed your mind about the genre? Something that made you think, okay, this is cool?
It’s interesting, when I got my audition as a soprano, it was so… how can I explain this… it was so amazing to make music. It’s not easy to explain. It’s something that you can’t just practice. There are thirty people or so, and they make music as one. It was a feeling that I’d never had before and I thought it was amazing, but I can’t name one specific opera. I cannot say a specific voice, of course, I’m in love with Callas, but I can’t say. It’s the feeling I get from music.
I love opera, but I don’t honestly know that much about it, but Maria Callas is of course the most famous-
-It’s not just about her voice, she’s amazing because she feels and she shows it. More than singing, it is performing. It is like acting. It’s amazing energy. On the stage you should feel magic, and that comes from Callas, definitely.
Right, you didn’t just wanted to listen to her, you wanted to see her.
Yes. It’s not about voice, it’s about energy. It’s about becoming somebody else… yeah it’s just amazing. I mean, still. It’s never… it’s timeless. It’s never old. It’s beautiful always. It’s always touching. This is the magic. This is what the audience expects actually.
What music do you like to listen to now?
Outside of opera, I don’t listen to much. You know what, when you work so much and when you sing so much, when you have time to rest you don’t want to hear anything. Seriously. It’s unfortunate, but I listen to classical music and Jazz maybe. Also, I like pop. I love Adele. I like Justin Timberlake, but when I have time for it, I don’t want to hear anything. It’s really hard.
How would you describe the natural opera voice? What are the qualities of a natural opera singer?
I didn’t do anything to make my voice fit for opera. Normally, when you want to study opera you take voice lessons, they make your voice fit for opera. You have to make your voice resonant and.. it’s a little bit complicated to explain… but normally, you study, you learn. You can have an outstanding voice, but not for opera. I don’t know. I didn’t do anything and it sounds like this. They said, “Okay you can sing,” but it’s just so normal for me. I could sing a pop song and it would sound like opera. Really seriously. It’s not always good because sometimes people think I’m trying to make my voice like this, sometimes they say even when I speak it sounds like opera. I don’t know. But yea, a natural opera voice… it shouldn’t be natural. There are so many singers and they learn technique and they sing. It’s all about technique actually.
How do you prepare for this kind of tour? Do you practice everyday?
We have to practice. You have to train all the time. You have to master your vocal chords and your body, it’s not just about vocal chords, by the way, it’s about your whole body. You have to be really healthy. You have to sleep good, you have to eat well. Of course, then you have some warm ups, You know? Then you learn your part and that’s it. There are people that make it seem so hard like, “Oh my god opera, it is so hard,” but I don’t act like this. but of course you have to practice, you have to warm up, you have to take care of yourself because when you’re not healthy you cannot sing.
How often do you practice a week?
For how long?
It depends. Sometimes it’s for an hour sometimes it’s for five hours.
Well, when you think about it one opera is like three hours. It’s all about your voice and your body and these are muscles. Of course, you have to feel good. Sometimes you don’t feel good and you’re in a bad mood, and then you’re voice is like… you know it’s abstract. It’s not like you press a button and it works. It’s different everyday.
What do you do to stay healthy while touring?
I try to be happy. Really. Seriously. If I’m not happy, I’m not healthy. I try to be happy, I try to enjoy my life, and I try to not let things be so complicated. It’s hard work and when you keep thinking about how hard it is then you get depressed. I try to be happy. Of course I eat well, but it’s not that complicated. I feel good when I’m happy and I sing better when I’m happy.
What do you do to stay happy?
This is the thing. We all have to do something. To say, “Thank god I can breath, thank god I can walk, thank god I can walk.” It’s hard, but I think it’s all about that. If you have a good energy it can change your life. It makes you successful. For me, if I have a problem, I cannot work. I cannot sing. I try to take things easily and enjoy and be thankful for everything that I have. It’s a little bit complicated.
[laughs] Oh thank you.
No it is, it’s very lovely. Now I want to go back to the beginning a little bit. Can you tell me about what you’ll be performing on this tour?
This is really really special. I mean, this is the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. It’s one of the biggest and most famous orchestras in Vienna and also Austria. In classical music, it is one of the things you want to see before you die. It’s really special. We’ll be performing Mozart, of course, Mozart’s symphonies, Mozart’s arias. The special attraction of the Orchestra is that we perform in historical costume. So you will really feel like you’re in the 18th century. Really. Everything is authentic, everything is handmade. They are wonderful musicians. It was founded in 1986 by musicians from the best and most famous orchestras. I’m going to perform two arias and there will also be a baritone and we will do three duets. It’s really special, I have to say. It’s very Viennese and pure pure Mozart.
Out of your arias, which one do you prefer?
So I’m going to sing Electra’s aria from Idomeneo. I love this aria, it is extremely powerful, extremely crazy, scream-y aria. I love performing this. but then I’m going to perform Costanza’s aria. This is also very acrobatic and dramatic. They’re both very hard arias but I love them.
Have you been to DC before?
Yes! I performed there on December 21st, 2014. It was beautiful. Oh my gosh, I love American audiences. They show their emotions, they’re so enthusiastic.
Is it different in Europe? Are audiences not like that?
It’s not the same. In America, you can get everything from them. I mean, you feel it. It’s so nice. Of course I love European audiences too, but in America they are more enthusiastic.
Why do you think that is?
I don’t know! In American they jump and scream and it’s just so nice. So enthusiastic.
Where has been your favorite place to perform?
I love performing in Vienna. It’s really special. I’ll tell you why. For me, well, not just for me, for every classical musician, performing in Vienna is special because it’s ingrained in the culture. Classical music is in the blood or the water. I sing in my flat and no one tells me it’s too loud or that I shouldn’t be singing. They really respect classical music. It’s so special for me to perform in Vienna… but, I have to say, it’s always special for me to perform in America. Every time I’m in America I just enjoy it. I forget that I’m… You know, when you’re on the stage you think about so many things, but in America everything is so natural. You know? You forget that you’re performing. Or you forget that it’s your job. The audience is so amazing and they give you so much energy. Yeah, I would say Vienna and America. I also enjoyed Canada.
Do you have a favorite aria?
There are many. I really can’t pick just one. From Mozart, for example, the first aria which I will perform in Washington is a really really emotional aria. This character is very crazy. It’s a very powerful aria. I love to perform it all the time, but there are so many.
Do you prefer the emotional arias?
[laughs] I like all of the emotions. You can show your anger, you can show your jealousy, everything. The thing is you have to feel something you have to share something with your audience. This is the magic. Otherwise it’s nothing, it’s not interesting.
Whats your favorite part about your job?
Acting [laughs]. I love being in character. It’s what I enjoy the most.
I took an opera class in college to fulfill some kind of art credit. We watched a bunch of opera’s and analyzed them and it was great. What I loved about it was how dramatic and emotional they are. Nothing is simple in opera.
I know! It’s true. I love it. I love the crazy characters.
You know, there is a horror movie about an opera singer.
Yeah, it’s by a Italian director named Dario Argento. It’s called Opera. You should try and find it online. It’s not the greatest movie ever, but it’s very interesting and they play one of my favorite arias in the movie, “Amami Alfredo” From La Traviata.
Do you like that?! “Amami Alfredo” is unbelievable. At the moment I am working on Traviata because I’m going to perform Traviata in Varna. My god, “Amami Alfredo”.
I love it. It’s so heart breaking.
It’s too much.
Exactly, it’s too much for me too. Sometimes when I’m performing or I’m singing the story is so touching that I cry. It’s so hard! I mean, you should feel, but you shouldn’t feel that much.